We’re experiencing another hot summer day, which made me think of how people used to cope with the summer heat before air-conditioning. We complain about how hot it is going from our air-conditioned car into our air-conditioned house but my parents didn’t even have air-conditioning growing up. Without air-conditioning I’d have a hard time sleeping at night. My mom told me that outdoor movie theaters and sleeping in screened porches were popular before air-conditioning too.
There are other things we just don’t do any more. At least, if we see it, we sense that it’s a throwback to the past. We used to let our kids ride in the back of pickup trucks and station wagons. Few of us wore seat belts.
We used to adjust the antenna on the tv to clear up the reception. In frustration, we would bang on top of the tv set, and, it would work! (Wouldn’t it be great if everything in life worked that way? Get mad, release your frustration and get results.)
In school my brother, only a year older, learned to use a slide rule, but by the time I took the same math class we had shifted to handheld calculators. Today there’s an app for everything. Ask your kids to explain it to you.
Those were different times. We’ve adapted. We have changed. Materially, life is better.
But look at our government in St. Louis today. It was formed during a different time to produce different results for other people. Times have changed and so have the people but our government remains little changed.
When I look at our structure of government today it looks like something constructed before air-conditioning. It seems at best like a slide-rule government, if not an abacus. I would say it's designed for horse drawn carriages rather than the automobiles, but our sprawling roads and innumerable parking lots counter that.
It seems that our structure of government interferes with further modernization of government services. We fail to speak with a singular voice in Washington D.C or Jefferson City. We don’t have transparent, accountable reporting in a time when CAFRs should not only be common but be available for viewing online. Most of our police departments remain unaccredited. Our municipal code exceeds 52,000 pages of ordinances yet we have a significant crime problem. Our elected officials say it’s just a problem of how crime statistics are reported but we know the areas to avoid, and those areas are growing. People are moving away. Slowly but steadily they are voting with their feet for opportunities elsewhere.
As St. Louisans, we should all receive certain benefits from living in St. Louis but we don’t and the government has a lot to do with it. We should receive lower unit costs for services from major infrastructure projects like fresh water, sewers, electric power, roads and highways, etc. We should receive professional public safety such as police protection and emergency response services also at lower cost. We should have all the commercial advantages of living in a major modern metropolitan city, but we choose not to realize the benefits of our natural advantages.
To receive the benefits of living in a modern major metropolitan city we will need to redesign our governmental structure. I prefer life with flat panel TVs, air-conditioning and automobiles. We should also have fiber optic networks, building codes and an integrated road network to match.
We know we should do things differently, but the question remains, "Do we have the will to change?"