How to Lose a City of St. Louis Guy in 10 Days
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released new population estimates for cities around the country, and the City of St. Louis continued its trend of steady population decline in 2022. The city was estimated to have shrunk from 293,562 residents in July 2021 to 286,578 residents in July 2022 (a 2.4% decrease). Dr. Ness Sandoval of St. Louis University has rigorously studied demographic changes in Missouri and has emphasized that more people are dying in the City of St. Louis than being born. However, other parts of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area are estimated to be growing—St. Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, and Warren Counties all gained residents in 2022, with Lincoln showing the largest growth at 2.43 percent. There are numerous factors that I believe are contributing to the exodus of residents from the city. However, I believe public safety is a significant contributing factor.
Many people simply do not feel safe in St. Louis. As a city resident, I have incorporated several different habits while living in the city. To name two, I look both ways at every single green light and I ensure nothing of value is visible in my car. Auto thefts have been on the rise, and in particular, thefts of two brands (Hyundai and Kia) have soared from 273 to 3,958 in the past year in the City of St. Louis.
While there is a specific design flaw that has led to Kia and Hyundai thefts skyrocketing, the lack of punishment and deterrence might be contributing to rising vehicle crime in the city. From August 1 to August 13 in 2022, 462 cars were stolen or attempted stolen in the City of St. Louis. Yet despite the surge in auto thefts, only 1 person was charged in city courts for a crime related to auto theft during the same two week period. Whether this is due to lack of punishment or lack of law enforcement capacity to find the culprits, city residents are suffering all the same.
The lack of regard for traffic rules visible on a daily basis. For example, the day I wrote this piece, my coworker and I saw someone drive into oncoming traffic on Kingshighway Blvd, veer in front of someone turning left from the adjacent street, and blatantly run a red light. These everyday close calls can turn into fatal crashes. Despite a declining population, 230 people were killed in traffic crashes in the City of St. Louis City from 2020–2022 (with a 20 year record high of 81 in 2020) as compared to 128 from 2008–2010.
While there has been a national increase in traffic fatalities in recent years, it seems fair to wonder if local policy in St. Louis has exacerbated that trend. Even as reckless driving has seemed to increase, vehicle stops in the city have declined from their peak of 85,622 in 2009 to 45,124 in 2021. Similarly, traffic citations have decreased from 34,833 in 2009 to 17,763 in 2021. Again, whether this is due to a decision to not punish this type of crime or a lack of capacity to effectively patrol the streets, City of St. Louis residents suffer the consequences all the same.
The decline of a proud and historic city like St. Louis is a sad thing to witness. We are known as the Gateway to the West, yet sadly our streets right now more closely resemble the Wild West. If city leaders want to attract new residents and prevent current residents from leaving, they need to get a serious handle on the public safety issue, and they need to do it quickly.