Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rival cities: BR and NOLA

The BR Business Report has published an interesting article about the rivalry between BR and New Orleans, especially since Katrina:

In the two-and-a-half years since Hurricane Katrina forever altered the geographic, demographic and economic landscape of southeast Louisiana, New Orleans and Baton Rouge have become paradoxically closer yet farther apart than ever as squabbles over population, recovery dollars and where the state’s locus of power lies strain what was already a competitive relationship.


It’s silly, in a way, this petty squabble, but it has serious implications for the future of the state because it will color the very heated battles that will ensue when legislative and congressional districts are redrawn at the end of the decade. It will also affect how federal aid dollars are spent. Above all, it will hamper economic development efforts in a region that needs to be working together now more than ever.

“This is arguably one of the most important discussions to be having right now in this state,” Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher says. “This kind of regional rivalry is not a luxury Louisiana can afford.”

What bothers me most about the article--or rather, the content of the article, not the article itself per se--is BR's supposed readiness to take advantage of Katrina:
When Katrina hit, many saw the opportunity for which they had long been waiting. New Orleans was perceived as dead, or, maybe, presumed dead before anyone bothered to check for a pulse. Finally, Baton Rouge could make a legitimate claim as the true power center in Louisiana.

“People in Baton Rouge have been waiting on baited [sic] breath for any opportunity to shift the locus of power away from New Orleans,” Stonecipher says. “The moment the storm hit they saw their chance.”

Unfortunately, I'm not qualified (i.e. informed) enough to refute it, but considering that this is a Baton Rouge publication, I doubt that it's far from the mark. Perhaps "the moment the storm hit" is an exaggeration, but people (and fellow Louisianans at that) should be ashamed of such behavior. While I hesitate to strongly identify myself as Baton Rougean (Louisianan, yes, but I'm less proud, if proud at all, of this city in particular), I do feel somewhat ashamed that some here reportedly leaped at this opportunity to gain an upper hand in business, while many in NOLA (and those fleeing it) were suffering so greatly.

It seems to me that BR is desperate to take any development opportunity that comes along. Not that I can blame us, but perhaps we should be more picky. Last weekend, the Pinnacle referendum managed to pass with 56% of the vote, despite the recent finding that casinos are tied with landfills in terms of desirability as a local development, with 76% of Americans saying they would oppose one in their community. As a city we seem to be struggling to get ahead economically (with a D- in workaholism) and become (at least in some ways) more progressive--Rouzan, the first attempt at a TND, is a sign of this, I think. (More on Rouzan later.) But I think we have to temper our eagerness to develop with prudence and thought to existing infrastructure, sustainability, suburban sprawl, and other such issues. Time will tell.

What is either quite foreboding or just nasty rhetoric is the suggestion that New Orleans is currently running on an "artificial economy":
Proponents of the 10-12 Corridor initiative believe New Orleans is currently subsisting on an artificial economy that is sustained almost entirely by federal recovery dollars. When that well runs dry, as it eventually will, the state will need something to make up for what will be lost. Jump-starting the 10-12 Corridor is what that is all about.

In any case, I agree wholeheartedly that we've got to work together:
“At some point, we need to make this a New Orleans-Baton Rouge-Northshore triangle,” Richardson says. “We have to be less competitive and more complementary.”

These intrastate struggles don't help anyone but the fat cats. Working together is ultimately best for the whole state. We've got enough going against us as it is.

1 comment:

bayoustjohndavid said...

I remember reading something similar in the same publication in November 2005 when my doctor relocated to B.R. The writer of an article seemed to take it for granted that B.R. had permanently replaced N.O. as the financial and population center of La. and he seemed to think it was something to be happy about. I couldn't understand the unalloyed happiness. I understand that in America biggest is best, but B.R. has been a congested traffic nightmare for at least twenty years. Growth is certainly preferable to stagnation and it enriches some people, but i don't think it raises average incomes and it brings a lot of problems.

If B.R. consistently lost out to N.O. in the legislature I could understand the desire to overtake N.O. in legislative clout, but N.O. area legislators are too split between city/suburban and northshore/southshore to have much clout. I can understand the all-American impulse toward growth, but I can't understand why I don't see more people question it.