If recent trends hold, more people will be moving up the bluff

News-DemocratFebruary 15, 2011 

As it was in 1980, so it is likely to be today.

People for decades have been moving away from the Mississippi River and to the bluff-top and rural communities.

Almost 16,000 residents moved from East St. Louis in the decade before the 1980 census, though the city was still the biggest in St. Clair County with 55,200 residents. In 1990, East St. Louis was still losing people, allowing Belleville to become the county's most populous city even though it saw modest growth.

Thirty years later, East St. Louis's population is not even half what it was in 1970. The 2009 estimate was 28,753 and some believe it could drop below 25,000 when the 2010 census results are released today.

East St. Louisans, black and white, were fleeing poverty, crime and a housing shortage.

"I never would have left East St. Louis if they had housing," said relatively new O'Fallon resident John Daniels in 1991 for a story about how integration had helped cities above the bluffs grow.

St. Clair County's population is expected to rise for the first time in decades. In 1980, the county had lost about 20,000 residents from the previous decade despite an increase in total households.

St. Clair County Administrator Dan Maher in 1990 predicted a rise in the county's population by 2000 -- as long as more bridge capacity was built and economic development continued.

"I think we can lure people from St. Louis," Maher said in 1991.

But the population did not grow by 2000: St. Clair County's population of 256,052 dipped under Madison County's population of 258,941 for the first time. Estimates show 2010 census numbers should show St. Clair County is growing.

Madison County grew steadily in the 1980s before taking off in the 1990s. Edwardsville, Maryville and Collinsville may have been "discovered" as bedroom communities by people who worked in north St. Louis County, former Madison County administrator Jim Monday said after the 1990 census.

Madison County population has increased by almost 20,000 during the past two decades to 268,457, according to a 2009 estimate.

"The population increase in Madison County is directly attributable to black migration," John Farley, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who specializes in the region's integration, said in 1991.

In 1970, Madison County's black residents accounted for less than 1 percent of the population. In a 2009 estimate they accounted for 8.4 percent of the county's population.

Migration to rural areas has continued, with Monroe County growing during the past three decades. Its population increased from 20,117 in 1980 to an estimated 33,236 in 2009.

"People are moving out into the rural areas," Monroe County Board Chairman Clarence Trankle said after the 1980 census. "I think all the urban areas are decreasing. I think it's a trend across the nation."

New home construction was a big reason cited for the population shift to communities above the river bluffs and in rural areas. Farm land was developed into subdivisions.

Stan Sieron, then president of the Belleville Area Association of Realtors, said in 2001 that new home construction drew people to Shiloh, O'Fallon and Fairview Heights.

"People are attracted to that," he said.

Contact reporter Kevin Bersett at kbersett@bnd.com or 239-2535.

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