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In Defense of St. Louis

Posted by on April 30, 2009

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

When I checked out the Post-Dispatch‘s website today, I fully expected the top stories to include President Barack Obama’s visit yesterday. Nope. Instead, I find a story about Brewster McCracken. an Austin, Texas, mayoral candidate, whose ad (available on YouTube) positively slams the city of St. Louis for losing its turn-of-the-century stature.

The statistic quoted by McCracken, that St. Louis was once the fourth-largest city in the United States, but is no longer among the top 50 cities, likely comes from the same statistical source used in this wikipedia list. There, it is plain as day: Austin: #16 (pop: 743,000); St. Louis: #52 (pop: 356,000). Never .mind the footnote in the list indicating that, like Baltimore, St. Louis is an independent city that is not a part of any county. More relevant is the fact that a city’s true population rarely comprises only the people who reside in its boundaries, but also the people who live and work within the vicinity.

There’s a standard measure of such population groupings, called “metropolitan statistical areas” (MSAs). Here’s a list of the top 25 MSAs and their populations. St. Louis is listed 18th now, with a population of 2.8 million. That’s more like it. Notice that Austin is not in the list? I found it here, listed 48th (2002 population: 1.3 million).

It’s true that the Austin MSA is growing fast, much faster than St. Louis’, but it’s unlikely that it will overtake us soon. What can residents of St. Louis and the state of Missouri do to ensure that we remain significant and grow strong? The Show-Me Institute has definitely covered some of this ground before. Here are some reminders.

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