Both Baton Rouge and Lafayette have been fertile fields for the near-madness level of genius of urban planner Andrés Duany.
In Lafayette, his New Urbanist philosophy guided the development of River Ranch and other developments that have spawned considerable financial successes and new thinking about urban residential living. In downtown Baton Rouge, Duany’s New Urbanist vision sketched out in the 1998 Plan Baton Rouge ignited a renaissance.
With that track record, there’s every reason to be excited about the Entergy site along Government Street, a parcel donated by the utility. That’s six acres including two brick buildings totaling about 50,000 square feet that cry out for redevelopment; they have an industrial chic that Duany raves about.
“Look at the rust on these beams,” he enthused at one presentation. “If this did not have rust like this, I’d have to pay somebody to do it.”
The Duany plan is for the city-parish Redevelopment Authority and will be unveiled on March 2 at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church fellowship hall, 185 Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive.
Shiloh, the historic church, is just one of the important community institutions in the planning area of some 100 acres around the Entergy buildings. The area is roughly bordered by the south side of Government Street, North Boulevard, 22nd Street and Interstate 110.
And despite the assets in the area, including a new Dufrocq school and a plan for improvements of Government Street, the area is filled with vacant lots and substandard housing.
If ever there was an area ripe for redevelopment, this is it; a historic neighborhood between downtown, midcity and the Garden District, along a track that Duany believes might become the commuter rail connection between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Having Duany’s name associated with the plan has already prompted real estate speculation in the area. The planner noted that the largest nearby tract was up for sale at $1.7 million and is now twice that. “It is almost a biblical miracle,” he said sardonically. “We had not even lifted a pencil, and it doubled in value.”
But it’s not enough for Duany to have a project. He must have a theme, and Duany’s current grand vision is about young people. In the aftermath of the economic crash of the last decade, a new generation is looking for its role amid an era of downsizing, but also within a culture of digital-media-fueled impatience; “the kids are assembling their own city electronically,” Duany says.
They desire authentic experiences; the raw brick and rusty beams of the Entergy buildings are almost a physical manifestation of that. But the traditional forms of development are slow and expensive, Duany believes. His idea of an example of “lean urbanism” is the Radio Bar, the popular spot on Government Street. A larger example for the Entergy site is Ironside in Miami.
The latter is more than just a hipster invasion, but a “carefully curated” set of businesses and residences that reflect the values of the rising generation, Duany said. “Just the right shop, just the right coffee place,” he said.
The Duany plan is likely to be two particular plans, with one more traditional; it’s not if Duany does not know us in conservative Baton Rouge. Either way, the plan is likely to challenge traditional notions of how development happens, right down to the building inspectors who might ruin it, as anticipated by Duany’s harsh criticism of government nitpickers.
But given his enormous impact around here as well as nationally, a track record that deserves respect, the city and the neighborhood ought to go for the gold.
There is no reason at this particular moment that Duany cannot deliver us path toward, as he puts it, “a catalytic model, not only for the neighborhood but a model about how to get things done in the 21st century.”
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is email@example.com.