Creating a proposed health care district in the Perkins Road/Essen Lane/Bluebonnet Boulevard area will require creating partnerships among competing providers and solving enormous traffic issues.

“In this scenario, we really firmly believe that health care and research are the economic engines for the 21st century, and we should be looking at these things in the same way we looked at steel mills … in the 19th century,” David Green, principal of Perkins+Will, said Tuesday.

Green was one of the speakers at the Smart Growth Summit in Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation hired the consulting firm to head the district’s design.

The foundation’s goal is to connect health care providers, clinical research and medical education, possibly involving a four-year medical school, in the corridor. It’s hoped the district will address physician shortages while spurring innovation and job creation.

One of the major issues the district faces is figuring out a reliable street network to handle the 42,000 vehicles that travel the area each day.

Right now, there are really only four major ways to get through the area, Green said. Compare that to downtown Baton Rouge and its dozens of options, including walking, that make the experience much more pleasant and less frustrating.

However, audience member David Crais, founding president of Physicians Proviso in Covington, questioned whether creating a heavily concentrated health care district makes sense in a rapidly changing industry.

Providers are increasingly shifting care away from hospitals and clinics to retail locations, such as drug stores, or through telemedicine visits, Crais said. Is the concept of a medical district fighting yesterday’s war?

Green said no one can predict the future, but the district’s design will be flexible so that it can adapt to changes, whatever they might be.

Melissa Ehlinger, interim chief executive officer of the New Orleans Business Alliance and a speaker at the event, said technological advances mean people don’t have to be down the hallway from one another to get things done.

But in New Orleans, with the new Veterans Administration hospital and the University Medical Center, “a whole lot of doctors and a whole lot of medical professionals” will be traveling downtown every day, she said. The alliance, a public-private economic development partnership with the city, wants to take advantage of that resource as much as possible.

John Spain, Baton Rouge Area Foundation executive vice president, who moderated the health care district session, said creating the district will not be easy and it will take time.

Spain said the final recommendations for the plan likely will be released in January, but the work on the district will go on for years.

The public will get its first look at concepts for transportation, land use and parks in the proposed health district 6-8 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP at