This Just In: St. Louis Is Segregated

The St. Louis metro area clocks in at (un)lucky No. 7 in terms of black/white racial segregation among the country's largest urban regions.

That's according to 2009 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, which was analyzed by A.P. and Post-Dispatch reporters and summarized in an article this morning.

Shocking? Not exactly.

But we still couldn't help but ask the experts why blacks and whites remain so stubbornly separated here.

Experts say that one reason is the geographic accessibility within the region. We're surrounded not by mountains, deserts or oceans, but rather a web of highways. People unhappy with the urban life here can easily get the heck out of Dodge.

"Households can easily flee urban, often black, poverty to settle on relatively cheap land on the suburban fringe," Todd Swanstrom, the Des Lee Professor of Community Collaboration at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, tells Daily RFT. "Of course, leaving behind concentrated poverty only makes the problem worse, setting in motion further waves of white, middle-class flight."

But that's only part of it. The other problem has just as much to do with economic segregation as with racial tension. And some of our legislative and judicial policies (which sprout from our wacky grid of 300 municipalities) perpetuate that reinforcement.

Take our zoning laws. "Zoning is designed to keep out those who are poor, and often black, by banning or limiting apartments and requiring single family homes on large lots," Steve Patterson, who runs the blog UrbanReviewStL, tells Daily RFT. Or transportation: "St. Charles County famously voted to not have Metrolink extend to them," he says.

Aside from the yawning gap between black and white nabes here, the area overall ranked higher in education level than other cities, and in the middle of the pack in terms of other demographic markers, according to a separate Post-Dispatch article. But when you get deeper into the city, the picture changes; the article noted that the city proper's poverty rate ranks significantly higher than the national average. (Compare that to nearby St. Charles, which boasts one of the lowest poverty rates in the country; what a difference a few miles make.)

The national data come as part of a package released yesterday by the Census Bureau, which for the first time has put together a five-year snapshot of the country. The five-year findings are part of the American Community Survey, based on 11.1 billion individual estimates, covering more than 670,000 distinct geographies and 72 demographic areas including social, economic and housing statistics.

On a happier note for St. Louis, the region did show modest gains in desegregation over the last ten years. Interestingly, too, racial segregation between whites and Hispanics in this town seems to be dwindling; only thirteen metro areas in the country achieved better integration of those two groups.

Swanstrom says the housing disparity might continue to shrink, mostly due to economic realities. "As commuting and energy costs rise, the exit strategy will gradually close off, and St. Louis will need to learn how to build more mixed-income, mixed-use communities," he says.