Faking It Until They Make It?:The Re-branding of St. Louis

St. Louis has begun on yet another re-branding effort with the white establishment firmly at the helm. From “Going to Bat for St. Louis in the 80s” led by the regional Chamber, to “We’re Better Together,” today commercials, St. Louis has engaged in superficial efforts to the change the perception of the city from a southern (Missouri was a Confederate state), small city to a cosmopolitan, eastern, city center attractive enough to a diverse group of young, energetic, creative, people to stimulate new growth in its population that has been stagnant for decades.

It seeks to be a city that can maintain its own emerging from its major universities while it still shuns and relegates refugees and immigrants to neighborhoods underserved by services and financial investment. They live in ghettos while the city touts its effort to attract “immigrants” (those who come with degrees of their own free will and through the largess of companies willing to pay the high costs of necessary legal fees for appropriate visa), to “jump-start its economy.

It is an interesting strategy for a city that cannot maintain the accreditation of its public schools with high school graduation rates south of 30 percent leaving no chance for its largely (53% at last count) young, African-American population no chance of pursuing higher education.

Yet, St. Louis has not, nor has the state (the recently appointed African-American head of the state police, Dr. Dan Isom resigned after serving only a few months after events in Ferguson) recognized that superficial, branding will not change the oppressive, racially divided, homogeneous, averse to progressiveness, parochial, insidious reality of the region–especially the city and county of St. Louis. It cannot achieve success until it demands real, committed leadership that is unafraid to confront the city and regional challenges head-on. Nine months (the length of time given to the Ferguson Commission to “fix” the problems) is not long enough to redress a century of oppression and a modern, publicly stated policy of “benign neglect” (read deliberate failure to invest in infrastructure, housing and commercial development of at least half of its land mass and population.

Wave after wave of studies and plans with ostensively “public” engagement (largely caucasian) have emerged from the region’s chamber and nonprofit civic groups. Nearly all of those engaged have been caucasian with the same African-Americans faces at the table as proof of diversity. Yet, none of these plans have been fully executed.

However, the latest of these plans holds some promise, OneStl is a coalition of nonprofit community development organizations, bankers, a university and the regional planning agency is emerging.

The declared goal is to build a sorely needed, data-driven, community development infrastructure. The public engagement involved in developing this plan was diverse and more inclusive than any other in recent history. It spanned all seven counties in the MSA. Influential members of the coalition are insisting that the coalition holds fast to its commitment to inclusiveness and construction of an infrastructure to support equitable development and growth. This appears to be more that superficial rebranding.

Let us hope that it is.


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