It was once popular in the St. Louis development community to point to New Orleans as a model for the City. And, certainly, the Crescent City’s effective convention bureau and rehabbed warehouse districts were — and still are worth studying.
But, as St. Patrick Center’s Dan Buck observes in a new podcast on this website, New Orleans was actually two distinct communities: a small prosperous one linked to tourism and hospitality, and a larger tragic one in which many residents lived in enclaves of poverty.
Despite its convention dollars, New Orleans had long neglected key elements of infrastructure, public safety, public education, and neighborhood stabilization. Katrina struck both communities of New Orleans — pouring over inadequate flood walls, demoralizing its police department, submerging its school district, driving off months of planned visitors, and dispersing its residents and businesses across the country. How New Orleans addresses these challenges will keep urban planners and CNN busy for years.
St. Louis didn’t need a hurricane to learn these lessons. Developers like Richard Baron, Mary “One” Johnson, and John Steffen have been building mixed market-rate and subsidized neighborhoods in St. Louis for years. A bold Board of Education, led by Darnetta Clinkscale, began the academic and fiscal reform of the City’s public schools more than two years ago. Partnerships — some of them involving our suburban neighbors of public and private entities are addressing urban problems like lead poisoning, chronic homelessness, after-school and rec programs, new green space, joblessness, and affordable health care. And police chief Joe Mokwa has taken his department through some very public steps to improve its efficiency and to strengthen public confidence.
We’re not finished here, but we’ve been doing a few things that other cities ought to be considering themselves.