The great cities of the 21st century will be well-managed, have an educated population and a sense of vibrancy, Tom Murphy, a former Pittsburgh mayor, said during his opening remarks at the Baton Rouge 2011 Smart Growth Summit.
“I’m here because I love cities,” Murphy told the crowd gathered in the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts. “We’re at a moment in time that I think is incredible.”
Murphy used the occasion to call for the leadership and the vision it will take to position Baton Rouge as a place for technology-centered jobs, and the kind of development that is well-designed, desirable and not overly costly when it comes to infrastructure — such as waterlines and roadways.
These and other topics will be the focus of more than a dozen panel discussions among planners, politicians and other professionals attending the Summit from around the United States through Friday at the Shaw Center.
“You are like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Murphy. “You have the pieces on the table to be a 21st century city. You have a choice to make. Do you put them together in the right way?”
Murphy oversaw and guided what is considered one of the best urban renaissance movements of recent years when he served as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 until 2006, transitioning the old steel and manufacturing city to one with new jobs and vibrancy.
Murphy challenged Baton Rouge’s leaders to avoid complacency.
“You have a choice here and this building is a great example. You have a choice of doing ‘it’ll do’, because that’s all we could afford, or reaching for excellence, saying, ‘We’re going to build world class,’ ” Murphy said.
The former Pittsburgh mayor encouraged Baton Rouge leadership to update public policies, to be visionary with public works projects and improve education.
“You have some work to do here,” Murphy said, flashing a slide indicating only 16 percent of Baton Rouge residents hold a bachelor’s degree. “It’s an issue you need to address.”
Competing on the world stage for good technology jobs and building the kind of city that will attract progressive, knowledge-based businesses will require a bold and ambitious vision, Murphy said, plucking at the key mission and message of the Smart Growth Summit.
“It’s a disease in the water I see as I travel to different communities,” Murphy said. “I call it the ‘it’ll do disease,’ ” he said. “Do you want to be known as an ‘it’ll do’ community?
“You want to be known as a community that reaches, not reaches to the lowest common denominator, but reaches up. And that’s the challenge,” he said.