Like a journey into the heart of darkness, Ignatius Reilly’s bus trip to Baton Rouge stands as a literary tribute to the differences between the capital city and New Orleans. For years, people have taken that story from “A Confederacy of Dunces” as reality, as tangible as Ignatius’ statue on Canal Street.
If the two cities have any future, it’s together — not separate.
That is the fundamental insight of the journey that nearly 200 Louisiana leaders took to Orlando and Tampa, the Florida cities that have worked hard on regional approaches to growth.
We welcome the efforts of the Southeast Super-Region Committee to bring from its Florida trip practical ideas that can further link New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
GNO Inc. President Michael Hecht said the Super-Region Committee will codify the “action items” identified by the group Tuesday and take the lead on moving those plans forward.
“I think we’ve had some really big ideas to hear about and think about and a lot to go home to do,” said Marty Mayer of Covington, co-chairman of the Super-Region Committee.
There is a great deal to do, and a lot of it is because of parochialism in leadership.
In the private sector, we think society is well ahead of government.
When hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, the displacements highlighted economic ties that many don’t think of in ordinary times.
Companies in each city are dependent on customers in the other, and educational and research institutions — LSU and Tulane, even — are collaborators more than many might think.
“The purpose of this is not to leave these ideas here,” Mayer said of the Florida trip.
We heartily agree, and look forward to a list, but we predict — having seen in past years the lessons from other cities visited by delegations organized by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber — that the manifestations of parochialism will be easy enough to spot.
It is more than a matter of how things are done, but whether the cities and the state will step up to challenges.
Look at transportation issues alone.
The Florida cities have invested heavily in public transit in ways that are foreign to Louisiana’s car-culture government agencies. A commuter bus link was spurned by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development this year; a stimulus grant for commuter rail was rejected in 2009 by the same short-sightedness.
One of the chairmen of the Super-Region Committee is Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, of Baton Rouge, who led a comprehensive planning effort after Katrina. That plan for southeastern Louisiana included a lot of the issues discussed in Florida, but it never gained traction with policymakers. The pigeonholes of government are where visionary plans go to die.
We hope the energy manifested in Tampa and Orlando will drive an action plan instead of another exercise in good intentions.