There's no inherent contradiction between being nice and being persistent, but the combination of the two words used most often to describe urban planner Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas understate the case.
She is the B-52 of love-bombing, finding a way to praise and win over even the most recalcitrant bureaucrat faced with a new strategy for dealing with Louisiana's chronic physical pains, poor planning and bad infrastructure.
That's especially so when the bureaucrats in question were invested in the old and failed systems of the past. Quite often, they ended up agreeing with something she proposed, and then wondered later how that happened.
Nice never precluded persistent, and it is that quality — or threat, depending on how one sees it — that made her successful in moving Baton Rouge and Louisiana in a more sustainable direction as founder and head of the Center for Planning Excellence.
Her 1998 Plan Baton Rouge effort was built around the insights of Andres Duany, but the New Urbanist showman's proposals required years of painstaking work and follow-through. A dramatically reshaped downtown generating new excitement — and not least, growing tax revenues — is among the results.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she and CPEX led a broad-based planning process in 2007. Thousands across South Louisiana participated in Louisiana Speaks planning sessions.
A significant part of the plan was eventually adopted, but at the state level there remains a dearth of planning. "Everything in that plan is as relevant as it was in 2007," Thomas said five years later, and some progress, although not enough, has been made in rethinking the old and economically unviable pattern of 100-percent, auto-driven development.
As much as Thomas is nationally recognized for her leadership in planning, progressive thinking in Baton Rouge remains very much a work in progress. The sprawl around the area, spilling over parish lines, is still facilitated by a political road-building process and engineering culture of the 1950s.
As city-parish government struggles to maintain the painted lines on streets, much less the roadways and sidewalks themselves, future development has to be more cost-effective than in the past. That means complete streets that promote alternative methods of transportation but that can also spur denser growth patterns. Existing land and structures in the neglected heart of the region must be better planned and more efficiently utilized. Planning is about the future more than the past, and that's sometimes a hard sell.
A CPEX-promoted remaking of Government Street through the middle of Baton Rouge is controversial but represents the kind of thinking about traffic that is becoming the norm across the United States. But for CPEX, would change have been embraced?
"Smart growth" is vital for future development, particularly within East Baton Rouge Parish where developable land is at a premium, but also in the larger regional context. The disastrous flooding of 2016 underlined the region's need for collaboration on stormwater management, for example.
Thomas, 73, leaves her leadership role in June to Camille Manning-Broome, who began working with CPEX during Louisiana Speaks. The CPEX team has recently been awarded over $1 million in philanthropic and federal grants to help reduce flood risk to not only Baton Rouge but other communities in coastal Louisiana.
Not just floods and hurricanes, but day-to-day traffic gridlock in the capital city, underline the importance of CPEX's mission, even if carpet-bombing with compliments can only be done with Thomas' flair for it.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.