Is that St. Louis? On a good list?
And is that Columbia? Two Missouri cities? On the same good list?
Believe it or not, yes. In a list of the 25 coolest and most affordable cities for millennials, both Missouri cities made the cut. Columbia, with it's massive growth over the past several years and college town hipness, came in at Number 15.
St. Louis was... drum roll please... Number 1.
St. Louis has gotten a bad rap over the years, much of it undeserved. Known as one of the most violent cities in the United States, St. Louis's homicide rate often makes news for all the wrong reasons.
What doesn't get explained, because it doesn't fit into a neat headline, is that St. Louis City proper is only a very small part of the greater metropolitan area. Landlocked on the east by the Mississippi River, and on the west by incorporated suburbs in separate St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis hasn't been able to grow geographically like other major cities. It's high-crime area inside the main urban core isn't dissimilar from other major cities. It's just that with a city-proper population of only 315,000 out of a metro area of nearly 3,000,000, its murder rate gets skewed.
Whew... that was a long explanation.
But those details are important. It's time for St. Louis, and Missouri as a whole, to start fighting back for our reputations.
I grew up in Carbondale, Illinois, about 2 hours south of St. Louis. The St. Louis I know isn't an urban wasteland. The St. Louis I know is the one where my friends and I went to see music we couldn't see in Southern Illinois. The St. Louis I know is the one where we went to see great baseball. The St. Louis I know is the one where people were sent when they needed top-notch health care they couldn't get back home.
In other words, St. Louis, to me, was a place of opportunity. When I decided I wanted to work in media and didn't feel like putting up with 3 more years of real college, St. Louis was where I moved to study broadcasting. I go back and visit often.
But reputations matter. That's why if you look at the fastest growing cities in the United States, St. Louis is nowhere to be seen. In fact, out of the top 50 metros in the United States, only 6 have slower percent growth.
And as far as Missouri is concerned, after building what most would consider to be a happy little life here in Columbia, my wife and I have often talked about moving on. Columbia, for all its growth, and for all it has to offer, seems to be an anomaly in this state. We're ready to be someplace bigger, and those conversations often revolve heading someplace where things are happening. We rattle off words such as Dallas, and Houston, and Austin. Everywhere you look, it's clear in those places that growth is happening. We visit and find ourselves wanting to be there.
Yet, we come home to Missouri and ask, "Why can't Missouri be that place? Why can't St. Louis and Kansas City be the cities everyone talks about and everyone wants to move to? Why can't Columbia be the glue that holds those two together?"
St. Louis has a wonderful cultural scene with one of the nation's best free art museums, an emerging culinary culture, and great entertainment options.
Kansas City is gorgeous, friendly, home to many large companies and is revitalizing its downtown.
Columbia is an excellent college town with big-time SEC sports, a nationally-recognized journalism program, not one one but TWO nationally-recognized film festivals, and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest.
Missouri's rural areas offer some of the best outdoor recreation in all of the Midwest with amazing trails and scenery.
Yet, this message doesn't get delivered. Somehow, our politicians (left and right) get caught up in petty, culture wars politics that take us nowhere. Some Republican gets mad because his business gets sued for racial discrimination, and the next thing you know Republicans have passed a bill that says racism has to be the primary reason an employee gets let go in order for the business to get sued. (So, it's only a problem if racism is the primary reason?) The NAACP over-reacts with a first-of-its-kind travel warning. (You know, like the US State Department issues for certain 3rd world hellholes).
Partisan politicos may see a worthy battle. The rest of the country simply sees dysfunction.
Yet, clearly, there are great things about this place. Things that have gotten the attention of people outside of here.
My question for every statewide and community leader is what are you doing to help get the word out and give Missouri the growth it deserves?
It's an important question. Right now there are others just like me evaluating their futures and deciding where they want to invest their lives for years to come.
What Missouri wants to be is a question we think about every day.
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