Ideas

The Definitive Platform for Rebuilding St. Louis in the 21st Century

St. Louis City is at a critical fork in the road. With some of the biggest political leaders recently indicted by the Federal Government for corruption, a variety of infrastructure improvements and funds still stuck in limbo, a declining population, and our many Aldermen essentially running their own kingdoms with distinct capital funds, coordinated progress is difficult to achieve.

As this website shifts toward operating more as an idea-based, urbanist ‘think-tank’, it seems prudent to outline some key ideas in an organized fashion that just may give St. Louis City practical solutions to a growing list of pressing needs.

Our problems will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome without a substantial effort to reform our governance and priorities. Doing so now is increasingly important to reverse the negative feedback loops already negatively impacting the city. Moreover, upcoming challenges to individual liberties, safety, and equitable economic development are in the pipeline from Missouri’s legislative branches.

The following is a platform rooted in equitable growth and land use, safety & wellbeing, pride, and looking toward the future. The purpose of this platform is to provide a distinct set of ideas and purpose to our elected officials and to give the public a list of solutions to lobby for.

THE PLATFORM:


LAND USE & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

  1. Completely remove single family zoning.
    1. Single Family Zoning is incredibly effective at keeping people out of neighborhoods, an exclusionary practice that increases housing costs, segregates communities, and contributes to the climate crisis. Single Family Zoning does not mean that your home must become a multifamily dwelling. Instead, it means that you could decide to build more units on that property should you choose to do so. Density is critical for supporting transit and neighborhood commercial opportunities.
  2. Allow ADUs.
    1. Accessory Dwelling Units can provide critically important additional housing in high-demand neighborhoods. A garage can be converted at significantly less cost to new housing versus entirely new construction on a vacant lot.
  3. Fee for unit removal.
    1. As is already being considered, this type of ordinance discourages flippers from taking dense housing stock and reducing the number of units available on a given parcel. The fee would be akin to a ‘sin tax’ for smoking, still preserving liberty in real estate transactions while also providing an opportunity for the city to then invest those funds in positive social uses.
  4. Eliminate community and aldermanic review for housing proposals.
    1. Community and aldermanic review serve to prevent or otherwise housing proposals and thus affordable housing more broadly. Empirical research routinely showcases that even market-rate housing construction lowers housing pressures even for low and middle income earners and as such still provides benefits.
  5. Increased property taxes to fund infrastructure.
    1. Property taxes are comparatively low in the City of St. Louis despite its large geography and service responsibilities. Increased property taxes would direct more revenue to schools within the city and ensure that land is valued accordingly. However, efforts should be made for property tax assistance for homeowners on fixed incomes.
  6. Tie development incentives to a tangible percentage affordable and/or workforce units.
    1. Development incentives often may be necessary to make a project feasible, which should be the goal in a city that is losing population. However, development incentives are effectively public funds and thus should deliver concrete public benefits. A percentage of units for large developments with tax incentives should deliver a percentage of more affordable units. However, this should be a concrete policy and not determined on the fly. SLDC should have a tiered list of percentages for project cost and units.
  7. Funding for elderly home repair.
    1. The University of Missouri – St. Louis is currently conducting a study that explores the impact of home repairs for elderly citizens in the region. If it showcases tangible positive benefits such as keeping the home in the family and making the residence safer, this can be an investment that helps produce and maintain generational wealth.
  8. Prioritize land use over historical preservation with the recognition that housing affordability, density, and the impacts on people and environment outweigh poor historical land use.
    1. St. Louis has an incredible historic built environment, and historic preservation can be an important tool. However, when facing crises like Climate Change and Housing Unaffordability, historic preservation should not prevent higher value land uses. For example, many preservationists opposed the renovation of the Optimist International building in the Central West End into over 150 apartments. The building was in poor shape, the non-profit who owned it wanted to sell it, and the parcel thus provided almost no benefits to the community save for its design which is fundamentally exclusively subjective in benefit. That is rather than the concrete benefits of dense housing that can contribute a more widespread benefit than a derelict building that, even if remodeled, would contribute little aside from its design to the city.
  9. Reform SLDC such that it does not rely so heavily on outside consultants.
    1. A burgeoning field of research on ‘State Capacity’ showcases that governments of all sizes and shapes across the U.S. have steadily found themselves with less capacity and ability to take on large projects and to do so effectively. A negative feedback loop is thus spawned as it faces punitive budget cuts and relies on outside consultants for difficult projects. Such takes away the sovereignty of the organization and makes it reliant on private interests, costs, and timelines. Such should not be the case for St. Louis’ development arm and the recent corruption case showcases how outside consultants poison the well in this capacity.
  10. Empower Greater STL Inc. and work with neighboring counties and municipal governments to restrict inter-region infighting and to offer the region’s collective benefits to lure new investment.
    1. Regional infighting is not a real economic development solution. If Maplewood sees stealing a business from the City or another municipality as a realistic option to raise its revenues, it simply harms its next-door neighbor and even then, probably just temporarily. The region must act collectively to lure new businesses with Greater STL Inc. rather than continuing to split hairs internally.
  11. Further funding the Prop. N.S. Program to reduce the market gap in housing rehabilitations in lower demand sections of the city.
    1. A ‘market-gap’ has been identified in research over the last few decades that showcases how real estate investment will not occur in given areas due to a non-existent market. For example, the City may offer a property through the LRA for $10 – which sounds like a steal, but if the buyer needs to put in $100,000 for a building that would at best sell for $70,000 then they will not make that investment and the building will continue to rot. Prop. N.S. begins to address this problem by addressing key issues and stabilizing the properties, usually through roof and foundation repairs, beginning to fix the market-gap. This should continue and be bolstered.

TRANSIT

  1. Complete build-out of the N/S MetroLink line and connect to North County.
    1. The MetroLink expansion will be critical as a means to connecting people in lower-income communities with fewer jobs to areas where jobs are in abundance. This is an investment in our people and in the environment. This also would reduce auto-dependence for communities where auto-ownership is a major financial burden.
  2. Increased funding for bus and train operator salaries.
    1. A sizable number of people rely on bus and train service, and ideally this number must grow as we face a climate crisis fueled in some part by car dependency. With this in mind, the City must work with Bi-State in any way required such that these operators earn a competitive salary and routes do not see their frequencies cut. These individuals are the backbone of our region.
  3. Increased funding for bus shelters.
    1. Bus shelters are a critical piece of infrastructure for safety and comfort and represent a relatively insignificant capital investment versus infrastructure that we dedicate toward cars. These are of reduced importance with high frequencies, but no individual should have to wait in the sun for 30 minutes waiting for a bus. This is a standard met by world-class cities, and St. Louis will not be world-class or competitive if it misses key infrastructure opportunities that take care of its people.
  4. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along #95 and #70 bus routes.
    1. BRT is being adopted in forward-thinking cities across the country as a relatively low-cost method to increase bus frequency by dedicating a lane for bus transit. The Kingshighway and Grand routes have abundant space for a dedicated bus-lane and dedicated, built-out stops can even rival fixed light-rail in some instances at significantly lower costs.
  5. Increased funding for station maintenance and accessible features.
    1. Our major Downtown MetroLink stations should never sit for weeks without working elevators or escalators. IT is an embarrassment to visitors and regular transit users. It again reflects all-too-low state capacity and, if Bi-State needs more engineers and cannot fund this by themselves, then it should be addressed by partners in the City. These are key accessible features, particularly with regard to elevators, and it is indeed too much to ask that a low-mobility individual bypass their stop.
  6. Increased frequency on major bus corridors and MetroLink routes.
    1. Frequency is a driver of ridership and contributes to economic mobility. An individual should never have to allocate 2 or 3 hours to get to work, but this is the reality for many St. Louisans not because the route doesn’t exist, but because the frequencies leave them waiting for significant periods along their route. Reducing frequency can often reduce ridership, contributing to urges by communities to further reduce funding because of low ridership. We must not fall into that trap.
  7. Ensuring that Lambert International Airport officials incorporate MetroLink into revised terminal plans.
    1. One of our greatest regional assets is a light-rail system that brings riders to and from the airport, something that world-class cities like Los Angeles are just now trying to build out. We must ensure that as Lambert undergoes planning for a renewed, singular terminal that transit access continues to be a strength.

ROADWAYS

  1. Take roadway capital improvement projects away from Aldermen and incorporate into the responsibilities of BPS and Streets Department.
    1. Aldermen should not be making capital improvement/urban planning decisions, particularly those that impact residents in other words as well. These are largely untrained elected officials who, again, largely do not hold expertise in urban planning decisions save for a few particular individuals. Leave city planning and streets decisions to experts in a city with the capacity to make these decisions. This is fragmented decision making as it stands today with domino-impacts from individual aldermanic decisions.
  2. Incorporate ‘Road Diets’ along Kingshighway, Grand, and Jefferson corridors and along most roadways in Downtown to rebalance toward pedestrian safety in an era of bigger and heavier vehicles.
    1. Road Diets are one of the best tools for improving pedestrian and bike safety, and for some of these corridors, trying to be either is a frightening proposition. Research showcases that reducing lanes does not increase traffic due to the principals of reduced demand. This is hard pill to swallow for many and a tough political line to sell, but the City should follow empirical evidence and incentivize other forms of transportation. Road Diets can make our roadways safer across the region and they are cheap to implement and of higher importance as cars continue getting bigger and deadlier for non-car users.
  3. Additional tax on heavy-duty vehicles (large SUVs and pickup trucks) incorporated within personal property taxes to afford the additional damage they cause to the built environment and infrastructure, as well as the environment more broadly.
    1. These vehicles have negative externalities that are not accounted for when purchased by the end-user. Heavier vehicles cause significantly more damage to road infrastructure, and when they occasionally drive off the road, to our buildings as well. They are becoming significantly more deadly to pedestrians and cyclists as well, wreaking havoc to all those not within the vehicle. These amount to increasing costs that should be addressed and then utilized to improve and prepare infrastructure to keep people across all transit modes safer.
  4. Continue the build-out of dedicated cycle tracks along major roadways.
    1. Dedicated cycling paths are important for cycling safety and, in many cases, even for the safety of drivers. They are relatively cheap to implement and we have a growing number of examples, like the protected cycle paths on Union north of Forest Park, that showcase how easy they are to implement and how efficient they can be. With current infrastructure, cycle users may often avoid major, and the most efficient, corridors when reaching their destination because they opt for a higher chance to make it home to dinner in one piece. If other great cities can do it, so can we.

GOVERNANCE

  1. Transition municipal government away from the Weak-Mayor system with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment into a Council-Manager government with a professional city manager.
    1. Cities with City Managers and a Council dedicated to legislative actions can be much better equipped to collectively and coherently tackle city-wide issues. The current state of various fiefdoms stifles cooperation and takes decision making down to individuals who are not equipped generally to be making huge capital improvement decisions. We don’t need to look far to see higher efficiency: our neighbors across the state in Kansas City showcase just how effective a City Manager can be. Crucially, Kansas City is also growing and a coherent vision is key to that.
  2. Double the salaries of Aldermen and professionalize their offices with a community liaison and legislative specialist.
    1. Although elected offices should and must be accessible to people of all walks of life, the current low salary and part time nature of the job effectively rule out a large amount of people who simply could not afford to serve without having to take on other responsibilities. Legislating a big city is and should be a full-time job, and its one that also requires a lot of community input and legislative know-how. Let’s modernize and professionalize the Board and ensure that members are prepared financially and logistically to succeed.
  3. Work toward reducing fragmentation with duplicated services particularly with regard to the municipalities bordering St. Louis City.
    1. Police
      1. Multiple police departments impacts service delivery, reliability, data collection, and quality. Differing training regiments, accreditations, community relations requirements, force regulations, salaries, etc. harms safety and credibility.
    2. Dispatch
      1. The City has struggled to maintain an effective dispatch center and is already making improvements, but there are inherent inefficiencies to multiple different dispatch systems for multiple neighboring police departments. The redundancy carries extra costs and potentially sub-optimal outcomes for people on the other end of the line.
    3. Schools
      1. This is unpopular particularly in some inner-ring suburbs who fear sharing their school resources with less-well funded school systems. However, the difference in school quality and funding leads to an unequal foundation for our youth and contributes to inequality, often intersected with race and zip code. By increasing property taxes as described elsewhere in this platform, the city can make its foundation for schools more sizable and relieve concerns.
  4. Reform service delivery and development, reducing unnecessary reviews when possible. No cycle track should take years to approve.
    1. Efficiency has to improve such that idea to finished product for a roadway improvement, bike path, or sidewalk repair to take years. This is another culprit of state capacity and can likely be traced to excess reviews, approvals, and a bureaucracy hampered by withering technology and unacceptably low levels of accountability and ability to take action.
  5. Increase salaries of city personnel across the board to be more competitive with industry. The city should be the best place to work in St. Louis.
    1. How could we expect great city services from a government effectively operating as though it has adopted austerity? Low budgets and inflexible salaries lose qualified individuals to industry. Public service should not be as much a sacrifice as it is made to be, because such sacrifice is burdened by our entire city, not just that individual.
  6. Reduce reliance on external consultants. To do so, St. Louis needs to build state capacity such that project costs and timelines are not dictated on exterior schedules and cost overruns.
    1. External consultants are much a product of all-too-limited state capacity and they introduce private interests, leading generally to increased costs and longer timelines. See the high-speed train fiasco in California as an example, or even the many private, consultant-run studies on light-rail transit that we’ve explored over the last two decades here in St. Louis that eat up millions of dollars with no tangible product. In-house can equal efficient and bring about cost savings if we equip our government with the qualified personnel necessary to make engineering and planning decisions.
  7. Consider a 0.5% increase in the City Earnings Tax to be more competitive in city services with other peer cities that have similar or even higher tax rates.
    1. Good city services to not naturally occur under austerity conditions. Many cities actually have higher than St. Louis City’s 1% earnings tax. Cleveland, for example, has a 2.5% earnings tax and, despite that, is growing (albeit slowly) while St. Louis is doing the opposite. Our 1% earnings tax is not the problem, but increasing it to 1.5% could be part of the solution toward providing city services and infrastructure that attract and maintain residents.
  8. Remove the residency requirement from most, if not all, city bureaucratic positions such that the local government is less of a jobs program and more a delivery service of excellent and professional city services.
    1. St. Louis City represents approximately 10% of the total MSA population, but the entire region is home to qualified professionals in all fields. St. Louis City is largely prohibiting some of our region’s best from working for us on the basis that these roles should pay salaries to only those who live in the city. The presumption is that our city residents hold all the key qualifications necessary, but that argument becomes more and more strained overtime as our population decreases and city jobs remain vacant while dumpsters don’t get emptied in our alleys.
  9. Preserving the new ‘Approval Voting’ mechanism to reduce partisanship and produce candidates who better reflect collective interest rather than those at partisan extremes who otherwise may win with a plurality.
  10. Approval Voting
    1. As described in our video below, Approval Voting can be an excellent tool to ensure that elected candidates are more likely representing a larger share of interests than in our standard primary system.

SAFETY

  1. Restrict firearms to the extent possible and encourage private institutions with more ability to do so to meet stringent firearms requirements.
    1. Doing so will be difficult as gun rights continue extending due to court decisions. However, empirical research almost exclusively showcases a connection between more guns and more killing. Regardless of the political reality, whatever efforts that can be made should be made and that means relying on private partners when possible to enact gun restrictions on as much private property as possible where it is still legal to do so.
  2. Merge city and inner-ring suburb police/EMS departments and have the combined force meet the absolute highest accreditation possible.
    1. Increase funding where necessary to ensure fewer officers work overtime in accordance with improvements documented in empirical criminology literature such that violent and property crimes are reduced. However, those improvements are not inherent to having more officers – fundamental improvements to training and scheduling must be made such that officers are less likely to be in situations where they’re 12 hours into a shift making sub-optimal decisions with insufficient training.
    2. Many of the city’s lowest income neighborhoods, and even Downtown, report frequently seeing few officers.
  3. Combine dispatch centers and increase salaries, wellness benefits to completely eliminate 911 call wait-times.
    1. 911 wait-times are unacceptable for those in emergency situations and the lack of operators comes down to multiple key issues: (1) Salary – workers go where they see an acceptable financial return; (2) Fragmentation – some municipalities likely have too many operators while the City has too few; and (3) It is a difficult, mentally taxing job – and as such, these roles should come with great benefits and wellness programs to ensure that when your call is answered, they’re up to the job all the time.
  4. Allocate funding toward the fire department’s efforts to document vacant building status such that firefighters are less in danger when putting out blazes in vacant structures.
  5. The St. Louis City Fire Department has begun building a collection of buildings that they will not enter due to the inherent and real risks that these buildings pose upon their personnel. However, this is a process that should be expedited and likely more the responsibility of other City departments and should thus be supported substantially.
  6. Utilizing road diets and taxes on excessively large vehicles to reduce pedestrian injuries and casualties.
  7. As described above, Road Diets will keep pedestrians and cyclists safer while also not contributing to worse traffic.
  8. Non-enforcement of non-violent drug crimes and sex work.
  9. These crimes intersect with strong moral and religious beliefs, but regardless of those and whether or not they’re valis as public policy solutions, the enforcement of crimes of these natures that are violence-free and victimless should not take any capacity away from our overtaxed police enforcement. From a practical perspective, these activities will likely continue despite the laws and actions should be taken to make them safer without filling our prisons – a cost we all bear.

WELLBEING

  1. Consider bond programs for city home repair programs to maintain existing residents and build generational wealth.
    1. Keeping people in their homes and building generational wealth is a means of battling income inequality, particularly that which is present for marginalized groups. Making relatively minor repairs on the homes of our elderly neighbors may be a positive investment from a human perspective, but also possibly from the perspective of the alternative costs of a vacant building that becomes more expensive to repair as it attracts crime in accordance with the Broken Window Theory.
  2. Subsidize and/or insure home loans, particularly in neighborhoods that have a history of redlining.
    1. Home ownership is one of the best tools for building wealth and stability, but residents in primarily North-City neighborhoods cannot access financing for rehabs or new constructions due to market-gaps, informal redlining, etc. oftentimes even if they have excellent credit. The City stands to gain from these revitalized neighborhoods and stability and thus should explore subsidizing or insuring loans in these neighborhoods to help build equity for qualified buyers.
  3. Ensure transit routes have a frequency that can support longer distance city travel and thus support individuals who cannot move but need to access job centers.
    1. Frequency is a critical factor for someone without a car to find job stability and have the freedom of mobility.
  4. Support individual rights and freedoms for the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups who routinely face attacks from the Missouri State Government.
    1. The City has the inherent duty to protect its residents, and that duty is likely to face increasing threats from Missouri’s State Government that is increasingly interested in reducing freedoms for LGBTQIA+ people and allowing for discrimination on the State level. St. Louis City should take on these in court and create funds where necessary to provide defense for those who may be persecuted.
  5. Adopting local ordinances in the workplace and housing to prohibit discrimination.
    1. Just as above, these ordinances may be necessary in an increasingly hostile state government and can at least protect residents from local enforcement mechanisms.
  6. Contributing to funds for legal defenses if necessary for individuals if, like in the State of Texas, may find themselves prosecuted by their state government for healthcare for trans children.
    1. These are unacceptable intrusions upon personal liberty and healthcare and pose significant threats to the wellbeing (emotional and financial) for members of our community, many of whom would be unable to protect themselves legally from these attacks should they take place. The City must prepare and be ready.
  7. Non-enforcement of potentially incoming state legislation that may criminalize abortion access.
    1. Similar to protecting other rights and freedoms, abortion falls into a category of personal healthcare that is under increasingly hostile attacks from the State government. St. Louis City should ensure easy access to states like Illinois across the river and ensure that every action is taken to support those in need of those services. This is something that we’re beginning to see discussed among the Board.
  8. Creation of a Tenant’s Bill of Rights.
    1. Tenants in rental units are prized neighbors and community members and should not be subject to some of the most relaxed laws in the nation for tenant protections. As we encourage more development, we should ensure that tenants have protections and do so through coherent city policy rather than through individual neighborhood pushback.

PRIDE

  1. Build infrastructure that does more than meet the bare minimum. Our built environment is one of the key assets of the city, and the higher-quality, attractive streetlights and street features that used to be more commonplace can provide hope and pride for city residents.
    1. Build out in neighborhoods beyond the Central West End. Every city resident should feel pride in their city and see investment.
    2. This will carry an increased cost, but it’s important to recognize that existing streetlight infrastructure, for example is already very expensive and investments in pride and built environment can pay dividends in the future.
  2. Offer best-in-class services that make people proud to live here.
    1. We need to offer reasons for people to stay and, in a large country with many incredible cities, offer unique infrastructure and city elements to attract more residents. We are so used to dumbing down our infrastructure and finding the lowest costs rather than delivering something special.
  3. Properly maintain city parks and revitalize connections to these major community assets.
    1. A Southwest Garden resident has almost no safe way to cross over to Tower Grove Park as Kingshighway and the current streetscape almost completely separate a major asset from its closest neighbors.
    2. A Dutchtown or Wells Goodfellow resident might routinely see unexpectedly tall weeds in their city parks.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

  1. Turn budget reserves into a well-managed endowment/sovereign wealth fund similar to that of nations like Norway to invest in our collective future.
  2. Take advantage of low-interest debt to finance infrastructure and community projects. Focusing on less debt is a low-productivity strategy that fails to capitalize on growth.
  3. Invest in St. Louis’ key location along the Mississippi River for freight transportation.
  4. Invest in St. Louis as a tourism destination by better connecting the Arch Grounds to commercial corridors as well as creating riverfront attractions for riverfront cruises.
  5. Coordinating legislation with empirical, academic literature – particularly alongside partnerships with our world-class educational institutions.
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