Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saint Louis, why are we hiding?

What does it take to retain and attract creative individuals in our fair city?

This is the topic of a panel discussion Wednesday 9/23 at Left Bank Books (downtown location, 7pm). The discussion, moderated by the Saint Louis American’s Chris King, includes panelists from Trailnet, Metropolis, and Wash U, as well as local community organizer Galen Gandolfi and STL alderman Antonio French. That’s a pretty decent place to start for a question that keeps plaguing our city.

This is not a new discussion thread. Cities all over the country have been discussing this heavily in the past decade, especially since Richard Florida’s ideas of the creative class began to spread when his book was published in 2002. In many ways, the idea of retaining and attracting creatives is a city’s recipe for success, just as failure to do so seems to result in a city’s demise.

I wonder if it’s truly that simple. I love that we’re talking about it, and that we keep talking about it. I hear variations on this theme discussed in conference rooms at non-profits, in schools, in coffeeshops, and in bars late at night. How can we innovate, change, and provide inspiration for ourselves and others? How can we lead the way? These are wonderful questions, and they are questions we should keep examining.

As a Big Question though, does this miss the mark? It seems to me before we can retain or attract other creative individuals to STL, we need to better identify the creative individuals we already have.

Years ago, I remember having this conversation with several people late at night sitting around a table full of Guinness at Mangia. There were artists, musicians, writers, a police officer, and myself. We examined it the creative question from every angle. How do we compete with other cities? How do we demonstrate the value of we have to offer (and I don’t mean just financially)? How do we get others to recognize all the great things we have going on in Saint Louis? Around and around, we all spoke, citing examples of other cities we’d lived in, places we traveled, things we read. That night, and in many other night’s conversations since, it always seems to circle back to the same conclusion: we do awesome things in Saint Louis; we just don’t talk about it.

Whether it’s modesty or lack of self-confidence, a who-gives-a-shit attitude or just a superior work ethic, we all keep plugging away with seemingly little need to discuss our work and our ideas. Maybe it’s because everything happens in bars that we think it doesn’t deserve credit. (And, at times it’s because everything happens in bars and we forget it even happened.) Sometimes I think we are just all so used to the conversation that we forget that something special is happening.

Ask any creative type in Saint Louis to name a few players, say 5 people they think contribute to the creative landscape of this city. Regardless of age, occupation, race, class, or neighborhood, I guarantee you there will be a lot of overlap. Now, take those names you heard mentioned and go ask a policy maker, a newscaster, or a business person if they know the creatives mentioned. You might get a couple, but most likely, never the twain shall meet. Or, try the experiment a different way-- Google the names of the individuals who keep coming up. You might find reference to them here and there, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get a true sense of them, unless perhaps someone has a great website to promote professional endeavors.

My point is, we all know who the creatives are-- we know where to find them and how to use them, but no one else does. We all live somewhat underground, conducting our lives in similar circles and not really worrying too much about the outside world. It appears as if nothing worthy is occurring or as if we claim no room to initiate others into our ranks. And with that attitude, it might be tough to retain other creatives who’ve not yet found the circle, and equally tough to attract people from other cities who don’t even know Saint Louis has anything more than an arch and a now foreign-owned brewery.

So, I love that we’re asking this question, but I wish we’d also talk more about how to identify the wealth we already have.

And hey, Next American City, thanks for hosting the event, but I wish it was a bit cheaper. You’re shutting out some of the very people you want in this conversation. Times are hard; $15 is a lot, even for great ideas. Still, I’ve no doubt it’ll be a great conversation. (see post script at bottom)

WHAT: St. Louis Livable City: What it takes to retain and attract creative individuals
(a panel discussion moderated by Chris King)
WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 7:00 PM
WHERE: DOWNTOWN Left Bank Books (301 N. 10th; at 10th/Locust)
PRICE: $15** (includes subscription to Next American City and food); free to Next American City subscribers

For more info:

**Post Script: Just saw a post from Chris King stating that no one would be turned away from the event for not having the $15. (Awesome and thank you.) Now, you have no excuse; go to the discussion.

1 comment:

Matt M. said...

Excellent post!

I will be quoting you for expressing something I have come to realize. Yes, St. Louisans do awesome things but are not ones to boast.

And while boasting may be looked down upon in a bar setting, it's totally appropriate on the civic level.

I can't tell you how many cities I've been to where I've run into mucho-proud locals who rave about their city and list its many superlatives out for you (...as if half of them are even true).

But why don't St. Louisans do that? I mean, we have relatively verifiable superlatives here!

When other cities talk of revitalization, they mean that their once ragtag area got a new coat of paint and flushed out the alcoholics and street life and replaced them with something blatantly and self-consciously hipster or oppressively upscale.

In St. Louis, we have the absolutely profound cases of the revival of Old North St. Louis and Cherokee Street--neither in a way that's contrived. It's safe to say that these are some of the nation's greatest cases of urban resilience, especially Old North.

We're becoming a Foodie destination (with some brand new and daring chefs competing with our storied tradition of idiosyncratic local foods), a highly decentralized art colony (which seems sort of rare itself), we finally have a treasured public space unique in the country (Citygarden).

It's time for St. Louisans to be more optimistic and start talking up our city big and wide.

That damn inferiority complex must die. (http://stldotage.blogspot.com/2009/09/battle-of-st-louis-fighting-our-citys.html)

Again, great post!