Vince Schoemehl to share ideas on how to prepare St. Louis for the future at Oct. 26 MPPA gathering

by | Oct 18, 2016

The former St. Louis mayor and Grand Center Inc. president will be speaking during the event at the J.C. Penney Conference Center.
Vince Schoemehl

Former St. Louis mayor and Grand Center Inc. president Vince Schoemehl will be speaking at an information session for the Master of Public Policy Administration program at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 in Room 403 of the J.C. Penney Conference Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Vince Schoemehl has spent four decades working to shape the St. Louis region, starting with six years serving on the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen and 12 more as the city’s mayor.

After leaving public life, Schoemehl spent 14 years heading Grand Center Inc. as its president and chief executive officer, and for the past year, he’s been volunteering his time as an executive in residence at the Nine Network of Public Media.

Schoemehl – who earned a BA in history from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 1972 – will be back at his alma mater on Oct. 26 to share his vision for what St. Louis needs to do to position itself for a robust future.

He will be speaking at an information session for the Master of Public Policy Administration program set to begin at 6 p.m. in Room 403 of the J.C. Penney Conference Center. (Register for the event by clicking here.)

Schoemehl spoke to UMSL Daily about some of the ideas he hopes to convey.

Where do you plan on beginning next week’s discussion?

I want to start off reminding people where we were as a community 100 years ago. We were in an enviable position as a city, and we did a lot of big things as a community, and then we just sort of staggered to a halt. I think what happened was we lost focus on the future and got too concentrated on our immediate needs as a community. I’ll be discussing some of the challenges we faced, but I don’t intend to do an autopsy. I intend to outline a way in which we can move forward.

I want to talk about the value of long-term thinking and trying to construct a long-range community plan. What will come out of that will be discussions about what a governmental structure should look like for the 22nd century. What should we aspire to be in five years? In 50 years? In 125 years? How do we put together a long-term vision, and how do we begin to behave now to make that long-term vision a reality.

How does a region begin creating a long-term civic plan when people don’t know what major technological changes could be coming?

You first of all make it a priority for the leadership in the region to embrace strategic planning. We have to spend time at all levels of the community thinking and planning at strategic levels.

Just two days ago, I heard the CEO of Ford Motor Company on NPR talking about how Ford is a manufacturing company and a technology company. He pointed out that they have – I can’t remember the number – but some enormous number of lines of code in their F150s already. By 2021, they will have a fully autonomous vehicle rolling off of their manufacturing lines.

The show host asked him, “2021? That’s like right around the corner.” He said, “Yeah, we’ve had a software group inside this company for a decade.”

He said the autonomous vehicles in 2021 will not have a brake pedal, and they’re not going to have a steering wheel. The host asked him, “Would you get in that car?” He said, “Absolutely. By then, everybody’s going to be getting in those cars.”

That’s how quickly dramatic change is coming, so the first thing we have to do is get our thinking aligned with this future that is barreling toward us. There are dozens of stories of hyper-change driven by technology. We have to start preparing our responses now.

As a region, we’ve got to ask, “What happens if autonomous cars really arrive that quickly? What happens if they don’t work until 2030? What does mass transit look like in this environment? What is the future of gas stations? Parking lots? Parking garages? What will land use look like in response?”

I’m not saying these technology driven changes are absolutely the future, but they’re possible futures, and if that’s the case, then we’ve got to understand what those possible futures are, and we’ve got to begin to build for ourselves the flexibility as a region to adapt.

How big a challenge is that with so many different government structures throughout the area?

You look at a city, a metropolis, like London, and you have a mayor of London. In reality, there are 33 cities in London, and there are different levels of governance that are incorporated within that layered governance structure. I’m not an expert on the governance structure in London, but at the neighborhood level, they have the fine-motor skills to be able to do things necessary in the neighborhood. On a regional basis, they have things that are necessary to address issues of regional importance.

The complexity of government in our region is an expensive overhead we can no longer carry. Each layer of government adds complexity, and St. Louis is at a regional disadvantage because we are on a state border. I’m convinced now that the biggest damage is being done through the separation of St. Louis City from St. Louis County because we each function as a county. We collect taxes on a county basis, and things like where should the next MetroLink line should run are discussed on a city versus county basis. Major transit investments such as MetroLink routes should be decided as part of a truly regional conversation.

Are you optimistic that people can come together and support a regional vision?

I’m always optimistic. Yes, I believe this can be done, but I think people need to see examples of where things have been successful. I think we need to stop talking about this in the context of “I’ve got mine” and “You’ve got yours.” We’ve got to start talking about what we could have as a collective, and we must talk about that in a way that is understandable to voters and not just policy experts. People live in houses, they live in apartments, they live in condos, but mostly they live block-by-block and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. They don’t really even live in the suburbs or the city of St. Louis. Their life is most impacted by what’s happening on their block, around the corner and in their community. People have to understand, as we begin to prepare ourselves for a very robust future, that they’re still going to be able to impact what happens on their block.

Why do you see opportunity for students in the MPPA program?

I believe that the administration of a growing robust community is going to need access to well-trained managers for public sector and not-for-profit employees. The MPPA program produces those folks.

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