Perception is powerful. It is powerful because we often have a hard time separating perception from reality. While we see perception as being right or wrong, we also believe that we can shape perceptions. We often can. This can become problematic when statistics, which we accept as facts, do a bad job of accounting for our difficulty distinguishing between realities.
This year, Law Street Media ranked St. Louis as the number 4 most dangerous city in America. St. Louis is consistently ranked in the top ten most dangerous cities. The Law Street Violent Crime Rate is derived by dividing the total number of violent crimes reported by the city’s population and multiplying the result by 100,000. Using this formula, last years’ numbers were 1,954 Violent Crimes and 38 murders per 100,000 people.
The Law Street Media statistic does a good job of creating a standard measure by which we can compare cities. What Law Street Media’s formula does a bad job of is accounting for total population discrepancies.
In 1877, in what has come to be known as the Great Divorce, St. Louis City and County split. St. Louis has felt the consequences of this decision ever since. The city and county today have 82 municipal courts and 58 police departments. St. Louis is a city defined by division.
Let’s return to the discussion of Law Street Media’s crime statistic. After the Great Divorce, St. Louis became a city of 318,563. "Any urban core is going to have problems," says St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch in Time Magazine. "What we don't have is the suburban and the rural areas that some of those cities have to help offset or balance those crime numbers."
Statistics are facts, therefore my perception of St. Louis as a dangerous city is legitimate. St. Louis doesn’t just have a crime problem. St. Louis has a perception problem. While St. Louis needs to talk about how to decrease crime, St. Louis also has to talk about how to improve unity.
In an article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled “St. Louis is a World-Class City,” Dr. Charles Schmitz, Dean and Professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis says, “the perception of St. Louis does not equal that reality, and we need to fix that.” He goes on to note that if the St. Louis City and County were to merge, St. Louis would be the seventh largest city in the United States, coming after Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. While one may have heard that St. Louis is dangerous, one may not know that St. Louis has more free, world-class attractions than any place in the nation outside of Washington, DC. Improving St. Louis’ perception could bring incredible urban planning opportunities, encourage people to move to St. Louis, and invest in St. Louis.
What are people’s perceptions of your city? Do they equal the reality? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Lindsay Naughton. Data linked to sources.