How is St. Louis for living (compared to Denver)?
August 24, 2004 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I have a potential job offer in St. Louis, but I know almost nothing about the place, and can't figure out whether I should even consider moving from Denver to there. So I thought I'd poll the highly refined cultural palates of MeFi readers to get some impressions of the place from people who've spent some time there.

Is it as sprawl-choked as Denver? What is the overall political mood? Can a guy who doesn't want to live in a McHouse on a cul-de-sac find a nice older house for a reasonable price? Is the weather tolerable for a pansy like me who's accustomed to the constant sunshine and very low humidity of Colorado?
posted by yalestar to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
Interestingly, I moved from Denver to St. Louis for college in the late '80s. I was last in St. Louis a couple of years ago (and haven't been to Denver in about 10), but it's absolutely not sprawling like Denver at all -- from what I understand from the few friends still there, it's still quite possible to buy an older house in a nice area like University City or Clayton (both right around Washington U., where I went) without having to spend a mint or being shunted out to McHouses in the 'burbs -- the housing market's gotten more expensive in general, but from what I understand it certainly hasn't gone through the stratosphere as it has in other cities. (I have a coworker in L.A. who's moving back to St. Louis to buy a house for this very reason.)

Politically, St. Louis always struck me as an interesting combo of moderately liberal and moderately conservative -- I think perhaps because it's on a cultural/social/geographical juncture between the midwest and the south. The city obviously has deep Catholic roots (the Supreme Court case in the late '80s that challenged Roe v. Wade -- sorry, I can't think of its name [and please note I am not trying to open up the discussion to abortion!] originated in St. Louis, for example).

I must warn you that the humidity will be horrifying -- it's truly shocking, having come from a dry environment like Denver, to feel the heat physically stick to you. I can't say that I ever necessarily got used to it, but you certainly learn how to make do. On the other hand, I will say that one of the things I really liked about St. Louis is that it's the only place I've ever lived where there were four full seasons, each just about three months long. So a hot, humid summer became fairly bearable when I realized there was always a lovely fall to look forward to, as well as a moderate winter and a long, pretty spring.
posted by scody at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2004

I grew up in St. Louis.

Scody has a good portrait of town, and is dead on about the weather.

I'm sure others will offer good characterizations of the city as well. Here are a few random points I thought up off the top of my head.

Greater St. Louis is divided into St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and other peripheral counties. The city's boundaries have been fixed for a very long time, and since people have been moving out into the suburbs since the postwar years, the city's population has always shown a dramatic decline. This is misleading. Greater STL is about 2.5 million people.

You'll most likely live somewhere in the county, which is divided up into a vast number of administrative duchies (e.g. University City, mentioned above). You'll notice this curious political organization as soon as you drive down I-170 (the "inner belt") from Lambert International Airport---there are places along the highway where three "CITY LIMIT" signs are all within view of each other. You cross them in a few seconds. What does this mean to you? Well, since some of these cities depend on traffic tickets for revenue, you'll want to know about places where you have to drive slowly. I-170 near the airport is a good example; so is Rock Hill.

St. Louis is an archetypical Midwestern city, characterized by a central business core with few dwellings, a surrounding annulus of moderate decay, "midtown" urban neighborhoods of variable health, suburbs, and then big box sprawl. This may seem like a harsh characterization, but I don't mean it to be. Besides, things are really starting to improve. The downtown is going through a development phase spurred by the creation of lofts in old, empty factories and warehouses. This change has been brought on in part by the efforts of a crazy artist who created a museum/giant jungle gym from the city's detritus in one of the buildings.

Like in many cities, urban renovation (or gentrification, depending on your outlook) is spreading out from the universities. St. Louis University, a Jesuit school, has done much to revive the {a href="">Grand Center area, though a new museum designed by Tatao Ando hasn't hurt either. Parts of University City and Clayton near Washington University have always been a little bit tony, but now new theaters, restaurants, and shops are creeping eastward on Delmar and reshaping a formerly "blighted" area. Finally, if you live anywhere in the prim Webster Groves suburb, watch out!---Webster University will buy you out eventually when your home meets the crest of its ceaseless expansion.

For more insight on the urban fabric of St. Louis, visit the fantastic

(Taking a breath, more coming.)
posted by tss at 7:17 PM on August 24, 2004

My sister just moved to St. Louis, and as a young professional, is finding it hard to meet people that she likes. She's liberal , but votes republican, and can't find anyone that can understand her ideology. She doesn't like hanging out in the university district, and it's about 45 minutes from her apartment anyway... I think she's in Chesterfield. She says her neighbors are rather snobby (the frat and sorority set all done grown up) or are married, and she hasn't met anyone that isn't redneckish.

Without being there myself, I don't know if it's her or if it's the area, but it's something

Unless you MO'ers have any suggestions for places for her to hang out? I'm thinking something like Portland's NW 23rd district, full of cooler hipsterish people.
posted by SpecialK at 7:33 PM on August 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great insights. And that Built St. Louis site is unbelievably cool.
posted by yalestar at 7:38 PM on August 24, 2004

Unless you MO'ers have any suggestions for places for her to hang out? I'm thinking something like Portland's NW 23rd district, full of cooler hipsterish people.

I lived in St. Louis for all of a month, and I've never been to Portland, but that sounds a bit like the Central West End was described to me.
posted by gd779 at 7:47 PM on August 24, 2004

That link should be: Grand Center.

Here are some St. Louis neighborhoods which you will learn about:

Two of the main rich suburbs are Ladue and Frontenac (where Nelly famously didn't "know how to act"), though wealthy people also choose more far-flung places like Town and Country and various other sprawling regions. Speaking of sprawl, the bulk of it occurs along the I-40/I-70 corridor, extending northwest out of the city (where it includes Chesterfield), across the Missouri River, and into St. Charles County. It is quite possible for you to find a nice place to live in St. Louis without moving here, and unless you enjoy sitting in traffic, I advise you to consider alternatives. Depending on your requirements, you may consider any of the following agreeable older cul-de-sac-ish suburbs:

University City: near WashU, varies geographically in costs, safety, hipness, etc. Definitely worth checking out.

Olivette: Between U. City and Ladue, kinda. Mostly postwar homes.

Webster Groves: generally larger houses, one of St. Louis's oldest suburbs, prides itself on having lots of trees.

Kirkwood: like Webster, but the houses are smaller, and there's a big shopping strip with a Walmart.

Shrewsbury: Close to the city along I-44 (Webster and Kirkwood are further out). Smaller homes, smaller yards. I, uh, don't know your price range, and I've never bought a house, so...

Sunset Hills: next to Kirkwood, but sort-of like Olivette; post-war houses.

Rock Hill: sorta like Webster.

There are others, but I'm stuck with what I can think of for now.

Cool places to hang out include Delmar in U. City and the Central West End, between Delmar and Highway 40 east of Kingshighway. SpecialK, do you know if your sister includes the Central West End in the "university district"? I've never been to Portland, but there be hipsters there.

(P.S. I live in Pittsburgh now. I'm in grad school. It's why I'm stopping short here, since I should get back to work. Ask questions, though; I'll answer if I can...)
posted by tss at 7:49 PM on August 24, 2004

Oh, I see... you didn't want a cul-de-sac. Chalk one up for critical reading... doh!
posted by tss at 7:59 PM on August 24, 2004

Scody hit the nail on the head, as far as the politics go.

The humidity, indeed, sucks in the summer, but it makes your a/c feel all that much better. I'm a native St. Louisan, so I'm used to it, but I have only turned on the window unit in my bedroom twice this summer. (Rest of the time, there's a fan on "hi".)

Speaking of housing, St. Louis *is* ridiculously sprawled - you can drive about half an hour from down town in any direction on the Missouri side before it gets rural. On the Illinois side, though, I've a friend who lives on ten acres of woods, not fifteen minutes on traffic-lighted streets from downtown. A counterpoint to the sprawl, though, is the absolute treasure that is the city neighborhoods. The wave of gentrification that started near downtown about fifteen years ago is about halfway to the city limits, but there's plenty of houses that can be had for prices that will make you wonder what's wrong with them. In my neighborhood, a one-bedroom one-floor gingerbread house of 1200 ft^2 might go for 100-120k.

Culturally, we've got a great music scene, a farmer's market that has been in operation for 200 years, "porn kills" billboards by the anarchist bakery, and a community radio station that plays *everything*.

Yalestar, what area (zip code) is the job you're considering? Not to brag too much on my area, but it's close enough in that a commute *to* the downtown area is cake, and anywhere else is against traffic. Hell, the fastest way for me to get to some burbs is to go downtown first! I see in your blog/journal that you're a walkie; unfortunately, that's hard to be in St. Lou.

SpecialK, if your sister doesn't mind a bit of a drive, she should check out Fred's. Hipsters, hippies, preppies, working-class, rockstars, old artists, freaks, geeks - we're all on level ground there.
posted by notsnot at 8:28 PM on August 24, 2004

Response by poster: what area (zip code) is the job you're considering?

It's actually in Columbia, IL, which looks to be quite a ways out from the core of St. Louis. But y'know, I figured I'd get a read on the whole metro area before I got too hasty with the particulars of a specific town.
posted by yalestar at 9:03 PM on August 24, 2004

Heck, Columbia, IL is all of 20-25 minutes from downtown, not bad at all. It's a suburb/post-war-small-town mix. If you still wanted that brownstone in an old neighborhood, you could do that, no prob. if you need anything - numbers of real estate, whatever, gimme an email.
posted by notsnot at 5:06 AM on August 25, 2004

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