(first in a series of articles)
By: Richard G. Baumhoff
A monumental choice confronts St. Louis. It can make and keep a date with destiny in the second half of the twentieth century. That way lies a great metropolitan community of healthy, satisfied people, pleasant homes, thriving industry and attractive landscape. In the other direction – if St. Louis remains content to jog along without aggressive action – there lurk decay, squalor, the threat of steady decline. Ultimately, St. Louis would take a back seat among American cities.
No utopian dream is involved, if the choice is made for progress. Determination and positive action can turn the trick – just as they rid St. Louis of the smoke nuisance. Objectives can be realistic, and tools, fortunately, are at hand for a very large part of the job of building the new St. Louis. They are varied; some new, some old. They include:
Action is pending on such important tools as the congressional bills for construction of the downtown riverfront memorial; a modernized zoning code for the city, and new charters for the city and county.
But money and blueprints are not all that is needed to build the new St. Louis. Aroused and vigorous civic consciousness is an obvious, basic requirement. The purpose of this first in a series of articles is to outline what must go into the new St. Louis, in the light of reality.
Among topics to be considered in subsequent articles will be work of the new bi-state agency; traffic, parking and transportation; health and hospitals; housing; public education; industry; problems of the Negro here; the downtown business district and decentralization; airports and air service; parks and recreation; and a summarizing appraisal of the community and its needs.
Every segment of the people has a stake in St. Louis’s choice between progress and decay. Progress means more and better jobs, better assurances of income in every bracket, more sales, preservation of property values, protection of the tax base that supports the expanding activities of local government, better homes, more parks, tolerance, cultural and educational opportunities – a complex of the things that mark a city of character and savor....
Many of the things which can help St. Louis are capable of accomplishment in the immediate future, within a few years.
Bond issues are an outstanding source of capital for local improvements. They are of two kinds: revenue bonds, supported solely by the income of the facilities which they finance, and general obligation bonds, supported by property taxes throughout the territory of the issuing unit of government. In St. Louis, the general tax rate to serve general obligation bonds has been 40 cents on the $100 for the last 14 years.
The Government Research Institute, private fact-finding agency, making a check at the request of the Post-Dispatch, reported that the city could vote at least $45,000,000 more in general obligation bonds in the near future and carry them safely without any increase in this tax rate. The calculation took into consideration provision for almost $40,000,000 in bonds hereteicre approved by the voters but remaining to be issued. It was made on a highly conservative basis, indicating that it might be possible to issue an even larger additional amount safely. Combined, this means that St. Louis would have at least $85,000,000 to spend, without increasing the present tax rate. As time passes the opportunity for further bond issues without added tax burden will develop....
St. Louis proper is tightly occupied, with very little attractive vacant land left, although population has steadily dwindled in the fast spreading slums and blighted districts. The bulk of the Negro population is within the city, packed in antiquated and dilapidated dwellings in a constricted sector, yet Negroes are about one-seventh of the city’s people....
More than a third of the city of St. Louis is blotted by areas of blight and of progressively worsening slums. St. Louis county suburbs are dotted with similar areas: the suburbs no longer are isolated from the unpleasant parts of the community. Fine homes and the county’s miles of pleasant white collar dwellings in numerous instances are within hailing distance, if not actual sight, of obsolete dwellings, overcrowded subdivisions or downright misery....
All this is not to contend that St. Louis, the central city and its environs, is generally bad. On the contrary, there are countless good things – pleasant living areas, modern factories, attractive stores, public improvements, a friendly people, a good symphony orchestra, active churches, Shaw’s Garden, a well-planned art museum, notable medicine, an outstanding zoo, the leading outdoor theater, fortunate geographical and economic location, two large universities, a climate not nearly as bad as many of we natives like to paint it. St. Louis has some advantages over many other large cities of the nation. But it is not building on these advantages and creating more.
Some facets of the St. Louis of the not-too-distant future can be depicted in words: It would have a distinctive neighborhood pattern. No unpleasant intrusions on residential areas. Industry spread over appropriate detached areas. A place for localized community spirit, neighborly back yards.
Interlaced, a net of adequate streets and roads to permit swift, easy, safe movement throughout a 50-mile circle. Convenient parking facilities to fit the needs of every neighborhood; no more use of public traffic arteries for car storage.
Rapid transit, depending strongly on busses with real express schedules, free to move on detached highways.
Parks and playgrounds, big and little, dotted everywhere – spots of greenery, fresh air, beauty and recreation. Statuary and fountains in good taste to honor leaders and events…(a field for group or individual contribution). Winding parkways along the stream valleys and the ridges.
Within this pattern there would be no more slums, as last a minimum of blight. Instead, incentive for owners and users of homes and stores to keep them in good repair and appearance. Apartments and flats with plenty of light and air and green surroundings. Single dwellings on decent-sized lots, laid out to fit modern styles and shapes, no longer in archaic gridirons.
Schools that meet the people’s needs. No more firetraps and eyesores nor “functional” school houses that look like shirt factories. A city college, tax-supported, to bring higher education to those who cannot afford private universities. Public nursery schools for pre-kindergarten tots. No more little red schoolhouses in the outskirts.
Enough hospital beds, more municipal clinics and health centers, medical care within the grasp of every level of society.
Sincere recognition of the rights and needs of Negroes as American citizens – decent, pleasant housing; ample recreation; a chance to live normal, self-supporting lives in human dignity.
Airports for every type of sky traffic, placed where they will give the best service and least annoyance.
Such a St. Louis of the future presupposes modernized, streamlined government, a minimum of overlapping authority. The Bi-State agency could figure prominently, but thorough-going charter revision for cities and counties is of importance. The new St. Louis can conquer city-county rivalry, east side-west side jealousy. Informed zealous voters, voting as a duty, are a basic need. Such voters would assure choice of officials by the will of an articulate majority of the people, rather than a docile minority. They would look with care especially in the choice of aldermen, state legislators, county administrators.
Supporting this community, a well-rounded industry, shaped to take advantage of location, sources and markets.
Future St. Louis would fire many home furnaces and industrial boilers with gas; warm or cool many dwellings, offices and stores with electricity through the heat pump; utilize its nearby coal in the magic box of chemurgy. A bright, lively downtown by night or day. Good theaters. A handy stadium for sports and serious gatherings. Restaurants that would recapture the fame St. Louis cooking once had.
Jefferson Memorial, downtown would mark the birth of the city and the winning of the west, but this metropolis, founded because of the mighty Mississippi, would have its whole riverfront restored to beauty – a symbol of the new, vibrant St. Louis.
Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 5, 1950