Sprawl Wallops St. Louis with 8% Population Loss

St. Louis is reeling from the news that the city has lost 29,000 residents — or eight percent of its population — since 2000. The Gateway City had already lost a greater share of its population than any other major US city. The latest count brings it down to a total 319,294 from a height of 856,796 residents in 1950.

News of the loss was especially disappointing as the Census’s biannual population estimates had shown a slight uptick in city population, leading many to believe St. Louis had turned a corner. Alex Ihnen at Next STL shared the frustration of local urbanists and characterized the news as an indictment of local policies:

It had become conventional wisdom that the City had hit bottom, that the population was now increasing for the first time since 1950. The 2009 American Community Survey, a yearly estimate produced by the U.S. Census Bureau had estimated the population had grown 356,587 residents.

Who is the city losing and why? Where can new ideas come from? When will the “old guard” who have overseen this exodus stop cutting ribbons and turning dirt with a smile and silver shovel and simply get out of the way? The City of St. Louis is subject to national and international trends that challenge every historic American city, but what we have done has failed. Failed.

Population loss in the central city is only half the story, however. St. Louis’s suburbs are seeing a different trend, noted by New Geography:

The St. Louis metropolitan area did much better. In 2010, the metropolitan area had a population of 2,813,000, up from 2,699,000 in 2000, a gain of four percent. The loss in the city was eight percent, while the suburbs gained six percent.

New Geography uses the metro growth to argue that the St. Louis region is “flourishing,” despite the declining state of its central city. However, a more critical look at the data tells a different story.

Hardly a harbinger of health, St. Louis’s metro growth rate was less than half the rate of U.S. as a whole, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis County lost two percent of its population, dipping below 1 million residents, as a result of population declines in the inner-ring suburbs. Meanwhile, suburban St. Charles County overtook the population of the city of St. Louis in the last decade. And Jefferson County isn’t far behind. St. Charles County gained 76,602, or 27 percent. Jefferson County gained 20,634, or 10 percent. Exurban Lincoln and Warren counties both had growth rates greater than 30 percent.

The slow regional population growth rate would be tolerable, if in fact the region’s economic growth was outpacing it, making the region “richer,” says Tim Logan at the Post-Dispatch, but alas, that is not the case.

This latest round of data should inspire some reflection on the part of St. Louis leaders about regional development patterns, or the next Census is likely to be just as disappointing.

It must also be noted that St. Louis is hardly unique. Chicago residents were taken aback last week when the Census showed the city had lost roughly 200,000 residents.

This article originally appeared on Streetsblog.

-A.S.

5 Comments

Filed under Featured, sprawl

5 responses to “Sprawl Wallops St. Louis with 8% Population Loss

  1. Kevin

    To be more precise, Wendell Cox says that the region is flourishing. I wouldn’t trust him to tell me the time without an explanation of how sprawl makes his watch more accurate.

  2. schmange

    Never trust anyone named Wendell. Duh!

  3. While it is terribly disappointing that St. Louis has continued to decline, we can’t consider numbers on a piece of paper the entire story. I don’t think you could find a single St. Louis City resident who would argue against the fact that the City is MUCH better off today than it was 10 years ago. MANY neighborhoods have improved dramatically, even if they are home to slightly fewer people than in 2000. Overall (until the census numbers were released) there was a refreshing spirit of optimism in St. Louis. It really did feel like the city was on the comeback, and in many ways it very much is. If we look at a map of growth/decline throughout the United States, St. Louis is hardly in a unique position. Every old industrial city is on the same boat. They continue to improve while still bleeding population. I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope it doesn’t stifle the city’s strides.

  4. schmange

    I absolutely believe it, Randy. You know what my theory about this is? So, St. Louis proper lost 21,000 black residents over 10 years, compared to only 8,000 white residents. Probably some of the white population loss was offset by gains. But 90,000 whites fled the county and inner-ring suburbs lost population.

    St. Louis’ population loss was almost entirely by blacks. But the county lost a lot of whites, who were fleeing more integrated inner-ring suburbs.

  5. True indeed, Ange-Shmange. I think the same trend is at play in Chicago, though on a much larger scale. Population is one indicator of a city’s sustainability, but it certainly isn’t everything. St. Louis may be smaller than it was 10 years ago, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of then-marginal neighborhoods are now vibrant, and there seem to be more rehabs than demolitions in most neighborhoods. There’s also the factor of overall reduction of household size. St. Louis, like many older cities is comprised largely of multi-family buildings. 4-flats that once housed 3 or 4 families have been converted to single or 2-family townhomes. The exodus of population doesn’t automatically equal more vacancy. There are a lot of variables to consider. You couldn’t pay me to live in the Sunbelt. Those “healthy” boomtowns in the south/southwest are absolutely awful. Gotta love old cities. They are scrappy survivors. I love Rustwire.

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