A Tale of Two Cities

I work in North Saint Louis City and I live in one of its suburbs, Saint Charles. These are two starkly different places and I have an anecdote for each that may seem as unrelated but I believe they can be connected.

North Saint Louis City is a colossal shit hole. It is run down buildings and broken roads; littered with trash, crime, and hopelessness. I have always known this area to be in such disrepair but my experience with it was limited to driving through it to a baseball game or to get something to eat in the relative haven that is Downtown. It was more or less kept out of sight and out of mind.

For the last several years I have worked in a dilapidated warehouse building on the edge of Saint Louis City not far from the now infamous city of Ferguson. This building is one of many reminders of what this area used to be. It once was a bustling factory in an active industrial area, surrounded by modest homes. Now much of the area is derelict and covered in garbage.


Interstate 70 at Union and Kings Highway, July 28, 1961

I am not a person that litters and at times I will even go as far as to pick up other people’s trash. Given my propensity to not be a slob when I am at work I find myself not caring and even contributing to the filth. The Broken Window Theory states that a broken window left broken signals the lack of care and will lead to more broken windows. This theory goes on to expound that disorderly conduct in vandalism or neglect can lead to greater crime and lawlessness. This theory rings true for the Saint Louis metropolitan area.

My reaction to being in such an environment is small but I only work there. I currently spend much of my time in Saint Louis but it is not my home. I imagine what it must be like to live in this environment. If I came home to this every day; what kind of person would I be? Growing up in a place where buildings are falling apart and trash is everywhere must have a great effect. Left to perpetuate, what does this do to a community? I think we see this play out in cities across the country.

Where I live is a pretty nice area. I have lived in Saint Charles County all of life and within about a 3 mile radius for all but a year of that. It is a nice community. The schools are good, the roads are well kept and clean, and most things are improved over time. No place is perfect. Despite any issues I have with it; I like my home town.

Very recently some graffiti has been put on an overpass not far from my apartment. I appreciate artistic talent and like to think I have some of my own but I find graffiti to be absolutely disgusting. I know this is not the first graffiti to appear in my town but I find this graffiti particularly glaring. I hate it.

I feel connected to Saint Charles. I feel responsible for this place and when I see something like graffiti on a near by overpass it bothers me and I want to do something about it. This is my home and I should be a good steward to it. I have given thought to if I could possibly remove or paint over it myself. If only someone would have caught whomever made the graffiti before it happened. I fear that if left on that overpass the graffiti will invite more vandalism; that at some point the Broken Window Theory will emanate around this overpass.

I have been lucky enough to live in a place that people before me kept clean and orderly. This environment gave me the freedom to pursue things of my own interest. I think that facilitating living conditions similar to what I have enjoyed is essential for society to prosper. It is morally reprehensible that we allow cities like Saint Louis fester in such terrible conditions for decades on end.

It does not matter how it started. Something must be done about the disaster of our cities. It is time we stop pointing fingers and begin taking actions. Our country has become more divided in my lifetime. Tension is rising and things are getting worse everyday. I don’t feel we can afford for things to get much worse. Unfortunately, I don’t know what should be done. I want to start somewhere but damn it that overpass is too high for me to reach.

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