The Gulf Coast Megaregion

In 2008 the RPA (Regional Planning Administration) published a report and website entitled ‘America 2050’. The report centered around the idea of emerging American megaregions and centralizing information about each region in one place to be used by developers and politicians when crafting public policy. Their goal was to spark conversation and debate, but over the past seven years the debate they sought to spark has been sidelined by greater national debates about healthcare and racism (two very important issues). Of the megaregions covered by the RPA, the Gulf Coast Megaregion is one I’d like to focus on in particular.

Gulf Coast 2050

Map of the Gulf Coast megaregion.

Principal Cities: Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge
Population 2010: 13,414,934

Percent of U.S. Population: 4%
Population 2025: 16,334,987
Population 2050: 23,666,122
Projected Growth (2010 – 2050): 76.4% (10,251,188)
2005 GDP: $524,122,000,000
Percent of US GDP: 4%

 

Houston stands as the largest city in the region while New Orleans and Baton Rouge are not-closely behind in second and third respectively. Respectably the Gulf Coast Region contains a large size of the nations GDP and population, not to mention it is closely located to even larger regions such as the Atlantic Piedmont (Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh-Nashville), Florida, and the Texas Triangle (in the case of Houston it overlaps). The Gulf Coasts geographic position, large oil reserves, and economic potential makes it poised for significant growth in the 21st century. What is most disappointing about this megaregion is that it has so much potential that simply isn’t being harnessed. The economic growth potential of this entire region is tremendous. This is potential growth I have had the opportunity of seeing and experiencing. It might not be as obvious as other Southern megaregions, but it is present along the Gulf Coast.

The most obvious potential surrounds the two cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. One the current political capital and the other Louisiana’s historic and cultural capital. Baton Rouge has always been the ‘second city’, but in a post Katrina world the changes that would have taken a half century to occur have been fast tracked. It is very possible that through harnessing the talent, creativity, and natural advantages of its surrounding area, Baton Rouge could become Louisiana’s true capital city. Katrina ushered massive growth for the Capital region and it can be seen in pure population statistics. The population of East Baton Rouge Parish, according to the 2010 U.S. Census is 440,171 persons, while that of Orleans Parish was just 379,000 people. While New Orleans still is larger than Baton Rouge from a metropolitan area perspective, Baton Rouge is not far behind. Combined, the two metropolitan areas, and smaller surrounding metro areas have a population of roughly 2 million residents. For comparison Houston’s is 6 million people and Tampa 4 million. The ports of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Louisiana which are all located adjacent to each other outpace any other American port in terms of tonnage and trade. With such a large regional population, envious geographic position on the Mississippi River, and cultural beauty why isn’t the population larger and the economy more robust?

The economy of Baton Rouge and New Orleans are largely reliant on natural resources, tourism, and politics. Things are slowly changing; the introduction of IBM in Baton Rouge, growth of small startups in New Orleans, and the continued growth of mid-sized companies like Lamar advertising are contributing to an economy that is diversifying. With the right policies put in place that encourage the growth of small business and make it easier for larger companies to set up shop in the state could all go a long way in continuing this diversification. Louisiana would be able to attract (and retain) younger people to these cities; investing in the long-term future of the state. In addition to a slowly growing white collar industry in the state, healthcare’s future seems bright. The new VA Medical Center in Downtown New Orleans is a shinning beacon to a future that might be. Baton Rouge will be the first city in the state with a specific Medical District, it has the distinction of potentially being one of the largest in the south. The district includes two universities (LSU and Our Lady of the Lake College), two major hospitals, a planned children’s hospital, multiple research facilities, and private medical clinics. Establishing this area as its own district opens the door for further growth and will allow the city to continue to attract more high-skilled individuals, expanding the city’s workforce and overall wealth. Thanks to Governor Fosters tax breaks for the film industry have led to Louisiana now leading internationally in film production. Louisiana must capitalize on this unique industry. Given the size of Celtic Studios it makes sense for the state to attempt to centralize the film industry in Baton Rouge. The Capital Region has the space and state wide connections to make logical sense, not to mention Baton Rouge is already making more films than New Orleans and Shreveport. *UPDATE* The State Legislature recently requested Baton Rouge be designated as a center for TV and Film Production like Shreveport and New Orleans; this is a step in the right direction for centralizing the industry in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge and New Orleans combined are home to multiple universities and stand alone as the true higher educational centers for Louisiana. Baton Rouge is home to the states premier public university; LSU, and New Orleans is home to the states two leading private universities; Loyola and Tulane. Higher education should be a priority for the state of Louisiana. All major cities, nationally and globally, have a strong higher education presence. The state already has a firm backbone, but more can be done to strengthen Louisiana’s position. I propose the construction of three new universities. The first would be The Louisiana Institute of Technology; a tech based university with high standards and quality programs and degrees. The second would be the renovation of BRCC into Baton Rouge College, a public, exclusively liberal arts college. The final would be the LSU School of Medicine; a medical specific school in the Baton Rouge Health District.  The addition of these schools would increase the attractiveness of Louisiana as a place to study for students around the nation. It would have the added benefit of strengthening our economic appeal to industry’s other than energy and oil.

Louisiana should be a more prosperous state, a richer state, a better state. It has the potential, the people, the culture, now it needs the leaders. There is a lot that must be done before Louisiana’s full potential can be harnessed into an American center of medicine, education, technology, shipping and trade, and culture, but it can be done. With ambition and leadership Baton Rouge and New Orleans can make the Gulf Coast megaregion on of the most important in the United States. The Gulf Coast region spreads from Corpus-Christi to Pensacola and contains bustling ports, beautiful beaches, and rich culture. From the ambition of Houston, to the vibrancy of New Orleans, to the creativity of Seaside, the Gulf Coast offers so much to America and the world. To further connect this region and unleash its wider potential, it is vital passenger rail becomes a part of any long-term regional development plan. Passenger rail lines must connect all the major cities of the region together into an easy to use network, increasing cross cultural and economic collaboration. The potential of this region and Louisiana individually is great, but it can only be exploited with the right kind of public policy; from education to urban planning, all elements that define great civilizations must work in tandem to transform this region.

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Baton Rouge; The South’s Barcelona

Yeah, I know, all my post up until know have been about Baton Rouge. Don’t worry there will be post that branch out, but I’m someone who likes to focus on solving problems or celebrating positives for the places I’m in. Right now I live in Baton Rouge and so my post will primarily focus on solving greater urban problems, but using Baton Rouge as a primary subject.

For close to half a year I have lived in this fantastic city recently catapulted to national attention with the high successful Miss USA 2014 Pageant. In that space of time I have fallen in love with this city and will certainly continue to visit it after I leave. The people are very friendly and kind, they take pride in their city and culture. It’s something very unique and special.

It’s it’s atmosphere that truly makes it a shinning gem in a new American South scattered and filled with Atlanta wanna-be cities. Baton Rouge has achieved this mainly in part to it’s close proximity to New Orleans. After living here I can tell that this city has been forced to make it’s own name to succeed. It’s a city that does not rely on New Orleans culture or even stereotypical Louisiana culture, instead it has it’s own culture and identity which does distinguish it from other cities. This has helped the city get business, people, and events and as the city begins to out grow New Orleans you can bet these events will not stop.

What makes Baton Rouge the Barcelona of the South is that the city is a hidden gem. Towards the second half of the 20th century Barcelona fell into disrepair and out of international recognition. However the city reinvented itself and became a hidden gem…until the 1992 Olympic Games which catapulted the city to international stardom and since then it has grown to become one of Europe’s most visited city. I believe that Baton Rouge has a similar story to tell…only will it have the same ending? Will Baton Rouge grow into the defacto cultural and buissness capital of the South? Will it reach it’s full potential and this Garden City of the South become a major American city leading a revival of American prosperity? Or will it’s civic leaders unknowingly prevent this with their consistent ignoring of the challenges they face ahead? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I will do anything I can to help Baton Rouge achieve it’s potential.

Well I hope that set’s the mood for my next few post, and as always thanks for joining the revolution.

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The Sights and Sounds of Downtown Baton Rouge

A few weeks ago I was at the Old State Capitol with some friends from Tampa. In case you are unfamiliar with Baton Rouge’s downtown, their convention center or River-center is located next to the Town Square, City Hall, 19th Judicial Court House, Shaw Center for the Arts, and the Gothic revival Old State capitol (where we started our tour). Now I have been into this area of the city before, alas, not expecting much I did not bring my camera. However, after the first trip I realized that this area had a lot more then I expected and from then on out I vowed to bring my camera the next opportunity I had.

To put it in short “The opportunity was there” as my friend would say. So after our tour was complete I decided to walk around the area and took pictures. This post will mainly be filled with pictures so enjoy! Before the picture show commences I would like to say that this entire area is probably BR’s biggest selling points for their downtown, as you will see in the pictures it is truly in the cities heart and contains lush landscaping and beautiful works of art that entertain and inspire. So without further adieu welcome to the North Boulevard Town-square…

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The piece above is located in the squares water area. When I was there many kids were playing in the area.

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This is the squares (and I would argue the downtown’s) main feature. It’s called the crest and is a beautiful work of art. It also serves as a stage for the various events that occur downtown year round.

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These next few shots (and the one above) are my favorites, it really shows the cities skyline in a way that pictures from the river can’t and the cities urban/youthful feel.

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Well that about does it for the nice pictures I took during my travels. I hope to do more for different parts of the city (the bad and the ugly) along with other cities that I travel to. Thanks for reading and joining the revolution.

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Callin’ Baton Rouge

Recently my family and I moved to the small Southern Capital city of Louisiana, also known as Baton Rouge or ‘The Red Stick’. Founded in 1719, the city has seen nearly seven national flags fly above it’s waterfront and has been a major industrial and shipping location in the American South.

Upon arriving I honestly was not sure what to expect, but the city itself is rather beautiful. It has a unique Southern Charm to it that’s hard to find. One thing I was taken aback by was the greenery, and apparently it is the most tree canopied city in North America. The city is also home to The Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University, a historical black college. So far I have only lived in the city for a few weeks and have been very impressed with the amount of growth it seems to have, after doing some research I have found the following things:

  • The city has the ninth largest port in the US, and is currently undergoing an expansion
  • Three Fortune 500 companies call Baton Rouge home or have a headquarters located here: IBM, Shaw, and CB&I
  • Lamar advertising also calls the city home, that company is a Fortune 1000 company
  • The city will be home to one of the largest water preservation campuses in a few years

So for me, being an urban enthusiast, I’m excited to be living here during what seems to be the cities ‘golden age’ of development.

In addition to researching fun city trivia I also wanted to find any historical information I could, and boy was I in for a shocker! I discovered this map searching through Google:

Plan of BR 1806

The link brought me to this amazing French-American site

In 1806 Baton Rouge was still apart of Spanish American territory and because of it’s natural barrier to hurricanes and prime location the city had a promising trading future. In response to this Elie Toutant Beauregard wanted to create a new city center in French Colonial Tradition. So after many attempts at creating a master-plan he contacted  Arsene Lacarrière Latour a French architect who had recently arrived in New Orleans  to create one.

According to the article, “The city Lacarrière Latour had imagined was anchored on the Mississippi River and bordered on three sides by wide boulevards shaded. It focused on either side of a central axis (now Government Street) extending from the River to the east, with its center a large square (Place Royale), the heart of the city, which opened on not less than 16 different streets, four of which cut the city map diagonally and debouched at their end on a smaller site. Each of the seven squares allow further enhance public buildings: Cathedral Place Royale, the governor’s palace on the Place d’Armes, hospital, school, market...”

The structure would have broken the cities pre-existing grid and created social spaces for the residents through the planned Colosseum and Vauxhall (1). The plan would have elements incorporated from major world cities of the time such as London, Paris, and Washington. Large squares dedicated to Christopher Columbus would have been surrounded by warehouses and customs offices.

The entire effort fell through after the land was annexed by the US (along with the West Florida States) in 1810 coupled with the death of Beauregard in 1809. Very few building had been constructed and all that remains today is the beginnings of the street grid in the form of the downtown’s historic Beauregard Town neighborhood.

After seeing this plan, I personally can not stop wondering what Baton Rouge would have been like today if things were constructed. Obviously the loss of Spain would have made it hard for the city to become a crucial point, but maybe it could have served (as it does today) as an alternative port to New Orleans. In the end we will never know what might have been America’s Paris. 

That’s all for today folks! I’m thinking about going downtown today so maybe a picture post is in our future! Have a nice day and thanks for joining the revolution.

Notes;

1. Vauxhall – Popular in Europe at the time, they were gardens adorned with decorations. The public could attend live shows, live music, or play games outside.

*UPDATE*

I found another picture of the map with the major buildings of the city in 1806 worked into the proposed plan:

Beauregard layout

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