The Metropolitan Project: Leadership, Policy, and Development in St. Louis, Missouri, 1945-1980

Murphy, Máire , Department of History, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia
Lichtenstein, Nelson
Thomas, Mark, Department of History, University of Virginia
Spain, Daphne, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia

Through a case study of St. Louis between 1945 and 1980, this dissertation explores how a new group of urban leaders, working within the difficult context of metropolitan political fragmentation and Sunbelt competition, combined public and private policies in an effort to strengthen regional growth and, at the same time, to revitalize the urban core. By 1980, industrial-belt cities like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit had failed to regain their once vibrant industrial base. But it is not enough merely to record the decline of these cities and the tectonic regional shift in the American economy as northern manufacturing shifted to the Sunbelt. We must also analyze the process of political-economic change in these urban centers if we want fully to comprehend the transformations that occurred after WWII. The record of local leadership is a critical, but heretofore understudied, factor in the transformation of these cities after the war. We need to understand more clearly and at greater depth what local leaders did, how and why they made the choices that they made, what limitations they encountered, and how they interpreted the problems they faced, if we wish to understand both the record of local leadership and the patterns of economic change in these cities. Despite St. Louisanas’ impressive efforts at metropolitan restructuring, in the face of Sunbelt competition and hampered by metropolitan political fragmentation, their policies were unable to generate investment sufficient to reverse inner-city decline in St. Louis. By revealing how these urban leaders addressed local and national political-economic changes, this dissertation uncovers a crucial but missing link in explaining why the dynamics of urban development since 1945 proved successful at boosting suburban growth and the central business district yet failed to create the infrastructure, jobs, and investment needed for a fundamentally sound urban economy. These findings also have implications for our interpretation of northern urban liberalism in general. I find that northern urban liberalism was a pragmatic and creative partnership with Washington, D.C., that ultimately did not fail due to internal contradictions but against the formidable challenges posed by Republican pro-growth coalitions of the Sunbelt.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
St. Louis, Urban Liberalism, Political-economic changes, urban development
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