Part Three: The Smallness Of The Potentially ‘Hip’ Core
Last week, Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Political Fix blog wrote briefly about the “hip development” debate we have discussed here and asked this about Saint Louis’ recent downtown redevelopment projects: “Economic engine or not, does anyone really think that area was better, in any sense of the word, 15 years ago than it is now?” Yes, the area around Washington Avenue obviously looks nicer. There are also more people living there. But this is a classic example of seen benefits with unseen costs.
Below is a map of tax credits that the Missouri Department of Economic Development issued in Saint Louis City spanning the years 1999-2011. The legend is denominated in dollars of credit issued. The larger the circle, the larger the credit awarded.
You can find the statewide distribution spreadsheet here. You can also hover over the dots to view some details on individual projects, and you can zoom the map out to see tax credit projects in other parts of the state. (To drag the map with your mouse, hold the shift key first.)
Dump hundreds of millions of dollars anyplace and something sure as heck better happen there. Washington Ave. is a good example of this. State tax credits have blanketed the central corridor of Saint Louis City over the last decade, and indeed, the population has risen in the area. But by how much? In a blog post titled “The Heavy Hand of Demographic Change” for the blog Rooflines, Alan Mallach of the Brookings Institute compared Saint Louis’ downtown growth to that of other cities.
Saint Louis’ downtown population rose from just shy of 4,000 people in 2000 to about 7,000 people in 2010, a net increase of more than 3,000 people and nothing to sneeze at. But outside the downtown area? Saint Louis City’s overall population fell from 347,000 people in 2000 to 319,000 in 2010, a net loss of about 28,000 people. The state dropped hundreds of millions of dollars into the heart of Saint Louis’ downtown through tax credits and moved the population needle some; meanwhile, thousands of residents outside the city’s central corridor were heading for the exits. Some “creatives” have come, but development “coattails” clearly did not.
That is a development paradigm that is simply not working. Empower individual innovation, not government “experts.” Trust city residents, not hip developers. It may be less “cool” to redevelop our cities this way, but it will probably be far more effective.