December 4, 2020

Living it Up: Money Magazine Ranks Webster Groves on Top 100 Best Places to Live, but why?

Every year, Money Magazine ranks the country’s 100 best places to live. On this year’s list were four Missouri cities, two of which are in the heart of St. Louis — cities that, for me, literally hit close to home.
Coming in at No. 61 is Webster Groves, and in at No. 80 is Ballwin. As a native Ballwinian and a current resident of Webster Groves, I made my mind up quickly regarding which city I preferred. Basically, the ranks should be flipped.
I won’t beat around the bush. I’m partial (severely partial) to the ‘burbs of Ballwin. I spent the better half of my childhood running around Vlasis Park, losing my fishing pole in a pseudo-lake trying to catch small, inedible fish. I reveled in the last weekend in August (now June) when Ballwin Days, the annual carnival, could be seen from virtually anywhere in the city — the lit Ferris wheel churning the night sky.  I tagged along with my girlfriends to the playground in Vlasis so they could make out with their boyfriends in the tower until the cops found us with their flashlights.
Perhaps it was simply that I was in my youth, but Ballwin has always brought a sense of comfort, a feeling of home. Everyone seemed to know everyone. And in meeting another native Ballwinian for the first time, they’d always know at least 10 of the same people you did.
But, these are just my own good memories I have for a city I happened to live in. Sure, they’re honest, and, yes, they sway my judgment in deciding the better of the two cities, but what are the real reasons Money Magazine chose Ballwin as one of the best 100 places to live?
For starters, it’s home to two major school districts that are considered among the best in the state — Rockwood and Parkway. The city is also within 30 minutes of five major universities and colleges.  Ballwin has consistently low crime every year as well.
Perhaps what draws most residents to the city is the myriad of parks (like my favorite, Vlasis), nature trails and large amounts of wooded areas­ — which isn’t common in St. Louis, a highly populated urban stretch.
Webster Groves is not to be ignored, however. It, too, has gems of its own. No, it’s not Ballwin. The two cities aren’t terribly comparable or relative to each other, either, but Webster Groves has a soft spot in my heart, mainly for reasons from my past.
My grandparents lived in Webster Groves when I was a kid. When I would visit them, they’d take me to eat cheesecake at Cyrano’s, the quaint restaurant on Lockwood modeled after the famous French dramatist, or to the Repertory Theatre (they were, and still are, season-ticket holders) to see amazing, personal plays in a half-circle theater with impeccable sound quality from a small, wooden stage. They lived in a Kenrick Parke condo that holds some of the best memories I have from my childhood.
And let’s not forget the last three years I’ve spent here. I’ve attended a one-of-a-kind university, found an apartment in a nice complex five minutes away from campus, met some important and impressive leaders of the city through years of campus and city reporting, and above all, met some amazing people born and raised in the Groves.
Since comparing Ballwin to the Groves is like comparing apples to oranges, I’ll say that each city made the list for reasons that must have been totally different. Ballwin is a teeming, busy suburb on the edge of the city. Webster Groves is a small town trapped in the city. And it is that same sense of small-town-living that can make the Groves a place of exclusion.
I understand Webster Groves has a rich history, beautiful century homes, quaint shops and perfect lawns, but to me, there hangs an air of pretentiousness that I can’t ignore. Perhaps it’s more about legacy. Everybody from Webster seems to have lived here all his or her life. Beyond that, their families have been here for generations, this is their community. Ballwin, however, is not a town of permanence. Ballwin is forever changing, shifting and rebuilding.
Neither city is right or wrong, nor in an objective world is either really better or worse than they other. I can’t help but feel thankful as I compare and contrast the two places in St. Louis that have most shaped my life. I’ve lived in two fantastic places, and not everybody gets so lucky.
Embrace the best, Webster Groves, you’re lucky and you’re blessed. And Ballwin is coming for you next year.

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