A recent editorial in The St. Louis American asserted that some “middle-class and affluent African-Americans” were more reluctant to go Downtown to eat, dance, shop, and sightsee than were white St. Louisans. Noting how relatively few African-American diners and strollers are seen Downtown, the editorial wondered: “If black and white people can’t party together comfortably in large numbers, then what on Earth can we do together?”
That’s a great question. And to it, I’d add another one: “What should we do about it?”
Downtown St. Louis is the only place in the entire region large enough and convenient enough to be cosmopolitan. It is not going happen in Clayton or Chesterfield or St. Charles.
Downtown has undergone a tremendous renaissance over the past few years. New stores, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and lofts seem to be opening every week. Businesses are expanding - or moving - here monthly. Projects like Pinnacle’s Lumiere Place and Cordish’s Ballpark Village offer exciting promises of even more things to do Downtown in the near future.
The American editorial opined that one problem is that relatively few African-Americans work in visible jobs at Downtown’s restaurants, clubs, boutiques, and stores - and that this omission served to make Downtown seem less friendly to affluent African-American patrons and visitors. That is one of the same conclusions reached last year by the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which is advised by its own Multi-Cultural Committee and which has commissioned qualitative research to better understand the issues involved. As result of these studies, the CVC is already working to make its own workforce more representative of the region’s many ethnic groups - and is actively identifying ways to celebrate (and market) more of the region’s wonderful cultural diversity.
This sort of forward-thinking needs to be more widespread. Area hotels, restaurants, stores, and other private venues, particularly those Downtown, also need to show off - from their front desks to their managers’ suites - how diverse the region actually is.
They all might take a clue from the City’s increasingly integrated neighborhood blocks, where black residents and white residents share common interests, concerns, and rising property values.
I’m with Dr. Donald Suggs on this one: let’s have a Downtown where everyone shares a vibrant social life.