KC is rising while St. Louis keeps falling
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Citians often lament the high crime rate, disappointing school systems and other problems facing the city.
But it could be worse.
We could live in St. Louis.
On Tuesday, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay deservedly won the city’s Democratic primary and is virtually certain to win a record fourth term in April.
Slay’s reward: He will continue presiding over one of America’s fastest fading cities, a community wracked by a steady, alarming loss of residents.
Sure, St. Louis still has the iconic Gateway Arch, some strong neighborhoods, a new baseball park, light rail, and many other positive points.
But check out these facts.
In 1950, St. Louis was the eighth largest U.S. city, with 857,000 people. But by 2010, St. Louis had lost a stunning 538,000 people and plummeted to the 58th largest city, with only 319,000 residents.
In 1980, St. Louis was still Missouri’s largest city, barely ahead of Kansas City. But by 2010, Kansas City’s population of 460,000 was 44 percent larger than St. Louis’.
The city of St. Louis has slumped today to the point where it makes up only 11 percent of its metropolitan area’s population of 2.8 million. That’s one of the lowest percentages for any large U.S. city in its region, further evidence that the influence of St. Louis continues to slide.
Finally, the ills of St. Louis helped slash population growth in its metropolitan area to only 4 percent between 2000 and 2010. Only a few other deeply troubled regions — such as Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh — were worse off in that period.
Slay and other city boosters are well aware of all these negative trends. They valiantly will continue working to find ways to attract people, companies and capital to St. Louis, hoping to finally halt the population drain.
Feel better, Kansas Citians?
Mayor Sly James made this comment in his 2013 budget message last month: “…We are setting the pace with innovative and dynamic solutions to challenges cities across the nation share.… Friends, we are on the move, and our peers are noticing. We are pulling our chair up to the table with the nation’s great cities.”
Get past the expected hyperbole from an elected official, and Kansas City boosters do, indeed, have more things to feel encouraged about than they did a few years ago.
The city’s emphasis on growing its entrepreneurial ranks could pay off big time with new jobs for young people.
The increased funding of the arts — coupled with fantastic new venues — are boosting our attraction as a Midwestern cultural hub.
Plus, City Hall is better off, partly thanks to money from a voter-approved tax increase to finance more road repairs and park maintenance.
Kansas City is superior to St. Louis in a number of important markers — even after taking into account the fact that Kansas City has far more square miles.
Between 1990 and 2010, Kansas City added almost 25,000 residents, while St. Louis shed 77,000. Projections by the Mid-America Regional Council indicate Kansas City’s positive trend will continue north of the Missouri River.
While Kansas City has lost at least 120,000 people from its urban core since 1950, that’s far better than St. Louis’ loss of 538,000.
The city of Kansas City makes up 23 percent of this metropolitan area’s population of 2 million people. That rate is middle of the pack — still lots of room for improvement — when compared with peers around the country.
Kansas City is in a healthier metropolitan area. The region’s population grew at a respectable 11 percent rate between 2000 and 2010, again in the middle range for larger metro areas. This region added 199,000 residents in that time; the St. Louis area gained only 114,000.
As aging Midwestern big cities, Kansas City and St. Louis face many of the same vexing troubles.
But right now, for a variety of reasons, Kansas City’s future looks a lot brighter than St. Louis’ does.
To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.