St. Louis Doesnt SuckSeriously

By Aaron Perlut
In Culture, Feature

Need more proof? Just look at the current snowball of progress.

 

When a snowball rolls down hill, it gains momentum, gets bigger, rolls faster. And if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in and around St. Louis over the past two years, there’s a good size snowball heading down the mountain and picking up speed.

Look around. I know throughout my eight years in town I’ve seen a sea change in the way locals seem to feel about the region, its collaborative spirit and the number of efforts that are forming a modern-day progressive movement stretching from O’Fallon to O’Fallon.

 

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Just hop online and visit communities like NextSTL or movements like Lovin’ The Lou, St. Louis For The Love, as well as what we are trying to accomplish with Rally Saint Louis. It’s all positive momentum working to move our region forward.

“We had a lot of conversations with different communities of people who felt they were living in a microcosm and didn’t know where the other like-minded people were,” says Nicole Hudson Hollway, general manager of the St. Louis Beacon and founder of St. Louis For The Love (#STLFTL).

Like many others, Hollway and her co-founders grew tired of the negative commentary that periodically comes from both outside and inside St. Louis. They created #STLFTL with an eye on building and supporting locals who live their passion here. “Yes, there are divides and challenges,” Hollway adds. “But also people coming together to solve problems, live integrated lives, innovate and celebrate their life in St. Louis.”

It’s easy to assume that the skinny-jean-wearing hipsters sending snarky tweets are the ones driving progress, but the much-needed improvements that will soon come to the Gateway Arch and surrounding landscape as a result of widespread community support for Proposition P is yet another symbol of the snowball coming from all corners.

“It’s hard to understate the value of one of the greatest public sculptures in the world and what it means to the surrounding region that it often represents on a national scale,” says Walter Metcalfe, the longtime Bryan Cave partner who has been leading the charge to reinvent the Gateway Arch grounds. “It stands for American ideals of discovery, courage, hope and optimism, which is why it was heartening to see so many in our region reaffirm that through their support of Prop P and investment in St. Louis’ future.”

Sure‰ÛÓconsidering every TV news story about St. Louis uses the Arch’s imagery and it’s the first place any tourist visits‰ÛÓrenovating the grounds makes sense. But signs of progress go much deeper than focusing on the mass-scale initiatives, despite our historical track record of ignoring the sum of the parts, or the little things that make the region a pretty solid place to live.

That’s where people like Alex Ihnen come in. He’s trying to “make civics cool” by focusing on the micro-issues like zoning change hearings, building permits or plans for a sidewalk‰ÛÓbecause it’s all a part of what creates a new St. Louis. “If we care about our community, we have to pay attention to the small decisions made every day,” says Ihnen, the founder of NextSTL, who by day works in development for Washington University. “It’s the people and the processes that make our city. Every additional person we can bring into the conversation about our community is a win.”

And as Ihnen works beneath the grass tips, his intentions of giving a collaborative voice to all St. Louisans is shared by some of the region’s leadership‰ÛÓa stark contrast from years past‰ÛÓwhich is best reflected by the spirit of partnership that Joe Reagan has brought to his role as president of the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

“We’re focused on leveraging the authentic strengths of St. Louis to make it a more attractive place to live, work and invest,” says Reagan, who spent his first six months on the job taking a “listening tour” and meeting with a vast cross-section of officials and citizens. “But moving forward, we only win together, collaboratively, as one team focused on the shared prosperity of the entire bi-state region.”

Without question, this snowball is getting bigger and picking up speed. It’s being pushed by a diverse collection of people, including old guard and new guard, white and black, artists and business community members, clergy, natives and transplants.

Pay attention to what’s happening around you. It’s gaining speed and building a better St. Louis.

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Photo credit: Sarah Quatrano

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