This should have been a year of celebration. This is the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis, and across the metropolitan area, cakes were planted to mark important sites in the region’s history. Each cake is unique, beautiful, hand-painted by a local artist, often reflecting the landmark on which it lies. All year long, families in St. Louis have gone “caking”, posting pictures of themselves at each site. In late November, a gap-toothed child posed in front of a police barricade, the celebratory cake behind yellow tape and metal bars. That night, her city burned. This is St. Louis’s reality, 250 years in. This is what St. Louis’s children will remember.

Follow the pattern of the cakes, and you will see who is abandoned in St. Louis. You will find cakes in the downtown area, on 19th-century sites built when St. Louis was proclaimed a “future great city of the world.” You will find cakes in the museums and monuments created for the 1904 World’s Fair, when people traveled to St. Louis to see society build instead of burn. You will find cakes in the white suburbs, parked at ice cream parlors and children’s attractions, symbolic of our family-friendly ways. You will find few cakes in the black suburbs that are neither romantic enough for revitalization nor pestigious enough for investment. Civic abandonment is nothing to celebrate.

St. Louis was a city built on promise—the promise of the westward expansion, the promise of endless opportunity, the promise of great societal progress.