250th Anniversary of St. Louis

New Mississippi River Bridge 092

St. Louis was founded today, or maybe it was yesterday; I can’t be sure.

While it might offend some of my readers, I take little stock in the arbitrary date today that is the probable date of the founding of St. Louis. Or was it yesterday? Regardless, this anniversary first off ignores the fact that there was already a Native-American city here, whose breadth and importance is just starting to be understood. While most Mound Builder sites scattered around the Cahokia Mounds are broadly, and dismissively, labeled “suburbs” of that famous site in Collinsville, Illinois, we cannot deny that there was a long history of human settlement already in place here. And that is not even considering the possibility of a pre-existing European settlement already sitting on the bluffs when St. Louis was officially founded. Really, for Louis XV back in Versailles, France, the Louisiana Territory was so distant as to border on the abstract. And honestly, due to the strategic commercial siting of the city, an American fur trading company probably would have founded a city on the spot eventually anyway.

So yes, St. Louis as a concept is 250 years old, but what does that really mean for us today? I’m sure that other commentators will muse at what the founders of St. Louis would think of the city today. Certainly, they would be impressed with the mighty bridges crossing the river, the skyscrapers or the gigantic arch that has replaced their original town, but I also think that Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau would be shocked to find almost no one who speaks French, because honestly, this city’s French heritage is perhaps as distant and nebulous as its Native American past. They also would almost certainly have harsh words for much of the way this city currently exists.

They would be perplexed at the short-sightedness of the City leaving the county, even if they could not grasp the shear size of the modern St. Louis. They would wonder why so much time is wasted sitting in cars after they had taken pains to design a city where everything one needed was a five minute walk way. They would be ashamed of the bitter racial divisions throughout the city, and the absurd lengths people will go to in this country to live as far as possible from people of other races. They would wonder why so much of the city sits empty 95% of the year, just so someone can park their car in those spaces for three hours.

St. Louis has hemorrhaged 500,000 people in the last sixty or so years (probably more technically but it’s been offset by new residents). What are you going to do about it? I’ve been to countless beautiful cities in Europe that “used to be important.” I’ve also been to many European cities, despite being older than some of the aforementioned ones, that are still vibrant and alive–and relevant. Which one is St. Louis going to be in 250 years? A tourist attraction about the “good old days,” or a city seeing its best new days?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Yakov says:

    Hi! Congratulations! I’ve been following your blog for about a year – it’s a great source of inspiration for me! I’ve literally become a fan of St. Louis – wish to visit it someday. Thank you, Chris! Keep on posting!

  2. Bryon says:

    I beta tested an online game named wurm for a while back before Markus Persson (aka Notch) left to work full time on his then side-project minecraft. I was, for about 6 years, THE main thorn in his side to get off of his ass and do something; something that didn’t include building societies from scratch only for them to become stagnate and bleed into war-zones.

    In wurm the world starts off as a blank slate. Characters/players then scout out locations, based mostly upon what resources they can locate, and build villages and/or homesteads. After about 6 real life months (several years in game play time) players have conquered about all they can and begin to grind skills. Grind is the appropriate word here as that is all they do; grind away at it like a stone. At a certain point (1 to 1.5 years real life time) exploring, thrill seeking, joining in on fun large projects, any projects really… begin to taper off and lose their mass appeal. It’s similar to how St. Louis has become.

    Luckily Markus developed a faster paced game that has no end-run and no pigeon hole societal framework. Yes, minecraft borders upon being targeted at those with ADHD. But, that is also the point… that there is no point, no *Quest*, no tests, no 9-5, no expectations, no ‘Game-Over’, no measuring each other, no sizing up your opponent and most importantly no feelings of being obligated to others in your ‘village’ to dumb-down, stay local, carry on the *traditions*. It’s fun and that’s it.

    I went round and round with Rolf Jansson, the other developer, trying to beat these things into his head but he was dead-set on making a cheaper version of world of warcraft. I think it had to do with him proving to himself that *he could do it*. It was more the technical challenge that inspired him and that’s why he couldn’t see it. He also got married and began thinking very domestic early on in the development of wurm. Markus didn’t and he realized that people inherently don’t like the drag of anything that dumbs them down whether in real life or in a game.

    St. Louis is so dumbed down it’s not even funny. Nearly everyone conforms to the stereotype whether they know it or not. In minecraft you keep your own point(s)… aka: don’t measure me, don’t ask what high school I went to or judge me by how much or what brand of beer I drink, how *devoted* I am to sports or if I’m up a certain politician’s ass, don’t label me if I’m not into worshiping the central west end or continually tweet “I LOVE #STL” and post pictures of a $20 plate of food from an uppity south grand restaurant. Wurm was (and as far as I know still is) all of those things… just like St. Louis. That said, it will most likely always be what it is… a game that draws about 1/1,000th (or 1/1,000,000th) of the attention and interest that minecraft does. Sound familiar?

    It is and so is the fix. 2 options: a) Leave like every single famous person other than Musial, Berry or Costas did or b) Get crazy. Can it get crazy? I dunno. When you say “Get Crazy!” in St. Louis it seems people jump up and start cheering a fking pro sports team like the trained seals, like that would or could ever change anything. It’s hard to imagine, even knowing that if all St Louis sports teams won all the world series and all the super bowls and the heisman every year for decades that that’s not enough, that it would ever sink in through the skulls of such complacent people who are comfortable being a sinking ship.

    The map is old, everything and all resources have been found, villages are settled, reconstructing it is too *costly* and we’ve all got tv’s that need watched and beers that need drank and gossip that need spread and social profiles to build and oh yes… appearances to keep! Never forget the appearances. The entire region may be on fire, falling out from under our feet but even hell is not going to stop the cool people, the politicians and even the *preservationists* from kissing each others a$$es… as publicly as they can.

    1. Pete says:

      Bryon –

      I really enjoy your posts, mostly because knowing how frustrating your life has to be puts a smile on my face. How’s that know-it-all-a$$hole thing workin’ out for ya, anyways? Does ANYBODY you come into contact with EVER give your $.02 a second thought? I’m guessing it doesn’t happen often.

      Ever hear the saying “don’t talk about it, be about it”? Maybe you should get off your high horse, pull yourself away from the video games for a few minutes and do or get involved with something productive and/or positive that might actually make a difference.

      Wait..that might necessitate interaction with another person…and all signs point to that not being your strong suit.

      Regardless…I went to high school in Hazelwood (I now live in south city). In general, I prefer A-B products but that’s not at all set in stone. The Cardinals and Blues are pretty badass (did you catch Oshie own the Russian goalie the other day?!) – I’m a big fan – the Rams…eh. 2 months ago I posted a selfie (w/the girlfriend, it was her request) from the Courtesy Diner on Hampton…and my life is pretty f’n awesome.

      How’s yours?

      Quit being an arrogant a$$hole…I bet things’ll change for ya.

      1. Tom Maher - Kirkwood says:

        Byron needs to realize he doesn’t wear the same size Jockeys as in high school…
        That a kids’ video game is irrelevant in this forum seems lost on him.

        1. Bryon says:

          Tom, a life simulator that focuses on society building, social interaction, commerce and the economic fluctuations of a trade based world… is not as much of a kids’ game as hitting a ball and running around 3 bags and a plate. Get over yourself. Taking personal cheap shots at individuals you don’t know can and will backfire.

          1. Tom Maher - Kirkwood says:

            A child’s video game – insert “adult” if desired – information (aka “rant”) is relevant to a blog about STL architecture and comment?
            That the game (or similar games) is a “life simulator?” Perhaps to Sheldon and his buddies, but…
            Where did baseball enter the discussion? It is as irrelevant to the blog as is a kiddie game.

            Is there an emoticon for “Bwa-Ha-Ha?”

      2. Bryon says:

        Pete. You are a douchebag and your own words prove that out over and over again.

        1. Pete says:

          Bro…I seriously can’t ever tell if you’re a 39 year-old-dude holed up in his mom’s basement, or a punk 17-year-old that’s going to end up being a 39 year-old-dude holed up in his mom’s basement. Regardless…the “douchebag” comment…**clever**. Kudos!

          And did you really just refer to a ‘life simulator”?! You’re not serious, right?! Is a “life simulator” a virtual society that exists for people who don’t posses the people skills to function and thrive in a real one? The hilarity is off-the-charts; “society building, social interaction, commerce and the economic fluctuations”…maybe all you gamer nerds should give real life a shot sometimes.

          Or don’t, I’m not sure you really bring much to the table.

          Either way, thanks for adding a few laughs to my Monday.

          1. Bryon says:

            Assessing a platform by which thousands of people pay $5-$10/mo to reenact the building of societies from scratch is not being a “gamer nerd”. Likewise, my years spent studying and working with digital transfer laws and IP rights should nullify your views on my mother’s basement. Again, thanks for addressing the issue at hand instead of your assumptions of my person.

  3. Bryon says:

    Part II

    The city itself needs a gimmick, something that the nation and world can use as a metaphor for a *movement*, something that signifies a greater statement, something that is current, that will trend and grow. It needs something like Haight-Ashbury which drew millions of hippies to San Fran. It doesn’t have to be gold, it doesn’t have to be Hollywood, scarce, unique or costly.

    1) The empty towers, the office buildings with (so I have heard) over 7 million empty square feet… need taken over by the city and converted into vertical farms. That would have enough weight to sustain national media attention and draw in ppl and new businesses. It would also give the city a new income model. Instead of relying upon local taxes from industrial asswhipe corporations that bleed state and fed tax dollars… it could then have real DOLLARS coming in to it’s front doors instead of its back doors.

    2) The Metro East which has become am albatross needs to be embraced instead of being robbed, shunned or ignored like it has been since the days that St. Louis businessmen built Grafton IL in an attempt to make Alton IL (which was then growing much faster than St Louis) stumble. Vince Schoemehl was hinting at this last year during his TED talk when he mentioned that #1 in his 1-10 list of things St. Louis should do to get out of it’s hole was to “Build the Rams a stadium in Illinois”…. because the nation and the world don’t really understand that East St. Louis (as St. Louis, Missouri views it) is “Illinois problem”. He was basically saying “Get your head out of your own ass”.

    Could these things happen? I hope so but I do fear people saying “We helped build a bridge, that’s enough” and pithy little rednecked comments like “Vertical farming wouldn’t make enough money” and “It might hurt farmers” or whatever else can be discerned from their feelings of “Waaaaaaaa, my bottle!”.

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