Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Urbanexus Next American City" finds St. Louis

Urbanexus - Next American City came to town this week and is finding a place where creative people are working together to remake St. Louis.

A meeting of Urbanexus representatives, local creatives, and out of town experts convened at the downtown Left Bank Books. The event started at 7, with most people lingering long after the 9 PM scheduled conclusion.

There were well over 100 people in attendace. The standing room only group overflowed into the upstairs balcony.

Had this event occured ten or fifteen years ago, there would have been likely fewer than a dozen persons on hand. And there would have been little to do afterwards. Attendees at last night's event had many venues to choose from for after meeting gatherings.

Among the issues presented included creating a 1% for the arts program. Former 28th Ward alderman Dan Maguire was in attendance and encouraged attendees to promote such ideas to current members of the Board of Aldermen.

Panelists included current alderman for the 21st Ward, Antonio French. Alderman French stressed the need for an update to the city's zoning and development process. His point was supported by another panelist and Trailnet representative who mentioned the importance of an understandable and predictable development process.

A German born architect and current UC Berkeley professor stressed the importance of cross collaboration. Cherokee street creative entrepreneur and start up business advocate Galen Gandolfi spoke eloquently about the importance of providing capital to low and moderate income persons and businesses.

St. Louis American editor Chris King moderated the event. It's always good to meet the people whose blogs we read. King did a good job emceeing the event and sharing his love for St. Louis. King described Alderman French, as exactly the sort of bright, educated, young professional person St. Louis needs to retain.

The need for strong leadership was a recurring theme. Whether its for passage of a tax for a regional trail system (have) or a 1% for the arts program (need), it takes leaders to make such ideas into reality. Question: How does St. Louis nurture the increase in such leadership that gave us the regional trail system to do more progressive things for St. Louis? Case in point: if a revamp of the planning and zoning code for St. Louis is a desired goal, how do we build leadership around that issue?

Downtown St. Louis has become the focal point for the discussion. But its important to remember that many of the principles discussed last night have already been happening in St. Louis for a long time. Alderman French cited the success of the Loop as an example of a creative person, Joe Edwards, making change happen. The role of gays and the sustainability of the Central West End was emphasized.

Tough issues such as a challenged public school system and attracting middle class families were debated. Some suggested writing off the idea of attracting middle class families. Others said a "quiet tax" exists for families choosing to live in the city and paying to place their kids in private schools.

What is never brought up in the schools debate is the fact that most enrollees into private high schools in the St. Louis region live outside the city of St. Louis.

Here's a related question. The City of St. Louis has a residency requirement for most public employees. As a former public employee, I support the policy. What I don't understand is why are employees of the city public libraries and city public schools exempt from a residency requirement? You must be a city resident to serve on the school board, but you don't need to live in the city to be a city school teacher.

Wouldn't city school teachers have a more vested interest in the success of city schools if they were city residents themselves?


Brian said...

Nice recap - it was a fun evening.

The 1% for public art concept is certainly interesting, but it almost seems like something that would work better in an established city like Seattle (which was mentioned as an example). In a tough economy, do we really need to be adding expenses to much-needed developments?

Adam Flath said...

You would want to arrange the 1% art tax on new development and allow the developer HOW that 1% art tax is to be applied. Sculptures in the Post Office District, building mural, etc. Let them have ownership. Of course make sure it meets certain "Artistic" standards.

Anonymous said...

The thing I don't like about the residency requirement is that the city-county line is arbitrary. A teacher should be allowed to teach in the city and live in Maplewood. I'm not sure that you attract the best teachers by requiring that they live in the city.

Anonymous said...

Is a residence requirement common in other cities?

Rick Bonasch said...

The city county line is not arbitrary for st. louis. it's very real.

The idea behind a residency requirement is that the benefit of employment opportunties is extended to taxpayers and residents of the community involved.

Typically, the only times there are exceptions to residency requirements are when there are people with very narrow specialties. Then perhaps an exemption is granted to a non-resident to take a public job in a place with a residency requirement.

Do K-12 teachers qualify as narrow specialists? I don't see how they are any more specialized than attorneys, urban planners, engineers, and other city worker classifications subject to the residency requirements.

Some people would argue against any resident requirement.

Imagine a teacher wanting to work in the city of St. Louis. Would they not want the job if it meant moving into the city within 6 months to a year?

People relocate all the time for jobs. Why not relocate into the city of st. Louis if you take a public job in the city paid by city taxpayers?

City homeowners pay a lot in real estate taxes, and most of that money goes to police and schools. Yet those two classes of civil servants are exempt from the city residency requirement.


Amanada Tressier said...

I think that if someone wants to work in the city that is great. Why require more of them? They pay payroll taxes, they likely spend some money in the city. I mean, should we ask others who take advantage of city amenities to live in the city? The problem is the city-county line and not individuals. Let's attack the problem and not the people who just want to work.

Rick Bonasch said...

Working in a city-taxpayer funded position is not the same thing as visiting the city to take advantage of amenities.

A big reason some people give for why they don't live in the city is because of the failing school system. Isn't it ironic that city school teachers would be able to use that excuse?

I think the most confusing part of this issue is why regular city workers are subjected to a residency requirement while St. Louis Public School teachers are not. Why should they be treated any differently?

When there is a shared tax base between St. Louis City and its adjoining counties, whereby taxpayers outside of the city help pay for city schools and other city services, I would be the first person to push for a removal of all residency requirements.

Jennifer said...

I'm sorry I missed the forum; we had intended to send someone but went to the TIF hearing instead - what an unfortunate schedule collision! I think the 1% for art program idea is worth pursuing; but the leadership question is what grabbed my attention.

Zoning is, without question, one of the most important tools to ensure smart growth. How do you build leadership around an issue? You start by educating people, and you try to become a source of expertise to the people whose support you need. Metro's new Chief Planner is working with municipalities right now to design some "model" codes designed to encourage TOD-style development: less parking, higher density, etc. Brentwood and Clayton have both recently passed TOD ordinances. You can help by engaging in the long-range planning process with Metro, and by speaking out to municipal leaders about the need for an updated, more urban code. If the people demand it, the people can get it!

LisaS said...

to the question of the teachers ... my kids have attended 3 different SLPS schools over the last 5 years and the vast majority of our teachers were City residents. most of those who weren't & had school aged children had their children enrolled at the school, or at another City school. Public school teachers are permitted to bring their kids into the district they teach in. It's a standard perk.

The flip side of that is, of course, that almost all of the teachers I know who live in our neighborhood teach outside of the City because of that perk.

Poetry Scores said...

Just saw this. It was a great night. It was fun to emcee it. (I was looking for info on Dan Maguire, not Googling my own carcass). Chris King