4 min read
Posted on 12.19.14
  • 4 min read
  • Posted on 12.19.14
  • Filed under
  • Promise Zone

Imagine in your mind a map of St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Draw boundaries around the contiguous area that has the greatest and most concentrated social need - i.e. the kinds of conditions that weaken the entire region, underlie endemic crime and, if left to fester, create the greatest risk of social unrest and riot.

Here are the numbers:

199,792 residents in 28 municipalities, 25 zip codes, 79 Census tracts, 21 police jurisdictions, 7 School Districts, 11 (of 28) St. Louis City Aldermanic Wards, 3 (of 7) St. Louis County Council Districts.

Here are the rough boundaries:

The Mississippi River to the east; Delmar Boulevard to the South; Interstate 170 to the West; Interstate 270 to the North. The City of Ferguson, Missouri, is situated, near the heart of this zone.

Here are the conditions:

The poverty rate is 35.48 percent, about double what exists in St. Louis City and St. Louis County combined. Median income is $26,546, slightly more than one-half of the City and County combined median. Twenty-one percent (21%) of African-American adults are unemployed, compared to the national rate of 13 percent. Teen births occur at a rate of 70.6 per 1,000, compared to 28.9 for the City and County overall. Crime, both violent and property, occur at a rate of more than 100 per 1,000 population.

Here are the promises:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has invited metropolitan areas to identify such "Promise Zones" - areas of concentrated need that, with modest federal benefits but largely through coordinated self-help, can help a community become more stable, just, and healthy.

According to the Promise Zone program description, success means a child's zip code does not determine her destiny, or chances of graduating high school, or risk of crime victimization, or prospects for good health - or the ability of her parents, through their hard work, to make a decent living.

St. Louis County is the lead party in applying for "Promise Zone" status for this multi-jurisdictional district. Supported by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, and leaders of affected municipalities and other government subdivisions, the application asks that the region's resolve and commitment to use the Promise Zone as a tool for achieving this success be measured, in part, by our track record of collaboration.

The City of St. Louis and County application points out, for example, how through its celebrated Metropolitan Zoo-Museum Taxing District, have mutually supported some of the region's most cherished cultural resources - the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Science Center, and Missouri Botanical Garden.

Similarly, the city-county Community College District has constant enrollment of thousands of students of all ages and from all walks of life, working for two-year degrees, improving their skills and enriching their lives through learning.

The combined communities, what's more, are promoting active recreation and ecological stewardship through a mature and growing network of trails and bikeways developed by the city-county Great Rivers Greenway - a network more recently enhanced through GRG's precedent-setting partnership with the National Park Service in making major improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, in support of our iconic Gateway Arch.

The application points out how we advance accessibility to economic opportunity and community life through St. Louis Metro Transit and foster environmental justice in St. Louis City and St. Louis County through our Metropolitan Sewer District.

Resolutions for 2015:

This history of collaboration, though, is offered just as a foundation for objectively verifiable goals to be pursued in the weeks and months ahead.

The application itemizes very specific action steps for how city and county communities, school districts, business organizations, and non-profits will advance job training creation, increased economic activity, improved educational outcomes, and reduced violent and other serious crime in the Promise Zone.

These steps include police agencies working together to raise standards of professionalism, to improve community relations, and to drive down crime by patrolling and working crime hotspots together across jurisdictional lines.

Economic activity and job creation strategies focus on investment in blighted areas and supporting creation of jobs with living wages and upward mobility.

The education goals use early childhood and parent education, school attendance, student assessment and wrap around services, and teacher training and support as the fulcrum to leverage long term improvement and stability.

Much of this may seem familiar - because it is.

Here's what's different. Leaders - by the dozens - have very publicly put their names on the line. They have resolved to move beyond the fractured collection of fiefdoms. The have pledged as a community to work as a community.

In the New Year, that's a resolution we must keep.