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February 1, 2019  

Can Cities Like St. Louis Get Financially Stronger by Merging with Richer Places?

February 1, 2019

Trivia time: can you name the only three American cities* that aren’t a part of a larger county—and don’t have access to the tax dollars of their suburban neighbors (and vice versa)?

If you said Baltimore, Maryland; Carson City, Nevada; and St. Louis, Missouri, you’d be right. (The asterisk is for cities in Virginia, which, for various complicated Civil War-era reasons, doesn’t count.) But if some local advocates have their way, the last name on that list might not be there for long.

Last week, a billionaire-funded group called Better Together put forward a plan to re-unite St. Louis City and St. Louis County, which have been governed separately since way back in 1876 (for more complicated Civil War-era reasons). But while some proponents are cheering, others aren’t so sure that getting the band back together is a good idea—and the reasons why on both sides are a fascinating case study in how moving lines on a map can distract from the real and crucial conversations we should be having about how we can make our places financially strong.

On this episode of Upzoned, long time St. Louis resident and Strong Towns staffer Kea sits down with Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn to talk about the ins and outs of the merger, and what they wish Missourians would talk about instead.

Would melding STL and SLC give the city access to county tax dollars that they badly need to fix their infrastructure? Or would it give the county the windfall they need just in time to rescue their aging suburban roads as they begin to fail—leaving the city worse off than it started? Would a merger really transform the St. Louis metro overnight into an economic development heavyweight, poising it to compete with Nashville and Denver for the next corporate headquarters that goes searching for a home—and if it did, would it really be a good thing? And most importantly, how can St. Louis—and every city like it—shift the conversation away from merely developing a more financially efficient city, and towards building a more financially productive one that can really thrive?

Then in the Downzone, Chuck and Kea talk their recent reads, from the very on-topic Divided City by Alan Mallach to the not-so-relevant but still very fun Star Wars Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. (Guess who’s reading which.) And then they mildly torture Kea by talking about this weekend’s upcoming entertainment: the Rams vs. Patriots Superbowl.

Top photo via Flickr.