Black Coffee…White Flight
February 11, 2015
I do a lot of writing at coffee shops; Panera, Starbucks, Picassos, Kaldis to name just a few. There’s Wi-Fi, caffeine, food and interesting people to watch and eavesdrop. You’d be surprised how many writers pick up quirky traits and mannerisms for characters that eventually end up in their books, from just this type of activity. I’ve done coffee shop writing written in just about every major city in the US. At a coffee shop in Atlanta, NY, Chicago, LA or Dallas, you will see nearly every type of human meandering in and out, a veritable Star Wars Cantina of diversity.
Recently, I found myself at coffee shop in the St. Charles County area. I was immediately struck by the lack of diversity of the patrons. These folks were ripped from the pages of a Bass Pro or Banana Republic catalog. I figured any minute, Mitt Romney would stroll in. I am sure there must be some flavor of customer other than vanilla at this place on some days. But on the day I was there, only soccer moms, dads and their 2.5 children, a few Bo and Luke Dukes, and a gaggle of women who would best be described as well past Cougar.
St. Charles County was one of the fastest growing counties in the US for several years running. I believe that part of that growth was due to the white flight from St. Louis City and North St. Louis County. According to the “U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts,” St. Louis County’s mix is about 70% white, 24% black. St. Charles County is 91% white and 5% black.
Why the flight of the whites? Well…if your neighborhood succumbed to an increase in graffiti, gangs, government housing, an influx of large numbers of disenfranchised folks from lower socio-economic groups (aka minorities), a decline in the quality of the school district, an increase in crime and lowered property values, what would make you stay put?
I think this demographic shift describes St. Louis City and municipalities like Wellston in the 1950s and 60s, University City in the 1960s and 70s, and the subsequent white flight of North St. Louis County in the 80s. I’m not bashing St. Charles County or the white-flighters. St. Charles is clean, fresh, new and safe with good schools, roads and neighborhoods. Subdivisions where people know each other and look out for each other. It’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a lot like St. Louis City, Wellston, University City, Ferguson and Florissant were at one time.
The problems that boiled up in Ferguson and elsewhere in our area were inevitable as the distance between us grew. Maybe we can somehow close the gap, but as the riots, demonstrations and civil unrest continue, I don’t see anyone coming up with answers.