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St. Louis is not a donut.

Is St. Louis a donut? St. Louis Alderwoman Lyda Krewson seemed to think it's becoming one, if it is not one already. She reportedly said that the city needs a new baseball stadium to save it from becoming the hole in a regional donut.

Krewson's comment simply parrots the analogy used in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and in copycat television news articles about damaging effects of current patterns of suburban development.

It is true that sometimes Post writers note that there can be a more optimistic spin to suburban development. For instance, David Nicklaus cited local urban planning guru Richard Ward saying that the newest wave of suburban development is recentering downtown.

Either way, the implication is that people and businesses moving out of St. Louis city are fleeing in all directions in roughly equal numbers. There's just one little problem with that: it is totally false.

Between 1990 and 2000, the westward migration of people from St. Louis city was strong. St. Louis County grew by 22,786 people, according to the United States Census Bureau, and most of that was in the west. St. Charles County grew by 70,976 people. That's a lot more people than headed east from St. Louis city to southwestern Illinois, defined as Madison and St. Clair Counties. That part of the metro area grew by only 2,933 people.

All of the talk from the heads of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association on down about growth in southwestern Illinois somehow balancing growth in St. Charles is, at best, whistling past the graveyard. The population of the metropolitan area isn't just moving out from the urban core, it is moving west.

People I've interviewed for several local business publications seem well aware of that movement, even if major news outlets seem ignorant of it.

One person frustrated by it is John Baricevic, chairman of the St. Clair County Commission. "Too many businesses in Missouri will not look to expand in Illinois, simply because we are Illinois," Baricevic said. "When businesses decide to leave city of St. Louis, they will go 60 miles west instead of 3 miles east, and no one will discuss that."

Baricevic's frustration is understandable. So much in real estate depends on location, location, and location. Baricevic and other east side leaders continue to market southwestern Illinois' proximity to downtown St. Louis as one of its chief virtues, even as fewer and fewer business operators care about being close to downtown. And as people and businesses move westward and the importance of downtown to the regional economy declines, the value of the east side's closeness to downtown declines, too. The futures of downtown St. Louis and southwestern Illinois may be more tightly linked than the futures of St. Louis and St. Charles.

According to Edsel Charles, a housing market analyst from Tennessee who does work for the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis (HBA), it is not just businesses that won't go to Illinois, neither will Missouri residents. In explaining to an HBA meeting why new residential development will continue to move westward, even as land becomes scarcer and more expensive in St. Charles County. Charles said, "People in Missouri act like Illinois is a foreign country. They will not cross the river. I don't know why, but it is as if they think their money is no good over there and people speak a foreign language."

Baricevic and Charles are not alone in their appreciation of the "Westward, ho!" mentality in metropolitan St. Louis. Michael Zahn, the director of real estate for CitiGroup's Midwest region, explained that one of the reasons company leaders decided to move to O'Fallon, Mo., from St. Louis County is--"We think the future of the St. Louis area is headed in that direction, and from a real estate perspective, you want your investment to appreciate."

Jim Grabenhorst, director of economic development for O'Fallon, Missouri, appreciates that sentiment. He projects that the population of O'Fallon will top 80,000 within five years, making it the second largest municipality in the metropolitan area, behind only the city of St. Louis. After that, new home construction in O'Fallon will drop sharply as the center of the market moves even farther west to Wentzville and Wright City.

Whether suburban settlement in metropolitan St. Louis is moving westward or taking the shape of a donut is more than an academic exercise. One's reading of the shape of development determines answers to a wide range of public policy and public spending issues, from transportation to anew Cardinals' ballpark. If the metro area is a donut, for example, it makes sense that the Cardinals could move to Illinois.

Rep. Jim Murphy got into a lot of trouble for scoffing at the idea that the Cardinals might move to Illinois, but if the center of the area's population is moving westward, would the hard-headed businessmen who own the Cardinals really pull up stakes and head east? If they were going to move, it is much more likely they would head to O'Fallon, and that is something about which the legislature could have a say, without giving the owners free access to the public purse.

Peter Downs is a St. Louis free-lance-writer.
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Title Annotation:suburban development
Author:Downs, Peter
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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