“City of Dreams”
When I opened the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning, I was greeted by the third front page article in less than a week to herald downtown St. Louis’ renaissance revival. As proof of this “renaissance,” the Post once again cites the number of massive development projects under construction or consideration in the downtown area, including Pinnacle Entertainment’s new casino complex, the refurbished St. Louis Mercantile Exchange Center, Centene Corp.’s relocation, and, of course, Ballpark Village.
The last three projects alone required 334.7 million dollars in local, state, and federal subsidies and tax breaks, but that’s not the point. The point is that everyone wants to move downtown!
But is that true? Would anyone be relocating to downtown without the generous corporate welfare handout from city hall, Jefferson City, and D.C? Has the city done anything to clean up the crime, or is St. Louis still considered to be the “most dangerous city in America”? And what about the public school system? Is student performance on the rise in St. Louis, or does it continue to decline? And does the city no longer levy umpteen additional taxes and fees on city dwellers that country residents are exempt from?
Of course, the answer is no. Policymakers believe they can revive a city by redistributing wealth to large corporations in order to spur development, while ignoring or relocating slums. But the truth is that cities flourish when citizens rally behind a source of community and culture not because they have shiny edifices to look at.
Our own Joe Haslag, who is quoted in the article, sums it up well:
"The market does a pretty good job of getting your city out of the doldrums, as opposed to the quick fixes of subsidies and tax incentives," said Haslag, a research fellow with the Show-Me Institute, a fiscally conservative think tank based in Clayton. "But from a political standpoint, these things are pretty attractive tools, and you understand the incentive to use them."
I would love for downtown St. Louis to be a nice place to live. But the truth is that until city officials recognize the real reasons why the city has declined during the past 50 years, they will never be able to revive it. Unfortunately, though, city planners are generally of the mindset that “if you build it, they will come.”