The highway's closed, the Cardinals are rebuilding, the Rams suck and we're still bummed about almost topping the charts in violent crime. Face it, we got problems — among others, toasted ravioli. We need a fix and we need it fast. So, in the final days of 2007, Riverfront Times visited with some three dozen St. Louisans from all demographic walks of life (we even spoke with a butcher, a baker and candlestick maker), and asked them this: "If you could change or improve one thing in St. Louis in 2008, what would it be, and how would you accomplish it?"
Here's what they had to say.
David Clewell, poet and English professor, Webster University
I know that St. Louis is big on its toasted ravioli, and I'm sorry, but I don't think it should exist. I just don't understand toasted ravioli. Ravioli isn't toasted. It's soft and floppy and has a stuffing. One of the stories I've always heard was that someone accidentally knocked a ravioli into a deep-fryer. This to me was not like discovering a vaccine or penicillin. Many ideas are accidents, but they're not always good ideas. Maybe it's my Jersey roots — not that it's necessarily ravioli heaven back there. If I could go back in time, I would keep the perpetrator from knocking it into the vat. There's always the possibility of changing all of human history from that moment forward, but I'd take the chance.
Bill Streeter, creator and producer, Lo-Fi Saint Louis
I would make the city part of St. Louis County again and move the county seat into the city. A lot of people seem to get confused about what exactly making the city part of the county again means, because they often talk about it as if all of the county would become one giant city or something. But all it would really mean is that St. Louis City would just fall under the jurisdiction of the county — the city limits wouldn't move or anything — except maybe in some of the closer unincorporated parts of the county. How would I accomplish this? Largely by a campaign of blatant propaganda and small armed militias. And while I'm dictator of this military junta, I'd bring back streetcars, extend the rail system and enact a moratorium on the destruction of historic buildings and new construction of parking lots. Also, ban all strip malls from the city limits and tear down existing ones to create new parks in their place. Shit, as long as I'm dictator, I might as well ban cigarettes pretty much everywhere.
Paul Ha, director, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Simple: I would make the completion date of the upcoming closure of Highway 40 much earlier! However, since this is ultimately out of my control, I will instead look at the closure as the improvement itself. Even though this is stressful for many who live and work in St. Louis, it is also the perfect time to lower your blood pressure and "take the long way home" — literally. In your exploration of alternate routes, you are sure to stumble across some of the wonderful, unique outdoor spaces St. Louis has to offer — the Arch grounds, the Botanical Gardens, Tower Grove Park, Forest Park, Crystal Lake Park, Queeny Park — all of which you will pass driving along the outskirts of the interstate. Trust me, after living in New York for years, I quickly found a new appreciation for the nature readily available in St. Louis, just minutes from my everyday route.
Steve Roberts, St. Louis developer and president of The Roberts Companies
Our political leadership has to be more sensitive to the needs of all people, not just a small group. All of the region's problems are connected. For example, our political leadership must work closer with the business leadership. Businesspeople understand that education is connected to employment. If you don't have a work force that is educated, you will not have a very good work force. But in the case of the schools, there are all these political subdivisions. When you approach school boards, their attitude is, "What can you as an outsider do to help us?" instead of asking, "How can you give us resources that can help us improve our student achievement?" When the mayor decides to ignore a large segment of the community he has been elected to serve, to make an appointment that isn't fair, that makes people feel further disenfranchised. We need the political will to embrace avenues of communication between all segments of the population in order to benefit the region.
Sherman George, former St. Louis fire chief
I would like to see the city be one city instead of a divided city. I think we need a chief executive officer who treats the city fairly and has the interests of the entire city at heart and not just his own.
Greg Pusczek, farmer, Natures Way Gardens, Marine, Illinois
As the downtown area continues to fill with new residents, one major issue continues to stand out: The downtown community desperately lacks basic services. This forces people to leave and spend their money elsewhere on books, magazines, prescriptions, cleaning supplies, hardware and many domestic items. It's clearly about time to give service businesses incentive to relocate downtown to begin to meet the growing needs. The city is more than willing to give incentives to large developers and corporations to build or relocate downtown. It should give the same advantages to small businesses to help develop needed services and improve the quality of downtown living.
Tom Huck, St. Louis printmaker
I'd start an immediate de-yuppification program of the "new" Washington Avenue. (i.e. with baseball bats, Tasers and a Motörhead soundtrack). Eliminate parking meters. Eliminate fat-ass parking-meter "cops." Get rid of Imo's Pizza (vomit on cardboard!). Bring back the Checkerdome. Bring back 905 chain liquor stores. I'd probably outlaw every Terry Crouppen advertisement. I'd destroy Ballpark Village. Implode all of the shells of former grocery stores around town, and make 'em into parks. Josephine Baker needs a monument! I'd change my polling place from a pee-smelling old-folks home to Blueberry Hill. Viva la Vintage Vinyl. Don't even get me started on the Highway 40 extravaganza...or the public schools!
Carolbeth True, jazz pianist and professor, Webster University
St. Louis has a rich history in the arts and many fine artists continue to live here and perform periodically. If one thing could change here, I would hope that St. Louisans would show greater interest in attending musical and theatrical events similar to the interest shown for athletic events. Help would come from greater corporate and business support for the arts, which increases general awareness and interest with the public.
Charles Oliver, Ferguson barber and former boxer
To make St. Louis a better place to live, my No. 1 choice would be to change the way people think. I would start with people in the highest authority from all aspects of life and work my way down to the least. I would set up seminars on building strong character and teach people ways to be impeccable with their word. I would explain the importance of not taking anything personally, whether it was meant for good or bad.
Rollin Stanley, outgoing St. Louis planning director
St. Louis has a rich history of architecture, including the Wainwright Building, a landmark in high-rise construction; the Arch and many wonderful historic structures. St. Louis leads the country in the rehabilitation of historic buildings; a number of the city's architectural firms are leading the way in green renovations. We now have a number of new green residences with many innovative features. It would be great to see more innovation, including more groundbreaking green features in architectural styles of all kinds here in the city. As we cross the frontier from historic rehabilitation to new construction downtown, we have new opportunities to display our creativity to other cities.
Saskya Byron, gallery manager, Regional Arts Commission
I'd like to see better public transportation. An expansion of MetroLink would be fantastic. As a native of Amsterdam, I've been pretty spoiled — I could jump on the bus or tram anywhere in the city and it would get me anywhere I wanted to go. Of course, most of the time I'd be on my bike, which brings me to the other thing I'd like to see improved: We need bike paths and people on bikes! As to accomplishing the change — I have no idea how to get better public transportation, but I try to use my bike as much as I can. I bike to work and basically anywhere within an eight-mile radius of my home. You'd be surprised how many hills St. Louis has!
Deb Peterson, columnist, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
I would change what I perceive to be a culture that is intolerant of difference. I would like to see people travel through the various geographic areas of the St. Louis region more so that they could become more familiar with people who are different than they are. I mean this in terms of economic backgrounds, religious differences and race. The problem is, I don't know how to accomplish this. I know there have been many groups and committees and organizations that have tried to bring people together here, but I sense the efforts all too often flounder. I try to introduce all types of people in my column so that St. Louisans may see themselves there. That's the best way I have found that I can do to try to achieve this goal. Maybe as an incentive, someone could develop a coupon book that you get stamped if you shop outside of your zip code and then you wind up getting something for free or discounted once the book is full?
Matt Strauss, director, White Flag Projects in the Grove
I don't understand why the different creative communities here are so estranged from one another. For the most part, music people seem to go to music things, art people go to art things, writers go to writing things. Maybe it's just part of the very real and pervasive laziness that exists here, but I don't think there are so many full-time creative people in St. Louis that we can afford to be this segregated. If there were more interaction across genres and more active curiosity in the work other people were doing in other fields, nothing but good things would come of it.
Linda Weiner, sex therapist, St. Louis
Since I'm an avid gardener, I'd like to continue to green up St. Louis. I would do that through collaboration, with federal money, state money, city money, corporate money and volunteers and bring all those together with public and private grants.
Glitterous, superhero, University City
St. Louis and the St. Louisans residing here could afford to improve their sparkle. As the largest metropolitan area in the belly of America, we can and should do better at showing our sparkle. Our recent ranking in violence and crime statistics is not very inviting. I propose to improve St. Louis' sparkle by starting a "Sparkle" campaign modeled after the "BELIEVE" campaign Mayor Martin O'Malley started in Baltimore in 2002. The campaign will consist of posters, stickers and banners with the word "sparkle" on them, reminding people to do just that: Sparkle. Smiles are contagious. And acts of kindness don't go unforgotten. Sparkle!
Cory Spinks, professional boxer, St. Louis
There used to be a lot of roller-skating rinks and drive-in theaters in St. Louis, but they all left. Now kids don't have anything to do. They need something to do. That's why there's been a lot of violence. A lot of people pay attention to those things. They need to open up more community centers. Bring the skating rink back. We have no skating whatsoever, not like they used to have, with a dance floor. That's where everyone used to go. Then they took our drive-in away. They have to give the kids in St. Louis more to do. They're lashing out because they don't have anything to do.
Zlatko Cosic, multimedia artist, Shrewsbury
In 2008, at least once every month, I would love to see everyone turn off their television sets and attend a cultural or artistic event. The art community could help the overall development of St. Louis, and we can help by giving support to artists and their work. An involved community is an important force that can achieve positive results.
Joe LeGrand, butcher and owner, LeGrand's St. Louis Hills Tomboy Market
I would like to see the city encourage more small businesses to set up residency here. Small businesses make a city unique. They give the neighborhoods their personality. Places like Vintage Vinyl, Blueberry Hill, Milo's, Zia's, ServiceStar Hardware, Ted Drewes and, of course, LeGrand's. The list goes on and on. It is these small businesses that make our city different from anywhere else. I would love to see the city encourage more small businesses to come here. I'd also like to see the city promote these businesses more. It is these small businesses that make St. Louis fun, unique and memorable.
Dieta Pepsi, entertainer, St. Louis
There needs to be better barbecue in St. Louis. I'm originally from Kansas City and we have the best barbecue in the country. You'd think St. Louis, being the home of jazz, would have better barbecue. To rectify this, I would open my own barbecue stand and bring my family's barbecue recipe here. We make our own sauce and sell it in Dierbergs. It's called Gator Sauce, and my friends just love it.
Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis Circuit Attorney
I would encourage every citizen to get involved in creating safe neighborhoods. We all have a basic human right to feel safe, regardless of where we live or our economic status. My team and I are passionate about fighting for justice on behalf of victims whose lives have been devastated by violence and hatred. Involved citizens are the most powerful crime-fighting tool my office has. Although citizens may feel helpless against crime, they actually have more power than they think. I encourage people to visit our Web site for more information about becoming part of the solution: www.circuitattorney.org.
Marcia Sindel, baker and owner, La Dolce Via in Forest Park Southeast
There's a considerable population of the elderly in the city, people who bought their homes and stayed here. There are not many services for mowing their yards and getting leaves out. The old lady across the street from us just fell the other day. I've been trying to help rake her yard, but there's just too much. Now that they've cut down the street-cleaning to one day a month, you have to clean up the leaves yourself. There are so many people doing it and so few yard-waste containers. There could be an increase in yard-waste containers, or there could be a program where we put them out in recyclable bags and have the city take them out. There could be a service to help the elderly people take care of these things, and it might be a way to give people work who don't have jobs.
Kathryn Davis, novelist and writer in residence, Washington University
St. Louis drivers seem more loath to permit other drivers to merge than any other drivers in the world. They stare straight ahead with nary a glance to the right or the left, with steely, heartless resolve. (OK, I've never driven in Rome...) My solution to this deep-seated character flaw would be to advertise the fact that once a week, perhaps, somewhere in the city, an unmarked car would bestow upon an unsuspecting merge-permitting driver some sort of prize — ideally money — and that the recipient would also receive public praise. A billboard would be nice.
Kitty Ratcliffe, president, St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
If my leprechaun granted me any wish it would, of course, be to have all of the work on Highway 40 finished completely and beautifully — and in one night — so that a highway shutdown would not be necessary! Do leprechauns exist in St. Louis? I suppose that I have to be more realistic and realize nothing that I can do can change what will happen regarding the construction. But what we can all improve on is the way that this issue is handled. First, we have to be sensitive to how we deal with the impact that it has on our commute to work, our trips to retail outlets and restaurants, and our social interaction patterns. Road rage, chronic complaining to work colleagues and/or family and friends won't help anyone. It certainly won't endear us to anyone with whom we are in contact. For the St. Louis CVC, it is important that friends, family and business associates from outside St. Louis are not discouraged from visiting our community during this time period. So I hope that we will all use this as an opportunity to explore new routes, instead of being stuck in our old ones. I hope we will look on this as a necessary infrastructure improvement and not an unnecessary inconvenience.
Albert Watkins, attorney, Kodner Watkins Muchnick in Clayton
St. Louis needs a new police chief, one who stands behind the blue shirts.
Jenna Bauer, artist and founder, South City Open Studio and Gallery for Children
We should improve upon tolerance, acceptance and the embracing of our racial and cultural differences by creating more opportunities for connecting with one another. How? One way could be creating partnerships and exchanges between primarily African-American schools and Caucasian schools. We could offer incentive programs for groups and organizations that strive to or succeed in ending destructive tendencies that racism causes in St. Louis. We need to focus on appreciating our universal commonalities.
Mike Ocello, secretary, Mehlville school board
I would love to see the complete involvement of the community with public education. People always say that education is so important, yet as we see so many times, actions speak louder than words and officials don't make it their first priority. I think it should start at the governor's office and work way down through the entire political system. Education is so important to the vitality and future of St. Louis and all the surrounding communities. The success of the schools is often a great indicator of the success of the entire community.
Susan Slaughter, principal trumpet, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
My New Year's resolution is more of a message to all St. Louisans. In spite of the closing of Highway 40, let's all resolve that life will go on as usual, and that includes attending events at the symphony, Fox Theatre, Black Repertory Theater, cathedral concerts. These organizations are vital to our city and your continued attendance is vital to their survival.
Michael Anders, director, Michael Anders Prison Ministry in the Central West End
I would like to see society be a little bit more forgiving toward people coming back into our communities. We should reach out more to them during their transition back into society with more job and housing opportunities so we can help them to remain crime free and drug free. And when we do this, guess what? Everyone comes out a winner.
Joni Karandjeff, co-chairwoman, Greater St. Louis Book Fair
We need to get the airport back as a hub. Since we've lost 200 TWA/American flights per day, we don't get as many entertainers or authors coming to St. Louis. Traveling is much more challenging, with many flights connecting through Chicago or Dallas. It can take longer to get from Chicago to St. Louis than it takes to get from Europe to Chicago. Planes are crowded, and flights are frequently delayed or canceled due to the weather in Chicago. The new runway has been built and there are plans to renovate the airport, but we need the airlines and the business to make it worthwhile.
Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004, raised in Florissant
There has been construction in the St. Louis International Airport parking garage for as long as I can remember. For people who travel in and out of the city often (I'm typically back home about once a month), it can become quite a hassle. I know they didn't build Rome in one day, but surely the parking structure would have been finished by now! I don't know what the holdup is, but you can see buildings go up overnight almost in many metropolitan cities. They should put an emphasis on finishing up something that is so used and important.
Julie Longyear, candlestick maker and owner, Irie Star in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood
I would create more aggressive, easily accessible, publicly or privately funded programs for low- and middle-income city residents to acquire a home, improve their property, get vocational experience and start businesses. Home-ownership and rewarding, stable occupations give people a reason to do the right things in life and be proud of themselves. My business is at a really great point right now where I get to offer jobs to others. I intend to use my business as a format to mentor others as I grow. I'd love to be an example of what you can accomplish if you think outside the box. Maybe that American dream is still possible after all?
Joe Edwards, owner, Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop
There are many great neighborhoods in St. Louis. Some, like the Loop, are rebounding, while others are slipping. For the benefit of all, I would love to see the city and county merge, but maybe not necessarily in the traditional sense. Perhaps St. Louis and St. Louis County could merge and form an umbrella government that could oversee major infrastructure needs and pool resources for the good of all in the community, while neighborhoods retain (and even gain) more autonomy. Issues like design standards for street signs — which streets to make one-way and which businesses to attract or ban — could be decided by the "new" neighborhood-cities. Right now, an alderman in north St. Louis needs to spend valuable time learning about a potential development on Kingshighway in south St. Louis. If that alderman and other neighborhood leaders could spend all their time on their own areas, more positive activity might be the result. If people believe their hard work really can make a difference and it's focused on a manageable area, they can reclaim urban and suburban areas that have declined.
Bob Cassilly, founder, City Museum
I would have Emily Pulitzer redeem herself by buying back the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and reselling it to a real newspaper — or selling it to Christine Bertelson. If she did that, I'd start buying the paper again.
Frank Lydon, epidemiology specialist, Missouri State Department of Health
I would change the segregation and under-the-radar racism in St. Louis. I'm the father of a biracial child, and I keep asking why people act the way they do. If I had the answer to that question, I'd be a billionaire speaker on some circuit. We need to be able to get people to see beyond the surface. We need more interaction, more activity, more self-awareness and people acknowledging that they have this bias, and then delve into the why.
Joe Hanrahan, actor, director and playwright, The Midnight Company in South St. Louis City
If I could improve one thing about St. Louis, I would improve its perception of the arts of St. Louis. St. Louis generously supports (and St. Louis media over-generously covers) the arts in St. Louis — visiting actors, artists, musicians, dancers, artistic heads, companies — swinging through town, selling their wares. St. Louis should continue that. But we have to improve our awareness, appreciation and support of the arts of St. Louis — actors, artists, etc. — living and creating here. It's the soul of our community. How? 1) Media of all kinds have to devote much more thoughtful coverage to the arts of St. Louis; and 2) The actors, artists, et cetera then have to deliver the goods.
Chris King, editor, The St. Louis American
I'd recall the mayor. And if he doesn't stand down, then I'd beat him in the recall election and beat him with a candidate that has better political instincts for power-sharing in a diverse and majority-black city. It wouldn't have to be a black mayor, but it would have to be a mayor with better power-sharing instincts with the black community and its elected leaders.
McGraw Milhaven, host, The McGraw Show, KTRS-550 AM
Get bartender Mark Pollman his job back at Fox & Hounds. It has been two years and I miss my friend. Who would have thought that St. Louis would miss his gruff attitude, lame trivia and puffy shirt? I have not been back since he was fired and will not return until he's behind the stick. Since I have boycotted, I haven't enjoyed Bill Benson either. You might call him the piano player for Fox & Hounds, but I call him the most romantic man in town and my friend. I miss the baseball song. Have you noticed the decline of Western culture since Pollman's been gone? The housing woes? The rift between Tony La Russa and Scott Rolen? All have gotten worse since we last saw Pollman behind a slab of oak. Bring him back and all of St Louis' troubles will be washed away.