Sunday, August 26, 2012

The FloMo NoCo Debate.

Hi There!

For some of you this may be a really boring post- but since I'm just days away from closing on my house in Florissant, Missouri I thought I'd post a ramble / rant about 'FloMo' itself. Once I actually move, I'll take my own photos- in the meantime, you'll have to deal with some I found off the internet!

If you're not from the St. Louis area, I'll give you the basic Florissant rundown. Florissant or 'FloMo' or 'Flo Town' as it's called is the largest city in St. Louis County with a population of 52,158 as of the last census. St. Louis itself, with a population a touch about 300,000 is actually an independent city and not in St. Louis County- hence the reason why FloMo can call itself the biggest. 

Florissant is about 17-20 miles from St. Louis, depending on which route you use and is located in the region known as North County (NoCo). Anyone familiar with the region will know that NoCo has had a lot of bad press in recent years. Despite hosting numerous 'boom towns' (inclusive of Florissant) following World War II when the returning GI's chose to set up house in the relatively new concept of suburbia as opposed to the cramped city conditions they'd previously been accustomed to- NoCo has been suffering for the past few decades.

Like numerous cities across America, white flight occurred to the extreme in St. Louis. I'm not being racist, I'm just stating fact. When I first moved to the U.S. and heard the term white flight I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard of. However, it happened and it's still happening. 

Following World War II, changes to industry, agriculture and society prompted African Americans from the South to move to the rust belt industrial centers in the North- St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, etc. Racial tensions in the U.S. were at an all time high. African Americans moving into St. Louis, coupled with crippling pollution in the city (St. Louis's air pollution was so bad that even Life Magazine ran a story on it in the 1940s), overcrowded, aging tenement  buildings, and the prospect of clean air, big gardens and ranch houses with attached garages in the suburbs prompted the Whites who could afford it to make flight from St. Louis into the swaths of newly built houses with all the mod cons. 

In 1956, the St. Louis region had the honor of getting the very first stretch of the Eisenhower Interstate System in the form of I-70. The region then went Interstate crazy- and St. Louis now has the 2nd most miles of interstate of any U.S. City (2nd to Kansas City, Missouri). The interstates made it possible for people to live further away from their jobs in downtown and midtown, yet still commute in reasonable time along the megalithic new freeways. 

The middle class Caucasian families made their homes in Florissant, Black Jack, Spanish Lake, Moline Acres, Castle Point, Dellwood, Northwoods, Berkeley, Hazelwood, Jennings, Ferguson, St. Ann, St. John, Black Jack, Riverview, Bellefontaine Neighbors and the numerous other municipalities which prospered and grew in the rolling hills north of St. Louis. South and West County too saw growth- but during the boom of the 1950s it was a fraction of the growth seen by North County. 

North County was the place to be seen. There were brand new shopping malls- Northwest Plaza in St. Ann (the largest in the country for years- and where I bought my bed back in 2006 when I first moved to The Lou- it's since closed down), River Roads (the first enclosed shopping mall in the country), Northlands, Cross Keys (half a mile from the house I'm buying- it was torn down a few years ago and is now an open air complex with a grocery store, Barnes & Noble etc) and later on- Jamestown (for whom the death knoll has also sounded). 

NoCo also had Drive In Theaters and Drive In Burger Joints (the sign for the Airway in St. Ann still exists along St. Charles Rock Road, and one of the few surviving Burger joints is Chuck A Burger- also along St. Charles Rock Road in St. John) in addition to swanky restaurants including Top of the Tower- a penthouse restaurant in a building which looks like a redux of the Capitol Records building in LA. (Top of the Tower restaurant space recently sold for a shade over $20,000. Seriously. I was annoyed because I wanted it. I can only hope the buyers restore it's former greatness). 

And then it all stopped. 

In the early 1960s, an interracial couple attempted to buy a house in the Paddock Woods subdivision in Florissant (again- not far from my house in Paddock Hills, Florissant). The developers refused to sell them a house due to the husband being African American, even though they met the income requirements and could easily afford the mortgage repayments. 

The Jones (the couple wishing to buy) didn't just walk away- they fought the developer, the Alfred H. Mayer corporation, and won in a landmark case which prevented developers nationwide from discriminating against their buyers based on race. However, after the drawn out legal battle was over, the Joneses decided not to live in Paddock Woods after all and moved (I think) to Spanish Lake instead. 

However, they didn't live happily ever after. They divorced within a few years, and shortly after, Mr Jones was found stabbed to death in his home. The End. But not really.

African Americans with means were now able to move into the new, bright, suburbia and away from the blighted city. Instead of the Caucasian community graciously accepting these newcomers there was yet another white flight- this time even further away from St. Louis and into St. Charles County (Chuck / Chuckie) and beyond (Wentzville, St. Peters, O'Fallon, etc). By the 1970s and 1980s, Chukie was booming and North County was dying just as the city had done before it. 

Spanish Lake, is now apparently so bad that it's the subject of an upcoming documentary film. It's a really, really sad case. Personally I want to explore Spanish Lake some more- but from what Jon and I saw of it (we looked at two houses there) it was looking beyond shabby. 

Florissant on the other hand- has held it's own. In spite of the naysayers, it's still predominantly white (not that it matters to me), and really quite nice. In fact, it was listed in CNN and Money Magazine just a few days ago as #76 in the list of 100 Best Small Cities in America which is a huge honor as you can imagine. 

Even so, Florissant still gets the haters from the other side of the Missouri river (Chuckie) who are convinced that FloMo along with the rest of NoCo need to just perish into the uranium and radium contaminated ground (St. Louis played a vital role in the Manhattan project... and yes... they dumped all of their Uranium and Radium wherever they wanted because they didn't understand the dangers back in the 40s). 

To all of those negative nancys who say that Florissant didn't deserve to be on the list- I'd like to issue a polite shut up. I know that Florissant's hey-day has passed, but Florissant remains a safe, self sustaining suburban 'city' with everything you need to lead a pleasant and fulfilled life. What you can't get in Florissant- you can get just 20 minutes away in St. Louis. Plus, for all of Florissant's faults- you can't fault the bang for your buck. Where else can you get a beautifully maintained, 1950s, single owner ranch house for less than $100k in a safe neighborhood, convenient to all amenities, on half an acre of land? Not many places let me tell you!

Anyway, I'll tell you more once I actually move there and uncover some of North County's better kept secrets! 

In the meantime... stop hating on NoCo. It's all well and good if you want to live in Chuckie- but leave North County alone! 

Stay Glamorous!

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