Monday, October 19, 2009

Why is St. Louis Never Ranked as a Progressive City? Is It Because We're Too Black?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 3:45 PM

click to enlarge Portland: A place white people like.
  • Portland: A place white people like.
Those are the questions essentially posed by urban affairs blogger Aaron Renn in his latest posting, titled "The White City." 

Renn takes a look at the mid-sized cities of Portland, Austin, Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis that are routinely hailed as being hip, progressive towns. He then holds those five places up to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, and finds that in each case the city (and its core county) falls below the national average for African-American residents.

Take a look: 
In the city of St. Louis, the African-American population accounts for nearly 49 percent of the population. Combined with St. Louis County, the African-American percentage of both regions is a little more than 28 percent, according to U.S. Census figures

Compare that to Portland, whose African-American population accounts for just 6 percent of residents and is -- according to Renn -- America's "ultimate White City." 

Questions Renn:
"Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans? Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it?"

Moreover, Renn wonders whether the folks leaving Rust Belt cities (ie. more heavily populated African-American places) for the likes of Portland and Denver are really as progressive as they claim. Or, are they just participating in what he calls "White Flight writ large"

"Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip?" he writes. 

"Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries and other mechanisms raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs."

Read Renn's entire argument here. 

And a tip of the hat to St. Louis urbanist/blogger Michael Allen who brought Renn's findings to our attention today via a tweet

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