My latest article is online in City Journal and is a look at the most recent failed attempt to merge St. Louis city and St. Louis county governments in light of the backdrop of civic challenges there. Here’s an excerpt:
Better Together, a drive to consolidate the governments of St. Louis County and its towns with the city of St. Louis, was over almost before it started. Following political blowback and the indictment of the St. Louis County executive who would have run the merged government, backers withdrew the proposal. But the problems that prompted it—regional demographic and economic malaise, fiscal distress, and segregation—aren’t going away. Attempts to shake up the region’s governance are likely to continue.
St. Louis is a rare “independent city”—not located within a county, that is, but existing as its own separate entity. Baltimore and some cities in Virginia are also organized this way, but few others. St. Louis was once part of St. Louis County. In 1876, however, city officials, unhappy with the county government, managed to push through a secession in which a newly enlarged city was carved away from the county. Practically speaking, the independent city of St. Louis was equivalent to a combined city-county government. In 1950, its peak population year, St. Louis was the eighth-largest city in the United States, with a population of 856,796, which even today would make it our 18th-largest municipality—bigger than Seattle, Denver, or Boston. Its land area of 62 square miles exceeds those of San Francisco and the District of Columbia. For a long time, independent St. Louis thrived, and separation from the county looked like a smart move.
Click through to read the whole thing.