We detect a certain smugness about Baton Rouge toward New Orleans these days. The attitude began during the months after Katrina when the capitol city, to which many New Orleanians fled, briefly had a larger population than New Orleans. It continues today as we hear about the emerging Interstate 10/ Interstate 12 Corridor and an industrial boom there that will shame us down here below sea level. This talk is not just from Baton Rouge but also from some worried New Orleanians. They have seen the future and fear it is 90 miles up the highway.
Certainly Baton Rouge does have much going for it. The city is pleasant with a re-emerging downtown anchored by the splendid Shaw Center for the Arts. Louisiana State University is an important national university, and not just on the playing fields (although football Saturday nights at Tiger stadium are among the state's cherished rituals). Being the center of state government makes the city an important place to do business. Yes, "the corridor," enhanced by the short but potent Interstate 12 stretching from Baton Rouge to Hammond, can be a magnet for industry. Baton Rouge's unique city/ parish government seems to be working effectively.
New Orleanians should be forgiven for being self-conscious. Since Katrina the world's media have examined our every move and have been anxious to report each stumble. Concern over Baton Rouge might also be related to "Trent Lott Phobia:" a disease that affected local editorial pages and community meetings a few years ago when the Mississippi lawmaker was Senate majority leader. Back then, the Mississippi gulf coast was the bogeyman of the day. Among the dire predictions was that Trent Lott was going to build a major international airport on the coast that would shame ours. Even after Lott tumbled from power, the fears remained,
While New Orleans struggles, its people can take pride that the city remains the historic and cultural center of the region and that both Baton Rouge and the Mississippi gulf coast would've always been smaller and poorer without it. We do not mean to take anything away from Baton Rouge's progressive thinkers but two of that town's major industries, state government and LSU, belong to all of Louisiana. Baton Rouge is blessed to have them both. To praise Baton Rouge for its many state related jobs is like complimenting Washington D.C. for its many monuments. Capitol cities enjoy certain advantages.
A prosperous Baton Rouge is good for all of Louisiana - but don't count New Orleans out. It is a world city. To freight shippers, it's closest to the gulf. To tourists, it's known as a fun town. To historians, it was the reason for the Louisiana Purchase. (Everything else outside of New Orleans was just thrown into the deal.) To conventioneers, it is a compact town with the facilities, and the ability, to stage a big event. To NASA it has a ready location to build spacecraft headed for Mars. To chefs, it is the big leagues. To the big leagues, it's the home of the Saints, the Hornets and the Fair Grounds. To industry, it is a good town to be near even if you are located on the Interstate 10 / Interstate 12 corridor.
What to do about Baton Rouge? Respect it. Baton Rouge will remain a good place to visit. Meanwhile, we here in New Orleans will continue to love our town and glow in the recovery adventure.
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