The Gulf Coast Megaregion and America 2050

In 2008 the RPA (Regional Planning Administration) came up with the idea of American ‘megaregions’ and formed the group America 2050 to work with people around the country on proposing plans for each megaregion and how they can bring growth to the country.

Since 2008 the group has not, as far as I can see, done much beyond make some beautiful maps of what these megaregions may look like in 2050. I came across these maps a few months ago and edited them to reflect what I thought the Gulf Coast would really look like by then and the type of America we may live in. I also made a High Speed rail route that would connect the country.

Anyways, today we are focusing on the Gulf Coast Megaregion and over the next week I will have four more articles detailing the Southern Megaregion’s and the overall South- East super-region.

As I said we are focusing on the Gulf Coast region and here is a map of it:

Gulf Coast 2050 2

As you can see, Houston is sort of the merging point for the Gulf Coast and Texas Triangle megaregions, but I personally think that the Gulf Coast and Texas Triangle are one large region, especially when you consider their areas of influence which overlap one another. Together this larger megaregion would have a projected population of 41,144,555 million by 2025 and would make up 11% of the nations GDP. This would make it one of the most important regions in the US.

However, for the sake of continuity we will save the Texas Triangle that ‘super region’ for another post. Let’s focus exclusively on the Gulf Coast.

According to America 2050 this is the Gulf Coast in a nutshell:

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%
Now I have a few problems with this, the first is that a good bit of the information seems to be either outdated or it seriously underestimates the economic growth currently happening in Louisiana. This is economic growth that I have had the opportunity of seeing and experiencing, and while it is certainly not as rapid or noticeable as other megaregions in the South there are still some crucial changes occurring in the Gulf Coast.
The first of these changes surrounds the two cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. One the current political capital and the other the historic and cultural capital of Louisiana. Baton Rouge has always been the ‘second city’, but in a post Katrina world the changes that would have taken at least a century to occur are happening at lightning speed. These changes revolve around Baton Rouge becoming the states true capital city. Katrina put into movement the massive growth of Baton Rouge, growth that is hampering New Orleans. Take for instance population. Baton Rouge’s official population is around 230,000 and New Orleans around 379,000 but Baton Rouges real population is much closer to New Orleans. Baton Rouges real population should be around 337,000 but due to unincorporated parts of the city to its south (parts that should be officially in the city) that areas population of 107,000 is not factored into the cities official numbers. This area is heavily developed into Baton Rouge and many consider it part of the city, but it officially is not. For the purpose of this article we use 337,000 as Baton Rouge’s population. By using those numbers it puts the cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge at a population difference of 42,000 people, a number Baton Rouge is expected to gain by 2025. If Baton Rouge reaches that number and exceeds as many predict then Baton Rouge will be the second largest city in the Gulf Coast. But Baton Rouges transformation do not stop at the population, it relies on the cities growing economy.
The economy of Baton Rouge has largely been reliant on natural resources and politics, but now things are changing. With the attraction of IBM and the continued growth of the Baton Rouge technology park the city is becoming the states technology center; the Silicon Bayou as some call it. This tech presence is bringing and keeping younger people into the city, a population group many cities crave. This younger group of people will bring great vibrancy and energy to the city.

The second aspect of Baton Rouge’s increasingly diverse economy is health care. Baton Rouge has become the first city in the state to have a specific Medical District, and this district compared to other nationwide is huge. The district includes two universities, two major hospitals, a children’s hospital in construction, and multiple research facilities and clinics including one of the state’s largest. Establishing this area as its own district opens up the door for further growth and development, and will allow the city to continue to attract more and more people into the city whether they are there for visits or there to work it increases the labor force and population in the long term.

The third new part of the Baton Rouge economy is the film industry. Thanks to Governor Fosters tax breaks for the industry the state is now leading internationally in film production, the key now for Louisiana to keep that business is to centralize the industry in one city. Given that the Baton Rouge Metro has more film studios than any other state I think it only makes sense to try and centralize it here. Baton Rouge has the space and the state wide connectivity to make logical sense. Not to mention the city is already making more films than New Orleans and Shreveport, so I think it is about time the state and city start centralizing it here. *UPDATE* The State Legislature recently requested Baton Rouge be designated as a center for TV and Film Production like Shreveport and New Orleans; this would be a step in the right direction for centralizing the industry in Baton Rouge.

The fourth piece to the city’s economic puzzle is more of a suggestion, it is something the city is leaning towards only the city needs to step it up. This is the creation of white collar jobs, so banks, insurance, lawyers, brand companies, etc. something other than energy and tech. Another reason for an increase in white collar jobs has to do with establishing Baton Rouge as a global city, while energy and tech do take you a long way diversity has always been key to successful cities.

Baton Rouge is home to three large universities, LSU, Southern, and BRCC. Personally I feel that another aspect of Baton Rouge’s economy should be education; higher education. Nearly all major global and national cities have a large education presence, Baton Rouge is already trending towards this with the Our Lady of the Lake Medical College centralizing their campus, I think it’s time for the state to step it up. As a result I am proposing the construction of four 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 University, a liberal arts college with top quality programs and degrees in historical and artistic fields. The next university would be Magnolia University of the Arts; an art school. The final would be the LSU School of Medicine; a medical specific school in the Medical District.  With these schools Baton Rouge would have a total of seven universities; all world class. This would make education a vital aspect of the cities culture and economy and lead to a larger, younger, and more educated population.

The final part of Baton Rouge’s economy is oil and natural resources. Baton Rouge is undoubtedly one of the state’s energy capital, with CB&I’s Gulf Coast HQ, one of the continent’s largest refineries, and an oil specific port the city is well suited for the energy industry. However, many more measures can be taken. For example I think Baton Rouge needs to somehow convince Entergy to move its global HQ from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and if the rumors are true that Exxon wants to build a Gulf Coast HQ here then the city really needs to push this.

In short there a lot of things Baton Rouge needs to do before it can become a Global City, the states premier city, and an American center of education, culture, and economy. If these are fulfilled Baton Rouge can become a critical key in making the Gulf Coast region one of the most important in the United States.

Now let’s leave Baton Rouge and go and look at the Gulf Coast megaregion as a whole. The region is large and spreads from Corpus-Christi to Pensacola. As mentioned previously its largest cities are Houston, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. The key for the cities and states part of this region is creating contiguous development between most of the cities involved. To achieve this I propose that Baton Rouge construct five high speed rail lines; New Orleans – Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge – Lafayette, Baton Rouge – Hammond, Baton Rouge – Shreveport, and Baton Rouge – Jackson. These five lines not only connect Baton Rouge to some of the largest cities in the region, but allow for further expansion and connections. The Lafayette – Baton Rouge line would eventually expand to connect to Houston, while the Baton Rouge – Hammond would be expanded to Mobile and Pensacola (from there it would connect to Tampa), the Jackson line would go towards Birmingham and then Atlanta, while the Shreveport line would open up connections to Dallas. These lines would make Baton Rouge a transportation center and would connect the Gulf Coast region as a whole allowing for further economic development between the cities within the region and even outside.

That is about as far as I will go with this today, but this is essentially what I’m thinking would be the right moves for Baton Rouge and the Gulf Coast Megaregion. Thanks for reading and joining the revolution.