There are probably many other cities like St. Louis that exist in middle America today, big cities that came into existence along the major waterways of country, along rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and the Ohio, cities that supported the industry, trade, and growth, of a nation that in those days was experiencing a grand optimism about its industrial future.
But times have changed in many ways, and the nature of many of these cities has also changed with these times. The very nature of the commerce that sustains these places has necessarily changed, and brought with it changes in the lives of the humans who occupy these spaces.
Many of these cities are still easily recognizable by their distinct downtown areas, with their humongous skyscrapers that now support, or attempt to support in some way or another, the new kinds of businesses that have inevitably replaced the old ones.
But the people who live in these cities have for the most part left. The office-goers scurry in from their comfortable suburbs in the mornings to earn their keep, and then depart just as quickly as they appeared, after work in the evening, leaving the cavernous spaces beneath the huge skyscrapers for the most part abandoned. There are very few people in the streets.
Move just a little bit away physically from the downtown areas and you may see another unfortunate impact of these changes. There are the poor and even abandoned neighborhoods – where the weeds may have taken over in some places, where the only people present, if any, are those living on the fringes. These are places that one could justifiably feel uncomfortable wandering into, but their stories, and the stories of the people who once lived there, are no less compelling than those of the more fortunate. These are the people and places that time has left behind.
Cities try to revive themselves, and thus does the city of St. Louis. I think these processes can succeed only if the entirety of the spaces that they occupy become more livable places, not necessarily when they become places where there is simply a lot of commerce going on, and not necessarily when they become the places that people tend to visit (but only the “safe” sections!) to get a temporary thrill of some kind or another every once in a while, only to abandon the place when night falls.