St. Louis, MO

City Population: 318,069 | City Area: 66.2 sq mi (171.3 km2) | Population Density: 4,804.7/sq mi (1,864/km2) | Elevation: 466 ft (142 m)
Dates Visited: 10.04.12 – 10.09.12 | Total Inter-City Miles Traveled: 2,340 miles | Total Hours Traveled: 47.5 hours

Inter-City Transportation: Greyhound #3 | Origin: Indianapolis, IN

I’m currently en route to Minneapolis, MN at the moment. Maintaining a blog whilst traveling is harder than I thought; my city posts will likely be written towards the end or after the visit.

Sitting on the eastern border of Missouri and on the edge of the Mississippi Riverbanks, St. Louis is recognizable by its distinctive Arch and the nickname, “The Gateway to the West.” Historically significant as a major port on the river, as a trading post, and its role in westward expansion, the Gateway City even played host to the 1904 World’s Fair, in celebration of the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. But with its heydays long past, the twenty-first century has cast St. Louis in a very different light.

Once ranked fourth amongst the nation’s largest cities–after New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago–St. Louis saw a precipitous decline in its urban population after the 1950s due to a combination of suburbanization, increased automobile ownership and white flight–as of 2011, St. Louis had dropped down to the 58th most populous city in the United States. As a result of outward migration, urban decay was at full force during the 1970s. The once-bustling city had been reduced to a ghost town, full of abandoned, decrepit buildings and vacant lots; loss of industry and job growth coincided with increased criminal activity.

Thus, urban renewal is a big goal in the midwestern city’s plans. St. Louis will definitely continue to face challenges as it tackles urban renewal projects–the Jefferson Memorial and Gateway Arch were one such urban renewal project–especially in a time when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project hasn’t quite lifted its black mark off of urban renewal. But there’s an undeniable beauty beneath the decay and at least for now, the downtown St. Louis area is enjoying an urban renaissance (or is gentrification?).

And though I can’t speak for living in St. Louis, the city has a lot to offer to its visitors, almost to the detriment of locals, according to one critic. Steeped in rich architecture, green space, and history, St. Louis offers some sights that have ranked high on my list–Nelson Byrd Woltz’s award-winning CityGarden, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, City Museum, and the Cahokia Mounds.

In the end, however, St. Louis was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I was finally able to visit Citygarden and the Missouri Botanical Garden—both of which lived up to expectations—but on the other, the frustrating limitations of public transit really caught up to me in this city, particularly since I missed out on experiencing nearly half of the things I had intended to see, such as the Cahokia Mounds, which are virtually inaccessible from St. Louis by public transportation. Add to that the overbooked Greyhound bus from Indianapolis to St. Louis–I felt bad for the woman who had been waiting at the station since 2AM after her initial bus for St. Louis had been overbooked as well (apparently selling more tickets than there are seats is a standard practice for Greyhound according to some passengers)–and my patience with public transit has been wearing thin.

Still, despite some disappointments, I had a good time in St. Louis. I stayed in historic Dogtown, the fiercely Irish neighborhood located just two blocks south of expansive Forest Park, dined on goat cheese and sweets from Missouri’s farmers markets, explored the cavernous and strange City Museum, and witnessed the city rise into one to stand behind their pride for the Cardinals.

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