Don't know about you, but 2012 sure snuck up on us — if not like a thief in the night then like that crazy uncle (you know, the one with the preposterous comb-over) you only see at family gatherings, where he invariably materializes entirely out of nowhere and pinches you on the ass while you're trying as nonchalantly as possible to mix your third Bacardi-and-Coke that's pretty much all Bacardi and no Coke. It could be this crazy winter, which apparently didn't get the memo till this past Sunday, or it could be that such a huge chunk of 2011 passed with nothing whatsoever to recommend it or remember it by, until all of a sudden the Cardinals were winning the World Series and everything was bathed in a warm and rosy glow you could have basked in forever...
...And then you wake up with a shitty rum hangover and a bruise on your ass and you're late for your shift at the job you're woefully overworked and underpaid for, and the recession still sucks and damn it's cold and Albert Pujols is gone like LeBron.
Fortunately, we St. Louisans are a hardy bunch. Overweight and out of shape, perhaps, but by golly, we're resilient! Just give us a couple of days and we'll be right back in the fray, doing our stoic Midwestern best. (With a side of inferiority complex.) (And keep those rum-and-Cokes coming.)
In the meantime, we thought it might be a good idea to prime the ol' can-do-spirit pump by meditating upon a question. Not just any question, mind you, but one that's easily asked yet not-so-readily answered, and, moreover, one that utterly reeks of positive juju.
If you had the power to make one change that would improve life for St. Louisans in 2012, what would that change be?
While we were at it, we figured we'd pose that same question to a bunch of our fellow citizens. And here's what they had to say...
Justin Johnson, singer and guitarist
for Pretty Little Empire
Not to sound all Whitney Houston on you, but let's do something for the kids. The change I would make to improve the lives of St. Louis residents would be an increase in the number of youth centers, specifically geared toward the arts, throughout the city and county. Growing up in St. Louis, I felt a real lack of non-sports-related activities to get involved in. It would have been great to have a place to go and find new interests. In the last ten years or so, technology has made it much easier to make films, record music and create multimedia works of art. If money were no object, it would be great to have a state-of-the-art media center where kids and teens could go after school and on weekends. It would give them a chance to experiment with a variety of mediums and allow the process of starting and completing projects without worrying about how to finance them. Kids and teens in St. Louis would benefit immensely from having a place to paint, sculpt, record, edit, film, write and just be able to create, without worry. I know that growing up, I would have loved it.
Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis
Attract more immigrants. They are outstanding entrepreneurs and, thus, job creators. Since our immigrant population in this region is smaller than the national average, our growth in biotech, IT and other key job sectors is hampered.
Redditt Hudson, candidate for Missouri State Senate
I would work to improve public schools throughout the region and fully invest every resource to do it. Public schools continue to be the most available opportunity for children to be educated here and throughout the country. We would be finished blaming people, whether it be parents, teachers and their unions, or educational administrators, and commit everyone to the priority, educating children, because now you've got everything you need to do it, and there are no more excuses. With those unlimited resources, I would create stable neighborhoods throughout the region that would support quality schools right where they are so that children would not have to be transferred or bused somewhere else to learn.
And I would start that quality education early — early-childhood education is vital to a child going forward, and I would make damn sure all children had access to it. If there were charter school models that showed some promise, I would be willing to engage them with some shared resources, but I don't think there has been a showing anywhere in the country that they are, generally, any better than our public schools. Just look at the Imagine Academy example. And finally, I would challenge those legislators who find a way to take more resources away from public education every year — and then criticize performance and outcomes in public schools — to become part of the solution.
Abesi Manyando, president and creative director of Abesi Public Relations & Marketing LLC
If I could change one thing, I would create a great, thriving economy in St. Louis and ensure that everyone had a great source of income. The basis of our greatest issues, such as poverty, education and crime, stem from our economy. I would give tax credits to business owners first. I would capitalize on the wide range of talent in St. Louis by creating three things as sources of economic growth. A major film-production studio — this would create a wide range of jobs, ranging from acting, technology, music to production. It would also increase the publicity of the city of St. Louis and attract new tourism and commerce. I would also create a major theater and music base in St. Louis. Tapping into our rich artistic talents could change the dynamics of St. Louis as it has for cities such as New York, LA and Atlanta. Creating these three things would give a wide range of talented people different avenues for employment. This would also encourage talented people to not have to leave St. Louis in order to make it, all while making St. Louis' economy greater. I would also use the taxes from our sports teams to go into the Saint Louis Public Schools' budget. If we don't educate our children, we will have no future.
Autumn Wiggins, founder of Upcycle Exchange
I would install Freedom Toasters all over the city. A Freedom Toaster is a kiosk that distributes all kinds of free Linux operating systems and other open-source software through an easy-to-use interface that burns the programs you need onto a CD or copies it to a USB drive. It's free as in freedom, not as in waffles. I think there are all kinds of situations where this would come in handy for the community, though. Proprietary software can be ridiculously expensive, and let's face it, many people in St. Louis are experiencing hard times (most still have computers and the wherewithal to utilize them to improve their lives). Quality free open-source alternatives can be hard to find online because they do not have "SEO experts" or any money to advertise. Maybe your hard drive dies and can't even get online. Just go down to your nearest Freedom Toaster with your thumb drive, install a bootable version of Linux on it, and you can now have a functioning computer. The kiosks are DIY and completely customizable, so local artists and techies could work together on designing them. It would double as a public art project. Freedom Toasters only exist in Africa right now, so this would make St. Louis the first U.S. city to implement them. Total nerd cred.
Andi Smith, comedian
I think it would help if we stopped building stuff right next to the Galleria so I could get to the mall in less than three hours. Also, the city should implement some sort of legal limit on the amount of time boys can be depressed about Albert Pujols breaking up with us.
Jane Cunningham, state senator
My goal is to work with legislative colleagues to ensure every child has access to a quality, accredited school.
Sam Kogos, owner of Riverbend
Restaurant & Bar
I have only lived in the St. Louis area for a little over seven years now, after a move from my hometown of New Orleans. St. Louis, like New Orleans, can also be a very parochial place —segregated racially, socially and economically. My idea would be this: If St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County all merged to be called Metropolitan St. Louis That would rank us around the fifth largest U.S. city, right after Houston. Being in the top five, our city would benefit from all kinds of increased federal dollars, tax credits and programs. By merging individual municipalities, taxpayers would save millions from the duplications in services.
After the region is merged, we would need to give the mayor more power. We have too many elected officials and governmental bodies. We would be much better served if the mayor actually had the constitutional power to get big things done, like mayors in other large cities such as Chicago and Houston. Our mayor has to share power with two other elected officials, so nothing really changes. People like to complain when mayors have too much power, but cities with a strong mayor and weak council form of government are in better shape than we are.
I always find it funny when people travel outside the state and someone asks where they are from. They say St. Louis as proud as can be — not Arnold, Kirkwood, Fenton or St. Charles, which is where they really live. The city of St. Louis is our identity. It's important to the whole region.
Tiffany Minx, owner of Apop Records
Extending the MetroLink train line beyond its limited central corridor function would, I think, be very beneficial for everyone. It could decrease car traffic, allow for people to seek jobs easier and be an asset to attract new residents. Also, we have this huge deposit of non-STLer college kids stuck in a few specific locales; no disrespect intended, but St. Louis has so much more to offer outside of these safe zones.
Hedy Epstein, Local activist and Holocaust survivor
The march of democracy is sweeping the world, and it is rising here in St. Louis. We, the "Occupy" movement, are just getting started, and we're winning! We're actually building the world that most people want. We're building it this year, next year -- until it happens.
Susan Slaughter, retired principal trumpet of the St. Louis Symphony
If I had the power to change one thing, it would be to make the educational quality of all of our schools — city and county — the best in the country, and of course music and the arts would have high priority. That is what I think would improve life in the city of St. Louis, not just in 2012 but for many, many years to come. The march of democracy is sweeping the world, and it is rising here in St. Louis. We, the Occupy movement, are just getting started, and we're winning! We're actually building the world that most people want. We're building it this year, next year — until it happens.
Chris Duncan, WXOS (101.1 FM) sports analyst and former Cardinals outfielder
The baseball purists are probably going to hate me for this, but as a former player and a big-time baseball fan, I would've loved to see the new Busch Stadium with a retractable roof, whether it's in April — it gets pretty cold, with rain and sleet — or in July and August, when it's smoldering hot with people having strokes in the stands. If you have a nice day, you can have it open. No rain delays, no canceled games. There's nothing like sitting with a hot dog and a cold beer in a climate-controlled stadium. I can't stand swamp ass in the middle of July while watching a game.
Coyote G. Brynum, owner of the Sci-Fi Lounge
If I had the power, I would elect game designers and video game engineers to restore true democracy and reinvent our system of government with fair and ethical, common-sense rules. Their primary tasks would be to eliminate the corrupting influences campaign-finance and corporate lobbying have in politics (especially Congress) by creating an official MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) style voter/candidate forum. They'd also to design a simplified tax-code with an user-friendly interface that allows taxpayers to chose which programs their tax dollars support, and with the help of artists and city planners, to develop community revitalization projects for able-bodied citizens seeking unemployment benefits to participate.
The voter/candidate forum would allow each citizen to have one avatar that can participate in the online virtual world of politics. Discuss issues, track political news and protest without the pepper spray. Candidates would debate and challenge each other to a variety of games in a Player Vs. Player zone. The entire system would be policed by an independent fact checker, so anyone spouting misinformation would lose points and power-ups through their avatar, and be immediately corrected by a Gilbert Gottfried icon via pop-up bubble.
The community revitalization projects would blend elements of Habitat For Humanity and social-media games like Farmville. Taxpayers can nominate public-improvement projects or request help for private home repair projects based on need. Out-of-work individuals would earn unemployment benefits by rebuilding their local communities.
Game designers have a way of developing rules that are fair and fun. Imagine: If an idea doesn't work, instead of new legislation, we could just fix it with a patch update. Social media is a powerful tool for rallying people and ideas, but it is not an end-all. We also need to make it easier for people to want to help one another.
The Revolution will not be commercialized.
Mimi Le Yu, burlesque dancer
I would abolish reality television so folks can enjoy the reality around them. Turn off the TV and go see a band, check out a show, take in the art and life around you instead of living vicariously through folks doing cool stuff on TV.
Nikki Furrer, owner of Pudd'nhead Books
St. Louis County gave over $5 billion to big-box stores — they build the biggest strip mall in west county, and no economic growth came from it. If they gave that money to independent businesses of all kinds, I think we'd see some definite economic growth and have some interesting things to do.
And ban all jeggings.
Tef Poe, hip-hop artist
In 2012 I would like to see St. Louisians unite over more than just baseball. Our city lacks unity and is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. We are a Midwestern town with a 1960s type of Southern mentality when it comes to segregation. We have portions of our city that have been devastated by white flight. Everyone was insanely excited about the Cardinals winning the World Series. Most of the people doing back flips over our team being in the limelight technically don't even live in St. Louis.
I'd also really like to see us take a realistic approach to racial profiling and discrimination. A while ago I was working for the mayor, canvassing to stop a certain proposition from passing. Long story short, while I was in Mayor Slay's neighborhood someone called the police on me simply for being black. A few months later the U. City police department had me facedown on the ground with guns to my head. I wasn't charged with any crime, nor was I arrested. We lack unity as a city, so any form of discrimination and profiling seems to flourish here. Everybody loves everybody during baseball season. Yet when the season ends, it's back to Chesterfield, where my neighbors are all white, and I feel safe. I love St. Louis, but it's time for us to become a racially progressive city.
Jane Birdsall-Lander, artist and poet
I always have the same hope for St. Louis which is that contentious as well as unspoken negative race relations become a moot point and that everyone join together to make St. Louis the best it can be on all fronts. I believe the elephant in the room in terms of St. Louis being able to move forward is the issue of race.
Jason Deem, owner of Nebula
Coworking and South Side Spaces
Instead of using public funds for mega-projects like Paul McKee's NorthSide development — which are high risk and have a long history of failure — provide smaller incentives for independent businesses, developers, artists and creative projects such as Cementland that are low risk and help encourage the diversity of architecture, local businesses and arts that make St. Louis a unique city.