Our Views: A cleaner city is a better city

The Advocate

The diverse crowd of candidates for mayor-president of Baton Rouge recently differed on various issues during a wide-ranging discussion about the future of Baton Rouge. But they were united, and visibly angered, by the appearance of the city they live in and the trash that litters its public ways.

One of the candidates, former Metro Council member Smokie Bourgeois, recalled how hurt he was when a visitor referred to “raggedy Rouge.”

Most of the candidates at the forum, sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, related their experiences cleaning up business sites and rights-of-way or working with neighborhoods to combat blighted structures and lots. All worried about the limited resources available to the city-parish Redevelopment Authority or nonprofits, either focusing on litter (Keep Louisiana Beautiful) or housing and neighborhood issues, like community development corporations.

We applaud the candidates for raising these concerns. Baton Rouge’s appearance discourages growth, and it’s a painful reminder of how common litterbugs are around here.

Larger issues await the next administration, and those go beyond the ordinary initiatives of cleaning up streets. We hope the eventual winner and members of the Metro Council embrace a stronger and more comprehensive BRAC initiative, promoting “quality of place” for the city-parish.

Two volunteers, businessmen Lee Jenkins and Tim Johnson, are heading a BRAC task force on the issues, and those encompass more than just cleaning up after our collective selves.

Both suggest that urban design standards, and subsequent maintenance, are just too low here. There seems to be almost a standard, 40-degree list for street signs, not only in Baton Rouge but around the region. Fixing those might be easy enough, but there are bigger projects that could be tackled, too.

The “streetscape” projects undertaken by progressive administrations in Lafayette helped to transform Jefferson Street and bring more businesses to its downtown. Those are costly, particularly in downtown areas, but in July, Johnson called them the cheapest economic development projects available.

Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux is continuing his city’s progress with a plan for University Avenue, another Interstate 10-linked gateway into his city. We hope that the state Department of Transportation and Development will adhere to the highest design standards for an I-49 connector in Lafayette.

In Baton Rouge, there is also a lot to do. We are, proudly, a university town, but over the past decades, budget cuts have resulted in campuses being hard-pressed to keep their buildings and grounds in good condition; our street design desperately needs to be driven into the 21st Century.

Fortunately, we have resources, including the long-term leadership of the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence. With a push from the mayor-president’s office, perhaps government can do better at advancing the quality of life here, but also the quality of place as we go about our lives.

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