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What’s a confused, new transplant to St. Louis to do? Well, now there’s an app for that

One of the most charming parts of St. Louis is the vast swath of unique neighborhoods scattered across the metropolitan area. This quality makes for some lovely day-explorations for people who’ve lived here forever and want to discover something new—but it is also one of the most difficult parts of moving here for the first time. Now, there’s an app for that.

Credit Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Anthony Bartlett.

St. Louis Transplants, a group that helps connect newcomers to the area with peer hosts in order to help the area feel more like home, has recently released City to City. It is an iOS app that helps translate St. Louis neighborhoods to the neighborhoods of more than a dozen large metropolitan areas.  

On Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” Anthony Bartlett, the president of St. Louis Transplants and the driving force behind the new app, joined the show to talk about how the app works. He said that the comparisons used in the app were made based on surveys of all the newcomers to the St. Louis are that the group has in its database. Around 300 people are using the app already, that was just recently launched.

“What we want transplants to know is that people have come before them and those who have been in their shoes have found a place in St. Louis that they enjoy and can call home,” said Bartlett. “We, in turn, hope that will attract newcomers and retain newcomers as well.”

Credit St. Louis Transplants
What the "City to City" app looks like.

Bartlett said that the vast majority of those who relocate to St. Louis look at the urban core of the city and see a “big, giant question mark.”

“The overwhelming vast majority of newcomers choose a very distant and homogenous suburb because they just don’t know,”Bartlett said. “Why do people eat at chain restaurants? It is because they just don’t know. We find if we use vocabulary that they know already, they are much more willing to explore and learn and go into that urban core they may otherwise not have once they have a familiarity.”

The app is a two-way street, that means newcomers can look up neighborhoods that correlate to, say, Chicago’s Bucktown or Washington D.C.’s Georgetown, and see what might correlate here. However, Bartlett says, business travelers from St. Louis can also use it to get to know towns they travel to. Bartlett said the app could even expand to serve other markets in the future.

Part of the issue is that people who visit St. Louis before moving here only see one area and that, compounded with less-than-stellar feedback found on Google can make them give up on the area entirely. Bartlett said that once transplants move here and get connected with the feel of different neighborhoods, they feel much more at home here.

"St. Louis has so many neighborhoods and so many personalities, I think a lot of transplants when they look at the app say 'I had no idea St. Louis was so big' or 'I had no idea St. Louis was so diverse.'"

“The feedback that we got was that we were always frustrated as transplants that we never knew these pockets were here,” Bartlett said. “St. Louis has so many neighborhoods and so many personalities, I think a lot of transplants when they look at the app say ‘I had no idea St. Louis was so big’ or ‘I had no idea St. Louis was so diverse.”

St. Louis can be a hard town to get to know as someone new here. That’s certainly something we saw in feedback to the question “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about St. Louis as a transplant to the city?” on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—people can find it hard to meet and feel accepted by “the locals.”

One of the responses was a little bit discouraging to hear:

“There’s some aspect where you have remnants of the ‘Show Me State’ where the transplants do feel like they have to audition for the locals,” Bartlett said. “What they have to understand is that there are components like that, it is important to acknowledge, but there are communities and circles here that are not that way at all.”

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"There's some aspect where you have remnants of the 'Show Me State' where the transplants do feel like they have to audition for the locals."

While some people do find it hard to get acclimated to St. Louis, he says he gets feedback from others that shows they love the impact they can make here.

“A lot of very talented people, a lot of people think that everything that’s been going on—politically, in regard to Ferguson, St. Louis in the news—a lot of very talented people run to the area where they are needed,” Bartlett said. “What I’m really noticing is that people from larger markets feel like a number and in St. Louis, and Missouri, as a bellwether state, your input, your feedback—whether it’s your dish, artwork, or contribution—will be felt here and that, they love.”

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.