In New Orleans and Baton Rouge, doing better with the basics emerged as a common topic recently for the cities' leaders.
New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, who takes office in May, appeared last month with Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome of East Baton Rouge Parish at an economic development summit in the capital city.
Both expressed concern with the big-dollar problems of money for infrastructure projects like highways and bridges and public facilities, vital to progress. But they also struck a similar note about city services.
Cantrell said cleaning up communities is one way local government can show that it does not take its taxpayers for granted. She said it’s low-hanging fruit that can make a major difference in neighborhoods. She succeeds Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who took over a city government in chaos and near bankruptcy in 2010; the administration's improvements in city operations can and should be improved upon.
Broome has pushed a long-overdue remake of the city-parish website so that citizens can get information and communicate complaints better. She has also tried to better coordinate basic city activities like filling potholes so that more work can get done in a timelier fashion.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has worked with the city in focusing cleanup projects that can improve the attractiveness of key corridors. It's the common-sense approach for curb appeal. If a business prospect leaves the airport and sees blight or even just a poorly paved street, that raises doubts about whether a company's investment should be made there.
Maybe these are not the grander themes of governance, but certainly every level of government ought to be focused on efficiency, day in and day out. That cannot be lost in politics, nor should it be put off by the front-end costs of investing in up-to-date technology to allow citizens to make a difference.
The psychological benefits of making a place more attractive have also been validated by researchers. If a street has less litter on it, even the casual litterer will be less likely to throw something on it. So maybe Broome and Cantrell are onto something. We wish them luck.