Sarah and Umar go to White Castle

As the media converged on Ferguson, my cowriter Umar Lee and I decided to see what was going on in the rest of North County. We drove around towns near Ferguson  – Berkeley, Kinloch, Jennings, Florissant, Riverview Gardens – and talked to black North County residents at fast food places and laundromats about the events.

Everyone is afraid, but moreover, they are frustrated, because North County has been hurting for much longer than Ferguson has been in the news:

Today, ruins dot the North County landscape too. An abandoned mall, its closed entrance declaring “Cash paid for anything of value.” A meadow, lush and random, in the space where the Wyndhurst and Terwood apartments—bulldozed in the 1980s for an airport extension that never materialized—once stood. A closed-down, castle-shaped playland turned night club turned day care turned abandoned failure. A faded wall of fame in Kinloch, Missouri’s first black incorporated town, proclaiming its historic achievements, before the population dwindled to 600 and it became capital of North County’s drug trade, another airport expansion casualty. Kinloch’s roads lead nowhere but are still blockaded with “Road Closed” signs, in case you mistakenly detected a sense of possibility.

The St. Louis metropolitan area is a city of migration, but that migration is not limited to the historic patterns of successive white and black flight. Migration is an everyday occurrence. Many St. Louisans—especially poor and black St. Louisans—live in a state of permanent transience, moving from one apartment complex to the next, one suburb to the next, multiple times per year, on a futile hunt for safety and affordability. Canfield Green Apartments, where Michael Brown resided, is a typical example.

Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population roughly doubled. But the towns near Ferguson—like Berkeley, Kinloch, and Jennings—have always been, and remain, worse off. In the initial days of the crisis, Ferguson was referred to as “small town” or a “ghetto,” but it is neither. Ferguson is one of North County’s more economically viable locales, in that it houses the region’s baseline businesses—payday loans, title loans, dollar stores, barber shops, beauty shops, chop suey joints—along with a few highbrow rarities: a library, a brewery, a farmer’s market. Ferguson has houses with people in them. Ferguson has roads that lead to destinations.

The rest of NoCo does not share these advantages, but Ferguson is very much part of that continuum. What affects Ferguson affects the rest of North County. If Ferguson burns, it will likely take parts of the county down with it. If Ferguson rebuilds, it could inspire a rebirth of the surrounding region—that is, if anyone bothers to care. And they should: Unless the investment in Ferguson extends to the rest of North County, Ferguson does not have a chance.

Read the full article After Ferguson at Politico Magazine.

I also recommend checking out my earlier piece The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back, which discussed striking fast food workers from North County, and Umar’s The New North County: The 1950s Aren’t Coming Back. We have been writing about NoCo for a long time and plan to continue our coverage.

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