17 Things St. Louis Got Right in 2017 

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click to enlarge Washington University pediatric endocrinologist Christopher Lewis, MD, with patient Jessica, is changing how transgender youth are treated. - COURTESY ST. LOUIS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL
  • COURTESY ST. LOUIS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL
  • Washington University pediatric endocrinologist Christopher Lewis, MD, with patient Jessica, is changing how transgender youth are treated.

7. We led the way on transgender issues

Despite being located within a state where you can still be fired from your job or denied housing for your sexuality, St. Louis has consistently proven itself an LGBTQ-friendly island. NerdWallet named us one of the top-20 LGBTQ-friendly cities in the country all the way back in 2013. In 2016, we became the first city west of the Mississippi to fly the transgender flag at City Hall. This year, sixteen major companies and law firms in St. Louis received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2018 Corporate Equality Index.

The new Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital comes within that tradition. The center, which opened on August 1, sees patients at both St. Louis Children's Hospital and the Children's Specialty Care Center in Chesterfield. Directed by Washington University pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Christopher Lewis, the center focuses on young transgender and gender non-congruent patients, serving as a one-stop shop offering quality care for a variety of needs, including mental health counseling, hormonal therapy, voice therapy, legal assistance, referral to surgical options and more.

The Transgender Center has been about three years in the making, dating back to the beginning of Lewis' fellowship at St. Louis Children's Hospital, during which Lewis worked with TransParent, a local support group for parents of transgender youth. Learning about the lack of medical resources for these patients spurred him, along with Dr. Sarah Garwood and Dr. Abby Solomon Hollander, to begin proposals for the clinic.

"Almost any graduate from a U.S. medical school can .... counsel a patient on the basics of type -1 diabetes, but almost none can counsel a patient on various aspects of transgender health," Lewis says. "And that right there is a health disparity. So seeing that, plus all the other things that were going on at that meeting, knowing that I was going into endocrinology, I was like, 'Well, we can make a difference and provide care here, increase medical competency of the education within Washington University and hopefully one day provide a center of excellence for transgender health amongst the Midwest in the St. Louis metropolitan area.'"

Previously, a patient in the St. Louis area would have to travel to Kansas City or Chicago for a similar center, and the wait for new patients was long. Now, Lewis says, the Transgender Center provides care for young people all over Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

In its short existence, the center has received recognition from the Human Rights Campaign, with staff asked to give presentations in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Nashville and Kansas City. In addition to its primary goal of providing care for transgender patients, the center also aims to develop a database and research opportunities on transgender health, establish a research network, increase awareness and support in the community and more.

Is St. Louis a perfect place for those with non-binary gender? As the police shooting of trans woman Kiwi Herring reminded us this summer, we still have a ways to go. And, yes, we're still stuck in Missouri. But with this new clinic, the medical community is making strides in the right direction. —Elizabeth Semko

Yes, this really happened. - COURTESY OF GASLIGHT STL
  • COURTESY OF GASLIGHT STL
  • Yes, this really happened.

8. We reopened the Kingshighway Bridge (without even towing that innocent Kia)

If a city is a body, a thing with a soul, a heart, a pulse, then surely its bridges are the veins pumping lifeblood — and for two years, St. Louis' blood fucking boiled in frustration as the Kingshighway Bridge was closed to traffic. Shut down in July 2015 after 75 years of use, the total blockage allowed for the viaduct to be dismantled and rebuilt — even as it sent the 55,000 or so vehicles that cross the bridge daily off on ponderous detours through Shaw Avenue and the already congested Vandeventer Avenue.

But in May of this blessed year of Bridge Construction Being Sufficiently Done, St. Louis felt the collective relief of a body made whole again. The bridge was back, baby (albeit in a temporary, slimmed-down version); our days of detours were over.

However, to the embarrassment of the city's Streets Department, one hole was left incomplete. In the predawn hours before the grand reopening on May 13, work crews installing the final layer of asphalt on Shaw Avenue came to a blue Kia sedan parked in their path. Somehow, no one had thought to place a No Parking sign on the street. And someone, naturally, parked there.

What to do? A more callous city would have simply towed the car. Really, who could quibble with an injustice to one motorist when an entire $21 million project is at the finish line?

But no. That's not the soul of St. Louis. Instead of blunt efficiency, the city workers chose to follow the path decreed by their lack of foresight to its logical conclusion: They meticulously paved a perfect rectangle around the Kia, leaving the vehicle safe on a shallow, sunken island of rough gravel amid a sea of fresh black asphalt. And that morning, when the Kia driver arrived to pick up her car, she uttered the only reasonable response: "This would only happen in St. Louis."

The Kia escaped un-towed, the car-shaped asphalt hole was paved in just days later, and order was reestablished in south city.

Still, the story is not quite over for the Kingshighway Bridge: Sidewalks and decorative side barriers won't be installed until the spring 2018, which means the project still isn't done. But who are we to complain? We might need something to celebrate at this time next year. —Danny Wicentowski

9. We gave Chuck Berry the epic sendoff he deserved

The world lost a titan on March 18 when Chuck Berry passed away at 90 in his Wentzville home. Shock waves from his death were felt around the globe — and since nearly every popular musician today owes at least some credit to the man for their careers, it makes sense that his passing would be mourned by some of music's biggest stars. Considering Berry's lifelong St. Louis residency, it also makes sense that some of those same stars would band together to celebrate his life at LouFest this year, delivering a raucous, high-energy set of Berry's best hits. The tribute, dubbed Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry!, brought members of the Roots, Spoon, Dave Matthews Band, Cage the Elephant, Huey Lewis and more to perform alongside a group of St. Louis scene stalwarts led by bandleader Kevin Bowers. Berry's family was closely involved with the project as well: Charles Berry Jr. and Charles Berry III joined in for a few tunes, with Jr. playing Berry's iconic red 1960 Gibson ES-345 during the last song of the set, the indelible "Johnny B. Goode." It was free and fun, an exhilarating dive into Berry's catalog by a crack team. LouFest's organizers say that Hail! Hail! is intended to be an annual affair at the fest — a fitting tribute to the man who not only invented rock & roll, but indisputably gave it its swagger. —Daniel Hill

10. We employed Dexter Fowler

OK, so right off the bat — heh — we should note that the Cardinals signed phenom center fielder Dexter Fowler in December 2016. But give us this one. Baseball starts in April, and Fowler made the 2017 season one to remember.

Even in a disappointing year, Fowler's bulb never seemed to dim. At bat, he blasted nine triples and a career-best eighteen homers. And outside Busch Stadium, he demonstrated a version of the Cardinal Way that was less about smugness or pride and more about being a decent human being.

When, for instance, Fowler found out that a seven-year-old girl with a prosthetic right arm was seeking to throw the ceremonial first pitch for every MLB team, he got in touch with the family, making plans to bring her to Busch Stadium faster than you can say "Go Cards Go."

But what really set Fowler apart in 2017 was his reaction to Donald Trump. As the president championed a transparently discriminatory travel ban aimed at people in Muslim countries, Fowler expressed a guarded worry about how the crackdown would affect his Iranian-born wife and extended family.

Cardinals fans tried to put Fowler in his place. "Stick to baseball," they said. "You're property of the Cardinals," others argued. One Facebook commenter, disgusted, wrote, "This guy isn't Cardinals material."

Fowler responded by tweet, "For the record. I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy, but athletes are humans, and not properties of the team they work for."

The response was understated, but the point resonated: Fowler was sticking up for his own family. And by putting a human face to an inhuman policy, he surely helped some MAGA supporters understand that the vast majority of people from Muslim countries aren't terrorists in training. They're college graduates and entrepreneurs, parents and baseball wives. Some of them, like Darya Fowler, are all four of those things. And surely the Best Fans in Baseball know that you don't let a bully pick on your wife, right? —Danny Wicentowski

click to enlarge Tower Grove Park is looking better than ever. - FLICKR/DUSTINPHILLIPS
  • FLICKR/DUSTINPHILLIPS
  • Tower Grove Park is looking better than ever.

11. We finally fixed the cratered nightmare of roadways inside Tower Grove Park

Tower Grove Park is one of the jewels of St. Louis, some 289 acres of trees and trails, ponds and pavilions, a welcoming oasis on the city's south side. The land, donated to the city by Henry Shaw in 1868, is so well-designed and nicely maintained that it has been named a National Historic Landmark, one of the nation's best examples of a late nineteenth-century public park.

But for all its charm and beauty, the park has long had a dark side. For years, cyclists have been taking their lives into their own hands each time they dared ride through the crater-pocked nightmare of its streets. With roads so bumpy they rattled your teeth out of your skull, and towering speed mountains capable of exploding the spokes out of your wheels, the situation was rough.

And so it was a relief on July 5 when workers set to the task of milling and repaving that rocky moonscape into the butter-smooth ride it is today. According to Will Rein, the park's director of operations, it has been decades since these streets saw such an improvement. "We're not exactly sure" when it was last repaved, he says, "but it has at least been since the early 1990s, because patches from work known to have been completed at that time are still visible."

The new improvements are part of a larger effort, says executive director Bill Reininger. The park worked with Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker to figure out best practices for calming traffic and improving safety. The City of St. Louis Street Department completed the milling and paving work with funding from the 8th Ward, at a cost of around $80,000. Since the park is a public-private partnership, the park's own money is covering the additional cost of striping and installing new (much, much gentler) speed bumps.

The project is not yet entirely complete, but it's already starting to pay off. Nowadays, disfiguring accidents are at an all-time low, and those old speed bumps, which once stretched so far into the heavens that they threatened to block out the sun, have been replaced with new speed "humps," which sit much closer to the ground, down where they belong.

The beauty of a freshly paved road may never match up to that of the park itself — but it's still enough to bring a tear to the eye. —Daniel Hill

click to enlarge Governor Greitens gutted St. Louis' minimum wage increase. Then businesses stepped up. - CELINA DELLA CROCE
  • CELINA DELLA CROCE
  • Governor Greitens gutted St. Louis' minimum wage increase. Then businesses stepped up.

12. We voluntarily agreed to pay more than the minimum wage

This summer, the unthinkable happened. Even as states across the U.S. passed minimum wage increases, giving workers a much-needed paycheck boost, we actually reduced our minimum from $10 to $7.70. The shocking rollback earned St. Louis a flood of negative attention — with national media outlets sneering at our rank backwardness.

This time, though, it wasn't our fault. (Honest!) The reduction in wages came entirely because of the state legislature, which not only gutted the increase the city had labored to pass, but did so with the cruelest of timing.

In short: Back in 2015, the city's Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10/hour. A lawsuit delayed things for a few years, but the city actually won the battle — and the increase kicked in.

Enter the state legislature, which held a special session to ensure that cities didn't have the right to set their own limits. Governor Eric Greitens refused to sign the bill but still passively allowed it to become law (he was making some sort of point, but damned if we weren't too pissed to care what it was). By the time the state preemption limped into law, the city's increase had already been in effect for three months — meaning workers briefly enjoyed a raise only to lose it.

It's the kind of easy narrative that negative campaign ads are made from (big bad governor steals pay increase from the working poor!). But unlike most tales of political grinchiness, this one actually had a silver lining, at least for some workers.

Those workers were the ones lucky enough to make their living at a St. Louis business pledging to "Save the Raise." The campaign earned voluntary sign-on from more than 100 restaurants, bars, shops and startups, which agreed to keep paying $10 or more, almost as if the legislature hadn't intervened. Vibrantly hued #SavetheRaise signs in storefronts across St. Louis let consumers know which businesses go beyond what's required to do what's right.

There is a bit of irony, of course, in commercial enterprises vowing to do what government refuses to require — if not quite an invisible hand, it's at least a savvily positioned one. But while some of these businesses surely get a marketing boost from their altruism, the heart of the story is less about free markets and more about compassion. At a time when politicians are less concerned with the fate of the poor and working class than seemingly ever before, progressives have learned that they can't count on the people who ought to provide a safety net to do so. Few small business owners have an extra $100,000 lying around to made the chattering class listen to their concerns a la the Koch Brothers — but if they can make a difference by paying an extra $2.30 an hour, they showed, they'll find the money.

And as for the rest of us, we may not all have the wherewithal to open a business of our own, but we can think hard about where choose to spend what we do have. It's true that your avocado toast may cost more if you purchase it from an eatery that's paying its workers a living wage. But surely it tastes better when it comes with a side of "screw the Missouri legislature." —Sarah Fenske

13. We created the wonderful insanity that is the St. Lunatic Burger

Genius or madman? There is a thin line between brilliance and insanity, and in 2017, no St. Louisan better captured that dynamic than Adam Pritchett.

Back in May, the Hi-Pointe Drive-In chef was pitching in at the St. Charles location of Hi-Pointe's sister restaurant, Sugarfire Smokehouse, when the inspiration struck for the ultimate St. Louis superfood: the St. Lunatic Burger. A single cheeseburger topped with a BBQ pork steak and Red Hot Riplets, it's then smothered in Provel cheese, with some toasted raviolis tossed in for good measure. Two slices of Imo's pizza for the buns. The only way this thing could taste more like St. Louis is if an actual chunk of the Arch was wedged in there.

Pritchett's creation was conceived as a special, and the Sugarfire team prepped enough for 50 servings. After posting a photo on the restaurant's Facebook page, though, they blasted through that run in short order. The eatery has not offered the burger since — a manager says its individual components are just too costly for the price point to make sense — but it's possible Sugarfire will bring the sandwich back for its one-year anniversary.

As it should. The St. Lunatic is a fully edible piece of civic pride, a true high note of delicious delirium. So what if the city again suffered the indignity of being one of the two most dangerous in the nation this year? And who cares if we're going broke? We're also the kind of wonderful place that puts a pork steak on a burger and then brings out pizza for the buns.

Do we contradict ourselves? Very well, we contradict ourselves. We are large. We contain multitudes. —Daniel Hill

14. We hired Jimmie Edwards

Who knew the guy was even willing to change jobs? Judge Jimmie Edwards was... a judge. He was a well-respected judge — one who cared so much about the kids coming through his courtroom that in 2009 he launched a school, Innovative Concept Academy, to catch the ones already falling through the cracks. People, Ebony and a handful of documentary filmmakers lauded his work.

"Those who advocated zero tolerance for children in the late 1980s and early 1990s got it wrong," he says during a compelling TEDxStLouis speech in 2010. "They got it wrong."

Even in the middle of a particularly contentious moment in the city, the reaction was pleasant surprise through most corners when Mayor Lyda Krewson announced in October that Edwards was coming on as the new director of public safety. This was a decision neither police union nor protester could argue with.

The St. Louis native grew up poor next to the Pruitt-Igoe projects and was an attorney for Southwestern Bell before spurning corporate law to become a St. Louis Circuit judge in 1992. His new job calls on him to shepherd more than 3,400 city employees, including cops and firefighters. It's not going to be easy, as anyone who watched divisions between police and citizens play out in dozens of protests this fall can attest. But Edwards is a proven problem solver, and he almost certainly did not switch jobs to lay low. —Doyle Murphy

click to enlarge Muslims and Jews worked side by side to clean up a cemetery after a senseless act of vandalism. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Muslims and Jews worked side by side to clean up a cemetery after a senseless act of vandalism.

15. We came together to clean up a Jewish Cemetery

We still don't know how 154 headstones in the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery were toppled. Or who did it. Or why. We don't even know precisely when it occurred.

We only know that on the third Monday in February, groundskeepers returning after the weekend discovered the stones laying broken and heavy on the soft soil. Since then, despite efforts to review more than 100 hours of surveillance footage, University City Police have announced no suspects or leads.

Yet what we know beyond that is more remarkable than the mystery that still taunts us. In the days that followed the desecration, the helpers started showing up — and, yes, that included Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. But even the injection of politics couldn't overshadow the scene: Hundreds of volunteers, from every corner of the St. Louis region, coming together to do good.

In any given row, you could see an interdenominational sampling of virtually every religion and ethnic group. Girls in Catholic school uniforms darted along footpaths with cleaning rags in their hands. Fifty feet from a college student wearing an Israeli flag as a cape, Durra Asarwani leaned on a rake and helped translate her husband's Arabic. They'd fled Syria only seven months prior. "We are here to help," Asarwani said in a beginner's English. "We are struggling together."

From one perspective, nothing has changed in the ten months since the gravestones were discovered upturned and defiled. We are all those groundskeepers, looking around in bewilderment, trying to make sense of the senselessness. Why would somebody do this? We don't have an answer, and so the question floats, still adrift in a spectrum between thoughtless vandalism and something much, much worse.

But whether it was a hate crime or a prank, what resonates is that scene of hundreds of volunteers raking muck and polishing grime from names and dates. A scene of shared dignity. We know what St. Louis looks like when it comes together. And in this world, that makes all the difference. —Danny Wicentowski

click to enlarge When protests filled the streets, residents -- and businesses -- listened. - THEO WELLING
  • THEO WELLING
  • When protests filled the streets, residents -- and businesses -- listened.

16. We kept calm — and we listened

For many, many days this fall, St. Louis went on the march. We railed against the "not guilty" verdict for a former police officer who sure as hell seemed guilty of something. ("I'm going to kill this motherfucker, don't you know" felt kind of like a threat to us, but what do we know?) We shouted that Black Lives Matter. We took the message to the highway and even the shopping mall, disrupting commerce in the name of racial justice.

And the people being disrupted said, in many cases, "You're right."

Business owners brought water to protesters. They pushed back against police actions that seemed to bring the violence, not contain it. They spoke out — in some cases, like that of Pi Pizzeria owner Chris Sommers, triggering a reaction from the police union that put their livelihoods at risk.

More than anything, they kept things in perspective.

"The damage that we have or potentially could sustain during these demonstrations is a small price to pay in the fight for justice," Eliza Coriell, the owner of the Crow's Nest, wrote in a letter co-signed by 45 other business owners. "Although we do not condone vandalism of any nature, we understand it. We recognize the feelings that come from generations of oppression. We understand how those feelings could bring residents of our community to conclude that there is no other way to be heard. While we believe in personal responsibility, we believe that deeper responsibility lies with our local governments and all those who have turned a blind eye to abuse. We must all take our share of the responsibility."

Early on in the protests, rabble-rousers in the Loop waited until the official demonstration was over and then turned on storefronts with bricks, pieces of pottery, even chairs. The damage was done in minutes, leaving shop after shop with gaping holes and shattered glass.

But by the next morning, the street was already full. Full of workers getting ready for business, full of people ready to spend money to support them.

And here's the crazy thing. No one was cursing out the protesters — or even the vandals who'd hijacked their march. Everybody understood that a broken window isn't the end of the world, that life goes on, and most importantly, that there are bigger conversations to be had. That felt like real progress.

Maybe, in 2018, we can focus on having them. —Sarah Fenske

17. We managed not to kill a single person with our new trolley

For the second year in a row, St. Louis is officially #blessed that the Delmar Loop Trolley has failed to claim a single life, human or otherwise. This is huge because, in the past month, trolley operators actually began logging their mandatory training hours by running the route. Even more importantly, Clayco just stepped up to front the $500,000 necessary for the trolley to become fully operational.

What that means: At some point in early 2018, the greatest technological forward leap since the Apollo space missions of the 1960s will begin ferrying passengers from the Missouri History Museum all the way to Racanelli's in the Loop. That's a journey of 29 minutes by foot during the 5 to 5:30 p.m. rush hour; by trolley, perhaps as little as half an hour, depending on the time of day. Zooline Railroad, your days are numbered as the region's leading passenger-transporting rail line. — Paul Friswold


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