St. Louis City’s population would go from 62nd highest in the country to 10th highest if Better Together’s proposal passes in 2020. The actual number of St. Louis residents will not change but Jeff Wachter, an independent researcher for The Abell Foundation, said the higher ranking could cause population growth later.
Indianapolis experienced population growth after its merge with Marion County, Indiana. Nashville also experienced population growth after it merged with Davidson County, Tennessee.
Wachter said that a merged city would increase tourism and population grown in St. Louis.
“[City size] definitely does have a significant psychological effect,” Wachter says. “Like saying we’re about the size as Dallas, that’s a pretty big deal.”
Colin Gordon, a public policy professor at the University of Iowa, said he disagreed with how Better Together went about its political process.
“There’s a lot of suspicion and ill-feeling. There’s worry people’s political power will be diluted in the new government,” Gordon said. “It’s not a very open and democratic process.
Planning, zoning and economic development would be regionally distributed to the proposed metro city. If voters approve the merger, it will consolidate the current municipalities’ government and police forces.
There are currently 88 municipalities in St. Louis County. Better Together proposed to merge these 88 municipalities and St. Louis City together, creating a combined city much larger in population. Unlike other cities that have consolidated, like Indianapolis and Nashville, the St. Louis City-County merger will be on the state ballot rather than a local one.
Wachter thinks that Better Together’s financial power is stronger than those opposed to the merger. He said this could cause the vote to sway to pro-city-county merger since Better Together has more means to reach residents outside of St. Louis City and County.
“It’s clear that advocates of the merger have deeper pockets and can wage a bigger campaign and that will certainly have an impact when you’re trying to have TV ads in different markets, radio ads and door-knockers,” Wachter said. “That sounds like it’ll be a bigger challenge for the opposition.”
Gordon said that if St. Louis wants to address patterns of segregation that it needs to focus on planning and zoning.
Gordon said that one reason most municipalities exist is to control the way the land is used. If a certain municipal does not want any factories or apartments in their area they have the power to decide that.
Concerns with minorities losing their political power have been raised by those in opposition of the city-county merger. Gordon does not see a reason why it has to work that way if the merger takes place.
“It is true that as a consequence of segregation there are pockets of African-American citizens and political power in the city and in the suburbs of inner St. Louis County,” Gordon said. “One could imagine a process of a merger that was very attentive to historic patterns of discrimination and peoples current political progression that could accommodate that.”
If the proposal gains enough signatures the merger will be on the November 2020 elections ballots.