Bad Habits — St. Louis Edition

Real Estate Porn… Or Is It A Snuff Film?

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First, to my American readers: Happy Thanksgiving. It is my hope that each of you has a good time with family and friends over the holiday. Try to avoid being killed or injured on Black Friday — I recommend staying away from shopping malls over the entire fall/winter season.

I hit a slow patch at work recently, so I let my well-known bad online habits run wild for an afternoon. Last time I did that, I dwelt upon the murder, mayhem and real estate situation in Baltimore. This time I chose St. Louis, mainly because my brother lived there for a long time and — speaking of spending time with family — I have very fond memories of visiting him in that city. It is truly a lovely place.

And I have a bonus: Last time, when discussing Baltimore and the patterns I uncovered in that city, I said that “untangling the arrows of causation will have to await another post.” Well, I’ve finally figured it out: My working hypothesis, which will be tested as we explore St. Louis, is that some areas are mysteriously afflicted with Tragic Dirt. That is, certain neighborhoods are cursed with some evil feature of the geology or soil or local flora or fauna which compels the local inhabitants to kill each other with alarming frequency and suffer from below-average educational and health outcomes, even while luckier residents of similar, adjacent neighborhoods avoid such a fate by being blessed with Magic Dirt. Unfortunately, there is no known scientific test which allows one to detect Tragic Dirt directly, so you have to infer its presence entirely from its deleterious social effects.

So, without further ado, I start with my usual snuff-film antics: I found a homicide map maintained by the local newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and pinpointed which neighborhoods in the St. Louis metro area showed symptoms of Tragic Dirt. Here’s what I found:

st-louis-homicide-map-annotated-sm
Homicide map (data for 2016 to date) generated by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This time, I was also able to find a school map maintained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showing the location and achievement level of each public school on the Missouri side of the river. Note that red dots represent schools with 0%-24% of students testing proficient, yellow dots represent schools with 25%-49% of students testing proficient, green dots represent schools with 50%-74% of students testing proficient, and blue dots represent schools with 75% to 100% of students testing proficient.

st-louis-schools-map
School quality map (data for 2013) generated by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Quality is indicated by color, ranging from red (lowest), to yellow, green and blue (highest).

Finally, to put the lead-paint frosting on the radon-flavored cake, I looked up rates of obesity across the St. Louis area, with the help of a national map maintained by RTI. In this map, red means more obese and blue means less obese, with orange and yellow spanning the middle.

st-louis-obesity-map
Obesity map of the St. Louis area generated by RTI. Red areas have the most obese residents; blue areas have the least obese residents.

If you study these three maps closely, you might find a geographical pattern beginning to emerge: The Tragic Dirt seems to be located in a broad swathe north and northwest of downtown, with smaller patches south of downtown along the river, and a few lower-grade areas on the Illinois side. By contrast, Magic Dirt seems to be located almost everywhere else: It extends for miles west and southwest of the centrally-located Forest Park, and you get plenty of it too in the northwest once you get past I-170; there’s also a bit in the far northeast on the Illinois side once you get as far out as Pontoon Beach.

As usual, I ask myself who has been forced by the Evil White Man to live in such awful, tragic, demon-infested places. It is truly a sinister and awful fate to suffer. To answer this, I turn to the New York Times demographic map for some insight:

st-louis-nyt-map-annotated2-sm
New York Times demographic map of the St. Louis area, using 2010 U.S. Census data. Each dot represents 100 people, and racial identity is color coded: Green indicates white, blue indicates black, yellow indicates Hispanic and red indicates Asian.

Once again, I was shocked to learn that it was black people. I mean, given the recent election of Donald Trump, I had thought that Deplorable Americans had shifted all their attention to oppressing Hispanic people, yet here in old-fashioned St. Louis we find that the straight white male cisgendered patriarchical power structure continuing to oppress “The Blacks,” as our President-elect would say. Hello, people! Don’t you know it’s [present year]? Get with the program and be on the Right Side of History! Insult a Muslim or taunt a Latino, for crying out loud!

At times like these, I’m also forced to think about the affordable housing crisis that’s gripping our nation. I mean, goodthinking morally-upright “news” outlets are constantly reminding us that “every single county” in the U.S. lacks affordable housing, without exception, so St. Louis must be hopelessly short of cheap houses.  Yet then I surf over to Zillow and enter a few searches, and I find this map:

st-louis-real-estate-map-annotated-sm
St. Louis real estate listings on Zillow, filtered to show 3+ bedroom homes in the $20,000 to $40,000 price range.

Well, at least the free market is rational: Nobody wants a house built on Tragic Dirt, so owners are having to sell them at Honda Accord prices to unload them — all of the listings pinpointed above are for 3+ bedroom houses with asking prices of $20,000 to $40,000. Too bad the builders weren’t smart enough to test for the presence of Tragic Dirt before they started to lay brick: Even a modest 1,500 square foot home, at construction costs of $100 per square foot, would cost $150,000 to build — four to eight times what you can get at a sale. I will grant the construction trades this, though: They seemed to have learned from their earlier mistakes. Those parts of St. Louis afflicted with Tragic Dirt are suffering from a Detroit-like reversion to nature. Centrally located neighborhoods are filled with burned-out, boarded-up houses surrounded by vacant lots that used to contain homes, and developers are now wise enough not to bother rebuilding on this cheap, centrally-located and vacant — but tainted — land.

st-louis-street-view-sm
Google Street View image of a Tragic Dirt neighborhood in St. Louis, located a few miles northwest of downtown.

For the morbidly curious, here is the location of the above street view pinned on a St. Louis metro area street map:

st-louis-street-view-location-map-sm
Location of the Google Street View published above, pinned on a Google street map of the St. Louis metro area.

This location is a 15 minute drive from the downtown office district, or a 25 minute bike ride. To the hospital complex on the east end of Forest Park it’s 10 minutes by car or 15 by bike. Talk about convenient employment options! Unfortunately, the area is afflicted by Tragic Dirt, so it’s an unsuitable place to live or raise a family. So sad!

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: Proof that Tragic Dirt is undermining the vitality of our heartland cities. We must write letters to our congressmen demanding immediate and costly federal action to research and remedy this geological scourge! How many more must suffer needlessly?

I mean, Tragic Dirt must be the cause of all these problems, right? To suppose that the arrow of causation runs the other way; that is, to suppose that the average collective qualities of the people who inhabit a certain patch of earth are what cause the social outcomes exhibited in that patch of land… well, that is nothing short of Racist. It is therefore obviously incorrect, impermissible and a violation of every known law of physics! It is simply unthinkable!

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