Whe￼n out of towners ask where you’re from, what do you tell them?
Much is being made of the St. Louis city/county merger proposal by Better Together. As a lifelong resident of this area, I’m still putting my head around it. No doubt there will be intense discussion between now and the election in 2020, some of it fueled by emotion and some by statistics.
The problem as I see it is that the discussion has become a question of identity. For generations now, those living in the county have looked down at those in the city, establishing a dual identity as both St. Louisans and citizens of their own special little haven in the suburbs — Creve Coeur, Florissant, Kirkwood, etc. Chesterfield is looking into seceding from the county, and many other municipalities may be as well. Something like this not only steps all over the status quo of multiple bureaucracies, but the very identities of the citizens who prefer to separate themselves.
In an instant, we would become the ninth- or 10th-largest city in the U.S., and our rankings in national lists of crime, health care and livability would change dramatically (hopefully for the better.) The fractured nature of our current governmental system holds St. Louis back in many ways, but the real question Better Together needs to address is, “Who are we, and what do we stand for?” How do we convince new businesses, families conventions and tourists to choose this city over others? There needs to be a positive vision to convince the many angry and scared citizens that this is the better way to go.
Where to start? How about with a name? Our name is our brand. As Bill McClellan has pointed out before in the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis could use a better name. The city is named after an obscure 13th century French monarch who had nothing to do with the new world. (For decades, I thought St. Louis was named after Louis XIV, who’s much better known.) Why would Pierre Laclede name his new settlement after Louis IX of all people?
I propose the new entity formed by this union needs a new name entirely, in order to make a fresh start and overcome decades of provincialism and stagnation. But what name should we use?
My first choice would be Baseball Heaven, Mo., because if there’s anything that unites this entire region, it’s baseball. Or how about selling the naming rights to any company that wants to pay for them? Think of the money. Topeka renamed itself Google, Kan., trying to get new high-speed internet project. (It didn’t work.) Another idea would be to name the new city Chesterfield, just to mess with the folks in West County. (Sorry guys, we really don’t want you to leave us.)
The best choice, however, remains Cahokia, Mo., in honor of the mound builders who established this region as a civilizational hub over a thousand years ago. That name sounds both powerful and iconic to me and would give us a unique identity.
There’s much to be discussed about how a new entity would function, and there’s a ton of mistrust out here in the county about what we would gain and what we would lose. If Dogtown and Central West End can exist as functional entities inside a bigger whole, then perhaps so can Ladue and Clayton. And if we can create a better, more cohesive unit, including Metro East, St. Charles and Jefferson counties where possible, we can join the likes of Louisville and Indianapolis, who’ve already entered the 21st century with their own restructuring.
When people ask me where I’m from, I always say St. Louis, even though I’ve never lived within the city limits. I wrote on these pages about the 250 cakes that graced our region just five years ago, and my search for all of them gave me a unique appreciation for the many unique treasures this area has to offer. We have a great opportunity and challenge here with St. Louis; we just need to organize it and brand it better than we’re doing currently.
Meet me in Cahokia?
Dan Connors of St. Louis County is a lifelong St. Louisan and CPA. He’s a freelance writer working on a novel set all around the St. Louis area, “Skunked.” He can be reached at email@example.com.