Say what you will about Kip Holden, the three-term mayor knew that he had a goal for Baton Rouge, and repeated it so often that it became a bit of groaner sometimes. Yes, one more time: "Baton Rouge is the next great American city."
Are we? Well, we're not the best-looking next great American city, that's for sure, despite the efforts by Holden's administration and the numerous volunteer clean-ups and litter drives by groups such as Keep Louisiana Beautiful and its local affiliate.
True, the capital city looks more like one today, dramatically more than two decades ago. When Gov. Kathleen Blanco opened the Shaw Center for the Arts in 2005, she said that the state's capital city should be greater than it was; as a former legislator and Public Service Commission member, she and others came from around the state to see a rundown city core, a downtown in decline.
Her ambitions and those of many leaders, local and state, have come true with the improvements in downtown and the new office towers of the State Capitol complex.
Yet even there, litter and the indifferently maintained signs and buildings around downtown — not to mention in the neighborhoods around the core — are the outward and visible symbols of a city that's not feeling that great about itself.
The new mayor-president, Sharon Weston Broome, has a lot on her plate but polishing Baton Rouge's "curb appeal" is one of the things that she can take on with relatively little new money. The broad goal, though, requires a focus on collaboration, both in city hall and without.
As a candidate Broome pledged support for the "quality of place" initiative of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, and that set of initiatives involves a lot of moving parts. In city hall, it includes putting a much heavier emphasis on upkeep of public spaces, particularly "corridors and gateways." Businesses as well as homeowners can be encouraged to keep their premises cleaner.
It's not all feel-good stuff.
BRAC also pushes for larger issues of better planning and higher standards for public and private investment, to "properly fund the planning department, support the new Unified Development Code, and strict implementation of requirements" in it. While it is controversial among some property owners, BRAC supported enforcement of building codes "to reduce blight and require property owners to maintain property."
John Noland is a civic leader with decades of experience in working with neighborhood improvement in north Baton Rouge and Old South near downtown. He uses the phrase "failing the windshield test," and it fits: Many structures in the city don't need a detailed inspection to show that they are blighted, unsafe or both. A drive-by is all you need to see that.
Street repair, new sidewalks and other amenities, better drainage — all can be expensive, too, but they can be God-sends to neglected neighborhoods in Broome's political base in north Baton Rouge.
All this might seem less pressing than the flooding, policing and other issues thrown at Holden in his last year and Broome in her first, but getting "quality of place" right can help make economic growth easier and show neighborhoods around the city that government is looking out for residents' interests day to day.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.