Get Off The Train: Saint Louis Cannot Ride To Economic Growth
Articles written about why we must invest in transit in Saint Louis often say young people want to live in vibrant, diverse, dense downtown areas. They say transit is an essential factor in that equation. Why is investment in these young urbanites so important? As we learned in Patrick Ishmael’s posts on “The Smallness of the Potentially ‘Hip’ Core,” there has been a belief in America that the “creative class” is the key to revitalizing cities. It is the idea that we must attract and accommodate the 20- and 30-somethings who are marrying later and focusing on careers in areas such as software, social media, and entertainment. They do not want to live in suburbs, so we must give them what they want if we want a revitalized downtown.
But over the past decade, the “cool” cities have not seen any faster job or population growth than cities dominated by non-creative industries. The fastest employment growth has been in areas such as Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Omaha. The main employment in those cities is not in the cool, creative sector, but in industries such as oil and manufacturing. And, even the rapidly growing “cool” cities, such as Raleigh and Austin, are not transit-centered places.
So why do we keep hearing that transit is what causes economic development and revitalizes downtowns? Transit may attract a certain demographic, but trends over the past several years in our country hint that this demographic is not the economic driver it appeared to be.
Now, it is not to say that transit precludes development. But why keep focusing our efforts (and subsidies) on something that is not an absolute necessity to promote growth in Saint Louis? We have written about our support for toll roads to limit subsidies for roads, but at least those subsidies benefit a majority of the population. With transit, we are taking money from a majority of the population to pay for something that benefits the few. Even Citizens for Modern Transit unintentionally admits this with their statement “You may not ride transit, you may not know anyone who uses the bus or MetroLink; however, Missouri needs transit.”