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Alderwoman Reflects On Ward Changes, Challenges

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Joseph Leahy
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St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Alderwoman Phyllis Young introduced a bill Friday to reduce the size of the board from 28 to 12.

Phyllis Young, the city’s longest-serving alderman, resigned on Dec. 12. Young, a Democrat, represented the 7th Ward, which includes parts of downtown and Soulard, for 29 years.

“There’s lots of work to be done, but I had already written a letter two years ago of resignation, and then I decided to stay because there were projects that I wanted to see to fruition,” Young told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday. “Those have come to the end, and this is a time that I can leave and the voters can have a full election because it’s close enough to the spring elections that anybody can go down to the Board of Election Commissioners and file.”

The ward will be without an alderman until the election in April.

Looking back on her tenure, Young said she’s most proud of the renovation of the St. Louis Public Library.

“That library is a phenomenal feature for our downtown,” she said. “It’s an asset for our entire community because that’s a place that equalizes everybody. It’s a beautiful building itself, but it’s just the opportunities that are available there (that) are incredible because it doesn’t matter what your income is or what your educational level is, you can go in there and benefit from being there.”

Young authored legislation that clarified ownership of Locust Street on the north side of the library — necessary so bonds to renovate the building could be issued, she said.

Young has seen many other changes to downtown St. Louis in the past 30 years.

“I used to say that you could bowl down our streets at night time because there weren’t any cars in the way. So having people living downtown is incredible,” she said. “When I started, Mansion House was the only occupied space downtown. Now there are 10,000 people living in our downtown core. It’s fun for me to drive downtown and see ‘Well, I touched that building; I touched that building.’”

But Young also said challenges remain for the ward.

“For a city as a whole, growing jobs is always an issue,” she said. “I see that because there are a number of vacant buildings — not as many as we’ve had in the past, but that is always something that we strive to fill. I think that the current focus on technology in our city is incredible and has the opportunity to fill buildings and keep our young people here. If we offer quality education and provide jobs and have an exciting place, I think we’ll draw young people into our city.

“People I’ve known whose children have come back, they say they don’t want to live at home. They don’t want to live in parts of the county. They want to be downtown because they’ve been in active places before and that’s where they want to live. We have a challenge to keep drawing that kind of person in here.”

Young, who served as chairwoman of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, said she believes downtown is a safe area that gets a bad rap because when people hear “St. Louis” they think “downtown,” she said.

“Crime is occurring in specific neighborhoods for the most part, and the rest of us are all struggling with fighting that image while keeping ourselves safe,” she said. “I think it’s up to everybody to be aware of your surroundings and calling in situations that you think are somewhat hazardous or dangerous. But for the most part, our city is safe.”

Protests that started in Ferguson following the August shooting death of Michael Brown by police Officer Darren Wilson have moved to St. Louis. Young said she believes they are highlighting underlying problems.

“I don’t think this is going to dissipate. I think it’s bringing important discussion to the table and that they should be had,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll not only be looking at that particular problem of the relationship between police and community, we’ll be looking at what are the underlying factors here that are inhibiting people from having jobs, having conversations like we are having here. Can we sit down and talk about race relations in our whole country?”

Among the changes Young has seen on the Board of Aldermen, one of the biggest may have been her 2012 bill to cut the size of the board from 28 to 14 in 2020.

“Right now I think that we tend to be in our own little turfs. It’s almost like a state — each of us has our own state,” Young said. “I think that what it does is inhibit our ability to look at the entire picture of the city and where do we want to go. Do we have common goals? Do we share those goals? Are we communicating about how to make things happen in our city? Are we dividing up the resources into such small pots that we’re not able to accomplish anything? I think reducing the size of the board is going to take in some conversation about how to deal with these resources and how to set our goals and how do we achieve those.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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