The St. Louis media generates and pays far too much attention to clickbait ranking headlines. You've heard them all before, "St. Louis is the best startup scene, worst crime town, most affordable, least desirable," etc. Why do we pay so much attention to these half-baked headlines? Because we're in the middle of an identity crises.
Our region's leadership vacuum prolongs this lingering tension and anxiety over identity. 684 elected officials must compete with and jostle each other in order to fight for the well-being of their tiny territory (43 municipalities sit on 1 sq. mile of land or less). In doing so they are forced to emphasize neighborhood vanity over hometown pride.
On the private side, a wide range of regional organizations try to fill the void. Still, even when they unite forces, they cannot and do not fully overcome the 91 fractured cities of St. Louis. Under a united structure the most talented civic leaders could finally guide St. Louis to a brighter future.
Until then they're stuck running into redbrick walls. For example, we're the 'most charitable' region in the Country. Want to see the ROI (return on investment)? Look around. Look at Ferguson. Look at the Rams departure. Look at regional flooding. Look at retention rates of university students. Look at the life expectancy disparity across the Delmar line.
However, something beautiful and resilient has begun to rise out of this fragmented and haphazardly developed system. Ordinary citizens have stepped up to fill the gaps left by political leaders and regional organizations. Go see Randy and Jeff Vines at STL-Style on Cherokee Street. Join the Swap-Meet. Sip on the success of Rise Coffee House and Sump. Read nextSTL. Drink in the triumph of Schlafly and Urban Chestnut. Grab a slice of the Pi. Watch the startups hatching from T-Rex. Witness FocusSTL drive forward. Imitate the work ethic exemplified by the Blues and Cardinals. It's hard to find organizations with grittier styles. In St. Louis we lift up our own and grind it out. Our businesses and our teams reflect our home.
The 'spirit of St. Louis' is that of a blues-infused entrepreneur. There's a reason the National Blues Museum will call St. Louis home. You cannot survive creating a coffeeshop, style store, tech company, brewery, pizzeria, non-profit, movement toward equity, or successful franchise without occasionally singing the blues. Success does not come without failure. It is born of it. Joy arises from struggle and strife. Addressing our divided region will hurt like pulling teeth--but the feeling of building something that is yours will be something that no one will ever be able to take away from you.
Junk rankings cannot tell us who we are. Elected officials and regional organizations have demonstrated that they cannot fix the system nor lift its spirit from within. We have to do it ourselves. St. Louis is a Do-It-Yourself town. No one pities us and we shouldn't either. Brush the dirt of your shoulder, lift yourself back up, and dare greatly.
St. Louis Strong will host Community Roundtables this year for the people of the region to decide what governing structure will serve them best. You will build the next St. Louis. Tell us what you want to see.