Urbanist Moves to the 'burbs

Interested in parenting and education in St. Louis? Share here.
I thought this was a very interesting article from the perspective of someone who reluctantly moved to the suburbs for schools.

Confessions from a Cul-de-Sac
Schools, again. Deseg needs to be regional.
onecity wrote:
Schools, again. Deseg needs to be regional.

Until we start busing wealthy kids from Ladue into city public schools, or exiling poors from the city, it's an issue that's never going away. School quality is a direct function of parental wealth, the city is too large to be a wealthy enclave, the end.
MarkHaversham wrote:
onecity wrote:
Schools, again. Deseg needs to be regional.

Until we start busing wealthy kids from Ladue into city public schools,


thats already happening....
For many young families the weekdays are completely consumed by school, work, soccer practice, getting dinner on the table and doing it all over again. They can head into the center city to get their fill for true urbanism, culture, and entertainment on the weekends and then return to the world of affordability and convenience. And that works for a lot of people.


This is the heart of the problem right here. You could substitute "most people" for "a lot of people," and it's the reason why we'll never see a true resurgence of city living ever again. The best we can hope for is incremental block-by-block gentrification, and even then, the people that move into those spaces will (and currently do) mostly move to the suburbs once they have families. Convenience will always win out 1000% of the time. The suburbs are more convenient than the city. End of story.
Thank you so much for picking up my post for this forum. I am the author, and also attended Wash U. I'm very happy to know this forum exists - St. Louis was so important in the formation of me as an urban designer.

Thanks again and stay in touch!
www.helmofthepublicrealm.com
Mound City wrote:
For many young families the weekdays are completely consumed by school, work, soccer practice, getting dinner on the table and doing it all over again. They can head into the center city to get their fill for true urbanism, culture, and entertainment on the weekends and then return to the world of affordability and convenience. And that works for a lot of people.


This is the heart of the problem right here. You could substitute "most people" for "a lot of people," and it's the reason why we'll never see a true resurgence of city living ever again. The best we can hope for is incremental block-by-block gentrification, and even then, the people that move into those spaces will (and currently do) mostly move to the suburbs once they have families. Convenience will always win out 1000% of the time. The suburbs are more convenient than the city. End of story.


That the suburbs are more convenient in the city is the conventional way of thinking in the US, but I have such a different outlook. For so many of our friends and families out in the suburbs, EVERY trip from their house involves seatbelts and an internal combustion engine. They spend up to 1/3 of their income on transportation. Incredible. And that's just for everyday life, and not jaunts into "the center city".

I prefer living in a walkable neighborhood. Within a mile, I have a full-service grocery store, a pharmacy, a Target, a library, a beautiful park and 4 bus lines (11, 16, 30 & 90). Metrolink is just over a mile, but not a bad walk in decent weather. I go weeks without moving my vehicle.

Schools are a concern, but there are good, free schools if we apply ourselves to find one for our children. As mentioned on another thread, I've read good things about our kids' default elementary school, Buder, and the new principal there. And then there are magnet & charter options.

Crime is also another concern, though in 12 years I have yet to be a victim of even a broken car window (though my wife's car was, once - they got nothing), and this is living in four different neighborhoods in different parts of the City. I might just be lucky, but I learned a long time ago not to leave anything in my rarely-moved vehicle that someone might think is worth them busting glass. I know what areas to avoid at night and/or after drinking. Again, I might just be lucky.

I understand the anodyne appeal of the suburbs, but with more young families dedicated to centralized, urban living, dozens of City neighborhoods could easily compare with any community in the County or St. Charles.
^ I agree much of Saint Louis City is more convenient on so many things for families. It is more convenient to quality green space/parks, cultural institutions, diverse restaurants, school, scouting, the Y. Much of this is all walkable. And we're a small enough region that anything in the suburbs is within easy reach (as it is for suburbanites to reach the City) but the daily living is so much more compact and convenient. I understand it is not the predominant choice, but this is why more families are returning to, or staying in, cities across the country.

As far as the schools issue, I wasn't too impressed with the author's decision not to explore the urban education opportunities. Again I understand the choice, but it was a choice, and if Charlotte is anything like STL City, many neighborhood schools are decent and if more middle class families just sent their kids to them that would alone solve much of the "problem."
Does anyone do the numbers to figure out the cost of sending your kid to a private city school vs cost of higher property taxes in the county/higher home prices, possibly longer commute to work if you still work in the city, time wasted not being with your kids because of that commute ect.

I went to city public schools from 4th grade to 7th...went to catholic school for 8th grade (Resurrection on Meramec) then St.Johns on Delor for H/S (at that time it was about $3000 a year (2000-2004) that's about $4000 in 2015 dollars.
What I can't figure out is the parents who move out of the city only to send their kids to Catholic schools.
I live in Webster and we walk everywhere....
Appreciate the article as one family's calculus - but need to throw a few things out there:

Regular 'ole public schools are a perfectly good option for way more people than the article acknowledges. We have regular SLPS schools in the district that meet your needs. We also have charters that are good. We also have relatively affordable private schools. K - 8 you have many choices. SLPS schools shouldn't be written off out of hand. Its far from perfect, but its also far from uniform, and there's a lot of variety.

Many people just don't have the economic means to make the kind of calculation the author does. Maybe they wouldn't call themselves urbanists, but they live in cities. By the tens of millions. To some extent the success or failure of cities is really a lot more about how the City works for these folks, not people who can choose to live almost anywhere. Do I want more people to choose cities? Yes! But the effort has to be about laws, policy, investment, etc that caters to the population you have. Hopefully if you do a good job for the folks who already live here, the rest takes care of itself.

I kind of don't know what being an "urbanist" means if its just an abstraction... What's a "Brave urbanist" - someone who actually lives in a City? Yuck. You know, you don't have to be brave to live in a City. I know a lot of old ladies who do it.

Scott Ogilvie
24th Ward Alderman
^ I absolutely agree. And again I don't know Charlotte well so maybe it is no place for families, but I doubt it.

sirshankalot wrote:
I live in Webster and we walk everywhere....


Webster Groves is a terrific place and as an old streetcar suburb is atypical than most suburbs.
dbInSouthCity wrote:
Does anyone do the numbers to figure out the cost of sending your kid to a private city school vs cost of higher property taxes in the county/higher home prices, possibly longer commute to work if you still work in the city, time wasted not being with your kids because of that commute ect.

I went to city public schools from 4th grade to 7th...went to catholic school for 8th grade (Resurrection on Meramec) then St.Johns on Delor for H/S (at that time it was about $3000 a year (2000-2004) that's about $4000 in 2015 dollars.


Just as a very simplistic comparison, I went online and found a home in St. Louis Hills that's similar in size, style and price to my home in the Webster School District. The taxes on the St. Louis Hills home were approximately $900 less than what I paid last year. I believe tuition at my parish school is around $5,000 and presume that St. Gabe's/Raphael's is comparable. As far as commutes go, I would probably shave around 10 minutes from my commute by living in St. Louis Hills, while my wife would add maybe 20 to hers. She would also be subject to city earnings tax, which she does not pay now.

I also found a house in Skinker-DeBaliviere that would save me almost $2,000 in taxes, $3,600 in mortgage payments, and 10+ minutes from my commute while keeping my wife's commute about the same. And, it would allow me to take MetroLink to work on occasion.
^ Certainly commute times is an important part of the family calculus.... that is why it is so important for more companies to locate in the Central Corridor and expand rapid transit. (If you work in Clayton, it is convenient from much of the city but if it is out on 141 then that is a different equation.) Again this is just me, but I see that as more of an issue than schools for those who really would like to live in the City.
sirshankalot wrote:
I live in Webster and we walk everywhere....


Webster Groves isn't a suburb. In any other metro area it would be part of the main city. St. Louis' messed up boundaries create this problem.

By my definition, real suburbs aren't walkable.
dweebe wrote:
sirshankalot wrote:
I live in Webster and we walk everywhere....


Webster Groves isn't a suburb. In any other metro area it would be part of the main city. St. Louis' messed up boundaries create this problem.

By my definition, real suburbs aren't walkable.

I don't know if that's really a useful definition. Are you saying if Ballwin had adhered to good walkable design principles like older developments, it wouldn't be a suburb?
^ I think it would be kind of cool to map out what the City boundaries might be if you went by the basis of a regular street grid with few cul-de-sac subdivisions, etc. In general, I think it would end past Clayton with Olivette, Ladue, etc. clearly out but extending further northwest with much of Overland, etc. and southwest with Webster, etc.

SoCo gets suburban in nature pretty quickly past city limits as does NoCo north of Riverview Blvd.
I think, practically speaking, there's a difference between the words "suburb" and "suburban". In other words, not all suburbs are suburban.
dweebe wrote:
sirshankalot wrote:
I live in Webster and we walk everywhere....


Webster Groves isn't a suburb. In any other metro area it would be part of the main city. St. Louis' messed up boundaries create this problem.

By my definition, real suburbs aren't walkable.


Hmmm. I don't agree with this. Was in Oak Park in Chicago last weekend. That's a place that is roughly 4.70 square miles and has a population the size of the county's largest muni, Florissant, at 52k.

Ask any Oak Parker and they'll tell you they firmly live in the "suburbs", which is a relative term. I would tell you Webster Groves is definitely the suburbs. Most Chicagoans also refer to places like Elgin, Joilet/Aurora, etc. (their Ballwin) as way out there and don't even really consider it part of the suburbs.
framer wrote:
I think, practically speaking, there's a difference between the words "suburb" and "suburban". In other words, not all suburbs are suburban.

I think there's a danger in conflating terms "urban" and "well-designed", and contrawise "suburban" and "badly-designed". That may seem the case with most new suburbs, but it's an abuse of language. There are many poorly-designed cities, and likewise many well-designed suburban and rural communities that are not "urban".