Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Baton Rouge Moves Ahead

From talking to my friends and family in the Baton Rouge area, I am happy to report that all seem to be fine, and are coping with the shortages and traffic well. I have heard that Baton Rouge is expected to grow from half a million to a million people due to the N.O. influx. My guess is that this is too large. Some will move back to N.O. in a couple years. A greater number will move on to larger cities in the search for jobs. Baton Rouge simply doesn't have enough to go around. But it could still grow to 7 or 8 hundred thousand - a 50% growth in a year. The question now is: how will they grow?

My understanding is that Baton Rouge - like almost all of Louisiana, including my home town - was on the path of default segregation with white flight to private schools, etc. But it was not yet to the extent of New Orleans with its size and long history. So now that Baton Rouge has to grow to handle tens of thousands of people, how will they grow? Will the poor black New Orleans citizens end up in almost exclusively black neighborhoods with poor schools and no jobs in the immediate vicinity, or will there be one Baton Rouge all struggling together?

Imagine how much better things would have been if New Orleans had not been the separated city of haves and have-nots that it was. Let's say you are packing your things up to evacuate in the Cherokee, and you realize the elderly woman down the street that you wave to on her porch doesn't drive. A large number of people would have made a spot for her in their car. But in a city of haves and have-nots, the people with the Cherokee are not anywhere near that woman. It doesn't occur to anyone to take her anywhere, and what happened to New Orleans is the result.

My point is simply this. Certainly, everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. They must make their own life. But we don't have to make the job for them almost impossibly hard by by isolating them from everyone else. People are prone to make enough mistakes in the best of circumstances. We don't need to place even more obstacles in the way of some.

So what will Baton Rouge do? Will they build neighborhoods where it is extremely difficult to improve yourself, or will they integrate? I am pessimistic, but Louisiana may surprise me. I hope they do.

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