Can Saint Louis Take Another Four Years of Trickle Down Urban Development?

One useful tool for behavior change is to project your life into the future, a few months or years to present contrasting outcomes. “What does your life look like 5 years from now if you continue smoking?” or “What does your life look like in a year if you eat one more serving of vegetables every day?” The power of this motivational tool lies in the ability to envision the future with no meaningful change and compare it to the potential future after some modification. These timeline questions can be aptly applied to the current mayoral race in Saint Louis to compare a number of citywide outcomes.


The future of Saint Louis and its Democratic Party is at a turning point. Choosing one candidate guarantees Saint Louis more of the same. A critical look at Lyda Krewson’s campaign shows promises of more police, an approach to development that doesn’t consider anyone living outside of the central corridor, and a campaign run by the only white candidate who has been invited to most mayoral forums.


Or, we have the chance as a city to take a step back and reflect critically on what is and what is not working. To reevaluate the city policies that work for those who are doing well, but neglect the rest of us. In Tishaura Jones, Saint Louis has a candidate who has mobilized volunteers, impassioned a diverse portion of Saint Louis who are engaged by her vision for a more equitable and just Saint Louis that responds to those in need with compassion, rather than further criminalization.


What will the implications be for racial equity under the elected administration?


Lyda Krewson has been allowed more forgiveness than warranted for her responses to racial equity questions, which range from tone-deaf to ignorant. When questioned about what racial equity means to her at the Young Democrats endorsement forum, Lyda responded with the example of the National Geospacial Agency having their new campus built in north Saint Louis. The NGA was opposed by many neighbors in north Saint Louis, as it forced a tight-knit community out of their homes, where some had lived for generations. It may not be unintentional that this is a favored example for Lyda, who has been accused of displacing more black neighbors from the 28th ward than any other, where she is alderwoman.


Lyda skipped an early mayoral forum at the historically black university Harris-Stowe, citing previous commitments. Her campaign has placed a higher priority on fundraising with wealthy donors than other candidates, and the cornerstone to her policy is promising to hire more police for the city without addressing racial and class disparities often highlighted by Arch City Defenders in our legal and criminal institutions. Lyda has been endorsed by the Saint Louis Police Union and their spokesman Jeff Roorda, who notoriously blamed Obama for the shooting of five police officers in Dallas. Krewson has also accepted support from other controversial supporters. Major Republican donor Sam Fox donated $25,000 to her campaign, and Doug Albrecht, whose own website boasts that he profited off incarceration, contributed $7500.


As the only African American woman running for mayor, Tishaura has made racial equity one of her campaign’s top commitments, promising to make all of her decisions using a racial equity lens so the city works for all residents. In her letter to the Saint Louis Post Dispatch Tishaura said, “What is killing our region is a systemic racism that pervades almost every public and private institution, including your newspaper, and makes it nearly impossible for either North St. Louis or the parts of South St. Louis where African Americans live to get better or safer or healthier or better-educated.”


Tishaura wants to implement the recommendations of the “For the Sake of All Report”, such as investing in early childhood development, school health programs, mental health treatment, and quality neighborhoods for all in Saint Louis. She has also been a loud voice for Saint Louis becoming a sanctuary city for immigrants and refugees.


What do the next four years of development look like in Saint Louis?


Democrats haven’t had to fight the folly of trickle-down economics lately, and few Republicans dare mention it since the presidency of George W. Bush. However, Lyda Krewson’s development plan seems to be built on this failed ideology. Krewson has been quick to sponsor and approve tax incentives in the most exclusive neighborhoods in Saint Louis. These tax breaks equal a direct loss in funding for public education and public safety, while benefiting the wealthy home owners and developers. A recent example is Lyda’s bill BB231, which blights Westminister Place in the Central West End, making way for tax incentives to be given towards the development of $675,000 townhomes. It’s hard to see how this benefits the city at large. Such trickle-down planning appears inevitable under a Krewson mayorship, as does the continued neglect of predominantly African American neighborhoods in north Saint Louis in favor of the city’s central corridor, which currently receives 72% of tax abatements, and her own 28th ward, which receives near 85% of all the city’s development incentives.


Tishaura Jones says she reads the “Forward through Ferguson Report” regularly. She studies what hasn’t been working in Saint Louis and uses it as fuel to keep her fighting. Tishaura has already conducted a study on the expansion of the north-south Metrolink to expand public transportation. Jones has listed specific steps for sustainable and equitable development, such as supporting small businesses, reducing food deserts, and increasing access to banks and credit unions. Tishaura is an advocate of inclusionary zoning which encourages developers to include affordable housing in new developments, so they benefit low- and middle-income families as well.


What do the next four years look like for those experiencing homelessness in Saint Louis?


Lyda Krewson has been an unabashed proponent of criminalizing homelessness and poverty. She pushed legislation to criminalize “panhandling” and advocated for closing down the city’s largest homeless shelter — New Life Evangelistic Center. At the 15th Ward Mayoral Forum I asked Lyda where she would send the two hundred current residents. Krewson dodged the question, complaining instead about the condition of the shelter. I compared her response to the repeal-without-replace plan that Trump and the Republicans have tried proposing for healthcare coverage. Krewson again refused to say where these people would find shelter, but added that they need mental health, and drug, and alcohol services. Here we agreed, but I challenged her idea that these services would be optimized by people sleeping on the street rather than in a shelter. Like the repeal-without-replacement plan on the Affordable Care Act, Lyda’s plan for those experiencing homelessness is a reckless, short-term solution. A city cannot criminalize its way out of poverty, nor can it end homelessness by closing shelters with no further planning.


Lyda does offer valuable experience with her position as committee member on the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee. Unfortunately, this committee has underfunded affordable housing by $2 million over the past four years.


Recently, Tishuara has addressed, “that it is poverty that is killing our city”. Tishaura will embrace a Homeless Bill of Rights promising those experiencing homelessness equal access to public spaces, property protection, and the opportunity to feel safe in their communities. Tishaura cites Denver’s Day Labor Program as something she’d like to emulate. This program allows homeless people the opportunity to work at a city worksite while getting paid above minimum wage. They also have the option to connect with services after work. Those that continue the program for 90 days are offered opportunities in the permanent workforce.


Tishaura’s approach to public safety shows the same compassion, using the “smart on crime” approach. She promotes the idea of partnering social workers with police officers. Currently, police are the first responders to those experiencing a mental health crisis, people intoxicated, and even interpersonal conflicts. These situations, and more, would benefit from professionals who have committed their careers to helping them in such times of need.
On March 7 our city has an important decision to make. A decision that will have implications for more than the next four years. Our decision will determine how we respond to post-Ferguson Saint Louis, to pockets of poverty, segregated schools and neighborhoods, a metrolink that currently only runs east and west. It will determine how we treat our most vulnerable – including those living on the streets, those with mental health conditions, drug and alcohol addiction, physical disability, and those fleeing war-torn countries. We can elect a candidate who has proposed to respond in a trauma-informed manner responding to increased needs with increased services and resources. Or we will have a quasi-Republican mayor who clings to a dying philosophy that a city can punish and incarcerate its way out of poverty and homelessness. Saint Louis, we have two paths laid before us. Now it is time to choose the future that suits us.

Photo by jdnx


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