Report poses key question: “Why does a region with world-class resources struggle to thrive?”
St. Louis, MO (June 13, 2016) – Following more than two years of intensive research and hundreds of community meetings, Better Together today released its summary report. This narrative, illustrated report, titled “The Will to Change,” centers on why a region with so many resources struggles to compete and to grow. Throughout its 28 pages, “The Will to Change” points to fragmentation as the key barrier to St. Louis’ ability to thrive.
“When we look at our region, we see so many reasons for pride,” said Better Together Executive Director Nancy Rice. “Our educational and cultural institutions are world-class. Our built environment is beautiful. Our citizens are remarkably, unfailingly philanthropic. Yet, we are not flourishing—we are struggling to thrive and grow. Our studies have led us to conclude that the fragmentation of our region—including its governments—is a very significant cause of our failure to thrive. We are mired in bureaucracy and costs, and many of our systems keep failing our citizens.”
Based upon the findings of Better Together’s previous studies, “The Will to Change” points to fragmentation’s core negative byproducts: a system focused on internal competition over regional growth, a disparity of services and the allocation of resources that results from this internal competition, and an inability to formulate and execute a vision for regional success.
Our region’s internal competition creates a hyper-localized definition of “success,” in which the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the 90 municipalities within St. Louis County compete with each other for revenue rather than seek to grow as a region. The result is a dangerous, insatiable intra-regional pursuit of sales tax revenues among municipalities that have the resources to compete and an abuse of municipal courts (i.e., raising revenues in the form of excessive fines and fees) in many communities that do not.
This fight over resources leads to a disparity in service provision, which systematically fosters an “us versus them” mentality that manifests in a disconnect from issues facing neighbors mere miles away. While some towns celebrate services like “free” leaf pick-up while levying no property tax, communities just minutes away close down parks due to safety concerns and arm their police with little more than a nametag and a badge. Significantly complicating matters is the lack of a strong regional leadership position, with authority instead diffused among 684 elected municipal officials.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who, given the task of drawing the ideal political structure for a thriving St. Louis region, would design anything remotely close to what we currently have,” said Dave Leipholtz, Better Together Director of Community-Based Studies.
Yet, despite the many issues facing the St. Louis region, this summary report is not without optimism. Throughout “The Will to Change” and each of Better Together’s studies, there is not one single finding that indicates that the St. Louis region, as a whole, lacks the ability to flourish. Our region is noted for its tremendous entrepreneurial environment, world-class institutions, and generous philanthropic community. What we do lack is a governmental structure worthy of our people. This summary report from Better Together suggests that we can find a pathway forward, as long as we demonstrate the will to change.
To view “The Will to Change” in its entirety, please visit www.bettertogetherstl.com/will-to-change.