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Ferguson has been variously described as "outside of St. Louis", or as "small town America", and often as a "suburb of St Louis."

These are all misleading.

St. Louis City is an Independent City, like Baltimore and a few others.  It is not part of St Louis County.   St Louis County surrounds the City of St Louis.  The County and the City make up one continuous urban, metropolitan area of close to 2 million people (throw in St. Clair and Madison in Metro East, and St. Charles and Johnson Counties in Missouri, and the St Louis SMSA is about 2.9 mil).

Ferguson is one of maybe 100 municipalities in St. Louis County.  I grew up in a neighboring municipality, Florissant, which was then the fourth largest city in Missouri. Our school district was the Ferguson-Florissant School District, and I had a lot of friends, and spent a lot of time in Ferguson.  I can remember a girlfriend from rural Illinois asking me, "How do you know what city you're in?"  The answer:  "By which cops you need to avoid."

The urban area stretches from Florissant/Hazelwood/Spanish Lake in the north down through Jennings, Baden, North St. Louis City, South St. Louis (where my mom's family lived), all the way down through Fenton, Arnold and out towards Eureka and Six Flags and Charleyville in West County.  This is a continuous urban area.  Had this been Chicago, or New York, or LA, the City would have grown, expanded, and subsumed all the little municipalities in the county, and taken in their populations, their tax bases, and their bureaucracies.

But it didn't.  So there are all these little police forces, few of whom have any connection to the population, overlain by the St. Louis County police, who have no connection at all.  That lack of connection worked both ways:  On the one hand, County might pull you over and hassle you, but the different city cops would bust you and take you in (unless they were your cops and knew you).   On the other, the local city cops knew more about you and your places, while County left most places alone.

Main take away:  Ferguson is well within the main St Louis metropolitan area, albeit a bureaucratically fragmented area, and is not some outlier community.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Interesting information. I understand where... (5+ / 0-) are coming from.

    But Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County are two separate entities, too. There are 88 cities in the county and more than half of them

    Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office handles unincorporated areas of the county, which is geographically huge, as well as performing police duties for some of the smaller cities.

    Nobody calls Compton or Glendale or Santa Monica or Torrance  Los Angeles. even though they all touch its boundaries and are part of its SMSA of 18 million and the county of nearly 10 million. When people refer to them, they say they are outside Los Angeles.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 07:45:51 PM PDT

    •  correx: More than half of them have... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP, thanatokephaloides, grover

      ...are part of a contiguous urban mass.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 08:00:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Trust me, ask anyone in Ferguson where they (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, TomP, duckhunter, sele, grover

      are from and they will say they are from St. Louis.  These little municipal boundaries mean nothing culturally in the St. Louis area.  You can cross a half a dozen municipal boundaries in 10 minutes driving along the same street.  So this is not someplace "outside" of St. Louis.  It is part of St. Louis, at least that's the way we view ourselves here.

      •  Do you think so? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have friends who live in old town Ferguson and they definitely say they're from Ferguson. I suppose if they were on vacation in Florida, they'd say St. Louis for convenience, but here, they claim Ferguson as its own entity.

        You're gonna need a bigger boat.

        by Debby on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 08:21:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are referring (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TomP, thanatokephaloides

          to a small white enclave.  This reflect the parochial attitude of the sort of white people who have lived in the St. Louis area for generations.  The sort of attitude that makes "where did you go to high school" the standard st. louis icebreaker question. That question is shorthand for "where do you fall in the calcified social structure of this area".  people define themselves by the little corner of st. louis where they grew up.  It's why st. louis is sometimes described as a "small town" of 2.5 million people.  This is inside baseball stuff for people who are not from here.  It's a very incestuous culture here.  We are in dire need of some fresh blood and outsider perspectives.  

          •  My friends (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            are not from the area. They are fresh blood. And not everyone in old town Ferg is white.

            You're gonna need a bigger boat.

            by Debby on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 09:34:05 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Let me clarify (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              It's more like someone saying what specific part of St. Louis they are from: like someone from New York saying they are from Brooklyn or, more specifically, that they are from Park Slope.  And yes, you remind me that there is some new blood coming in, and I'm happy to see it.  There are a group of hipsters and creatives that have recently discovered that part of Ferguson, as they have many other enclaves in the St. Louis area, including the area in which I live.  The point is, as I've pointed out elsewhere, Ferguson is a highly urbanized inner suburb...think Capital Heights Maryland, maybe.

      •  It was a big difference in the '70's (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Those of us who lived north of I-270 in Florissant thought of ourselves as different from the kids who lived inside 270.  Most parents tried to have their kids go to McCluer North instead of McCluer, just so that they wouldn't have cross that barrier and be with the kids from Ferguson.

        The kids who lived north of Lindbergh and east of New Halls Ferry were practically landed gentry, while anyone from between 70 and 270 were suspect as 'inner city', although of course they weren't.

        Sure, I still say to this day that I'm from St. Louis, but for people from North County, I'm from Florissant, and to other folks from the Valley of Flowers, I'm from the neighborhood behind Grandview Plaza or Dick Weber Lanes.

        •  Yes, that sums up (0+ / 0-)

          the St. Louis mentality very well.  I grew up in West County (unincorporated) just far south enough not be considered North County, which my mother and people in the neighborhood in general recoiled at the thought of being associated with.  Oh, and we rarely ventured east of 270.  Anything east of Lindbergh was considered "inner city".  Like I said: for those of you who are not familiar, this, along with phein53's comment can, hopefully, give you an insight into the parochial attitudes and culture of St. Louis.  It's very much a mentality of "everyone stay in your assigned zone".  These sort of fine distinctions are a reflection on this particular cultural mindset.  For those of you outside the area, however: trust me:  It's all St. Louis, Ferguson is just one of many place names and political structures within it.  In fact, when you look at the region as a whole, it's pretty much in the middle of the area: a wee bit west and north, but just another small sign on a busy urban thoroughfare from one municipal boundary to the next and the next.

    •  The big difference is (2+ / 0-)

      that Los Angeles County, with 6 times the population, has only 45 or so general police entities. St. Louis County has only 17 cities that contract with them - the other 73 have their own cops. Many of the towns are run like speed traps, or sundown towns, and indeed one of them disbanded several years ago due to harassment of white youth on traffic stops - they sued and won.

      •  Small town cops in the big city (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Back in the day, a friend of mine's father was the police chief of Calverton Park, a little city tucked between Ferguson and Florissant just behind McCluer.  If they'd had a good year collecting fines, they family went on extended vacations.

    •  Consider size as well... (0+ / 0-)

      St. Louis County is only 524 sq mi whereas Los Angeles County is 4,751 sq mi and has less bureaucracy than St. Louis.

    •  Technical difference (0+ / 0-)

      Los Angeles City is part of Los Angeles County, even if no functions are administered by the county.

      Independent cities are not even technically inside any county. These include, as stated in the diary, St. Louis and Baltimore, but also two cities in Nevada (Carson City and Reno(?)), and about 30 in Virginia (where any incorporated city is formally independent of the adjacent county; some of these were incorporated in the 18th century and have a population under 1000).

      Other special cases: San Francisco is a City-County. New York City is a different special case--a city comprised of five counties, identical to the boroughs of the city, though two (Bronx/Kings, Staten Island/Richmond) are dually named. Philadelphia and some others are coincident with a county, but the county is at least nominally a separate entity, as far as I know.

      •  Right, St. Louis City (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        libera nos

        is also it's own county, with county functions and offices.  St. Louis County is a completely separate political entity, with 91 separate municipalities.  It's a function of some very old history:  In 1876, the city of St. Louis amended it's charter for forever freeze it's boundaries exactly where they were at the time, and to secede from St. Louis County.  This has resulted in some rather unique political geography.  The population of St. Louis city represents only about 15% of the population of the St. Louis metropolitan area.  So St. Louis has one of the smallest, possibly the smallest, central city of any major metropolitan area.  That's why people can't understand why a "suburb" can be such an urban environment here.  It's just part of a vast swath of geography which, had the city of St. Louis been able to grown and absorb surrounding areas like every other city, would have been part of the central city.  I hope this clears things up a bit for outsiders.

    •  Highways as barriers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      St Louis, as others have noted, is very compact when compared to LA.  In fact, LA is the largest city in area in the US besides Juneau, AK, which covers mostly open water.

      St Louis may be the textbook case of using highway construction as social control.  First, I-70 cut through the black neighborhoods of north St Louis, destroying many of them and cutting them off from the county to the north.

      Then, I-270 divided the inner suburbs from the whiter outer suburbs, most notably Florissant, Hazelwood, Spanish Lake, Black Jack, and some others.  Next, as the 370 bridge to St Charles was widened, that facilitated white flight across the Missouri River, just as the new Lewis & Clark bridge and the new I-70 Stan Musial bridge, along with the renovated Chain of Rocks and JB bridges, helped people flee across the Mississippi to the exurbs in Illinois (Alton, Edwardsville, Collinsville, Belleville).

      Where the highway system in LA can be seen as tying a larger area together, in St Louis, it's helping chop it up and tear it apart.

  •  In most counties, the Chief Law Enforcement (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP, thanatokephaloides

    Officer is the Sheriff (an elected official).  Am I correct in assuming the St. Louis County Police Chief is the equivalent of a Sheriff, and is an elected position?

    "Because I am a river to my people."

    by lordcopper on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 08:15:31 PM PDT

  •  Good explanation. I'm from here too. (3+ / 0-)

    St. Louis.

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 08:48:04 PM PDT

  •  In short it's an inner suburb. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Like Cambridge MA or Hialeah FL or Brooklyn NY back when I was your age and it was an independent city.

    reality based, not really biased

    by NE2 on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 09:26:43 PM PDT

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