Part Four: The Smallness Of The Potentially ‘Hip’ Core
As I have reiterated many times during this series, Missouri’s taxpayers have ample reason to be skeptical of whether “hip” developments, often fueled by tax incentives, are producing valuable dividends to the state and region. But let’s focus on just Saint Louis’ downtown area for a moment longer. As I observed in Part Three, Saint Louis’ downtown population rose from about 4,000 people in 2000 to about 7,000 people in 2010. But what happened to the net number of jobs downtown during that time?
In a study published last week, the Brookings Institution found that Saint Louis’ “central core” — which Brookings defines as the 3-mile radius around a city’s central business district — lost almost 28,000 jobs between 2000 and 2010. That is the equivalent of almost one-in-six jobs disappearing from the downtown area in one decade. Areas just a bit further outside the central core fared similarly. Between 3 and 10 miles from the city center, the Saint Louis region lost almost 39,000 jobs.
The only area that saw growth in Saint Louis was the 10- to 35-mile ring, which gained a paltry 572 jobs. The math is not in hip developments’ favor, despite what some consultants might say.
But the math also makes another conclusion inevitable: that Saint Louis’ central core — the area where the “hip” development disproportionately predominates — lost employment market share to its outer-ring rival between 2000 and 2010. Today, only 13 percent of Saint Louis’ regional jobs are in the central core, about half the national average; meanwhile, more than 60 percent of the region’s jobs are between 10 and 35 miles away, compared to the national average of 43 percent. Saint Louis is now the fifth-most decentralized city in the country in terms of regional job distribution — behind only Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
While the resident population in downtown Saint Louis has grown, the number of jobs in the 3-mile ring around Saint Louis’ central business district has actually fallen. And again, all the while, the overall population of Saint Louis city has declined. This does not sound like an urban development plan that is working. City centers were built to facilitate commerce. In Saint Louis, that commerce appears to be bleeding out into some of the furthermost stretches of its region.
But Saint Louis is not the only major Missouri city experiencing a job drain. Stay tuned.