Over the past weeks we have been sharing a series of articles presenting the Co-City Baton Rouge Project, developed by our partners at LabGov Georgetown. The articles were originally published on their website and are available here.
I started with Co-City Baton Rouge on April 1 2019 and April 6 I was on the ground in Baton Rouge. I knew from that point that this project intended to making a lasting, sustainable, positive impact for the local community. Over the course of the year I would make several visits to Baton Rouge, primarily scheduled around events where I could engage the local community. Inclusive and meaningful public participation is an essential component of this project and the foundation of the Co-City process. My visits coincided with events associated with the Plank Road Master Plan planning process, including the Food Truck Round up in April, Blight Boot Camp in June, ReActivateBR: Plank Road Street Festival and community clean up, Master Plan Steering Committee meeting in August and the Plank Road Master Plan presentation in November. I was fortunate to work with the planning team throughout this process, collaborating with BBR and other stakeholders to inform and educate Corridor residents and businesses about the planning process and to collect their ideas, hopes and concerns, which I did using numerous methods.
Each visit allowed me to meet someone new, people with potentially different perspectives of Baton Rouge. From Casey Phillips (Walls Project) to Byron Washington to Donney Rose, all had visions of a bright future for the Corridor but were realistic about the many obstacles that we will face. Ms. Lois Dorsey, a long-time resident of Plank Road and a BBR Community Ambassador, also talked about the need for street lighting and sidewalk repair, which she argued, would reduce crime while increasing pedestrian safety. I learned first-hand about the strong sense of community in Plank Road when after the Food Truck Round-up, Edwin Baker (partner of Ms. Lois) showed me around. We drove in his “run-around” pick-up that he uses for his general contracting business for about an hour before we broke bread over dinner. He told me about the dire need for more employment opportunities and affordable housing options in his community. It was a great and informative ending to an eye-opening day.
During my August visit, I had the opportunity to meet Sharon Napollioun, a community leader and local resident, while driving a moving truck to all the local community centers that loaned tables and chairs for the Plank Road Street Festival. After unloading, Ms. Sharon invited Geno, the Community Engagement Specialist with Build Baton Rouge and my liaison on the project, and I to have some red beans and rice and roasted chicken with some other seniors who were having lunch after their senior center board meeting. She explained how young families are “chasing rent” and many school-age children have lived in more than a dozen homes by the time they enter Kindergarten. Moreover, she and others around the table talked about the need for recreational and green spaces for both children and the elderly within walking distance of their homes.
A year in review
These stories and others like them helped me to better understand the mosaic that is Baton Rouge. Through organic conversations, formal meetings, brown-bag lunches, impromptu coffees, and FaceTime, I have already built strong ties and relationships with the community. Consequently, the Co-City team has been able to identify some strategic projects in response to the expressed desires of the community. Some of these projects, such as the Community Land Bank and Community EcoParks, are on the horizon for 2020 whereas others have a longer runway. Over the coming year I will introduce you to the friends I have made and the work we plan on doing together.
Stay tuned for what happens in 2020!