What does a map have to do with a riot? Everything, in the case of Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot dead a black teenager, some residents looted and rioted, and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
See video to understand St. Louis and Ferguson from a more tangible perspective:
The crazy quilt that is St. Louis County government helps explain why violence broke out in Ferguson, of all the places in the country for a riot. It’s not because Ferguson is desperately poor; it’s lower-middle-income, with a healthy business district and a range of big, close-by employers.
It’s also not because civic leaders have turned their backs on Ferguson’s black population. John Gaskin III, a spokesman for the St. Louis County NAACP, is no pushover. He calls Missouri “the most racist state in the country.” But he praises the leadership of key business leaders.
Fragmentation is the key.
The problem, rather, is that St. Louis is locked into a pattern of inequitable development, as shown in a remarkable series of maps that Iowa’s Gordon has posted on the Web.
“The Gateway City [St. Louis] is,” he writes, “by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.”
(Click here for a Bloomberg TV interview with Gordon and here for a series of maps showing the area’s population shift.) Fragmentation “is not the principal cause, but it certainly fed into what’s happening in Ferguson,” says Robert Cohn, author of The History and Growth of St. Louis County, Missouri.
Dating as far back as the 19th century, communities set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks. Their behavior has ranged from somewhat parochial to flatly illegal.
Ferguson is comparatively populous at about 21,000 people. Many of St. Louis County’s postage-stamp municipalities have fewer than 1,000 people. Champ may be the smallness champ, with a 2010 population of 13, all white
The result of fragmentation today is a county whose small towns are highly stratified by both race and income. As blacks move into a town, whites move out. The tax base shrinks, and blacks feel cheated that the amenities they came for quickly disappear, says Clarence Lang, a University of Kansas historian who has studied St. Louis. Ferguson flipped from majority white to majority black so quickly that the complexion of the government and police force doesn’t match that of the population. That mismatch was a key factor in the tense race relations that contributed to the riots and, perhaps, the shooting itself.
The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord by Peter Coy:
It is best to read the article for a more complete view. It’s not long.
Today’s Term: “White Flight” Blacks move into town, and whites move out. A term I heard growing up in Illinois, near St. Louis. It defines St. Louis as a whole much more than I had ever known.