Our Views: Key player in our future

When Frank Duke resigned after six years as planning director in Norfolk, he received praise from those who found him a calming and rational voice in often-heated debates over land use in the Virginia port city.

Duke, who also previously served in the hot development zone of Durham in North Carolina, is now coming to Baton Rouge as planning director.

If he has the qualities of patience and calm in planning deliberations, he will certainly get a chance to use them here. The challenges of growth are considerable, and the costs of urban sprawl in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area are mounting every year.

If it’s a challenging job in terms of the disputes over zoning and land use that often wrack the meetings of the city-parish Planning Commission, this job also is one where there is tremendous opportunity.

Since the groundbreaking insights brought to the city by Andres Duany in the 1998 Plan Baton Rouge process, our region has been recognized as a new player in redevelopment. Aside from awards and national attention for downtown and rising revenues in terms of taxes from the city core, Baton Rouge has seen a new drive for redevelopment of the old neighborhoods reaching out from downtown.

They deserve more attention. They also have the potential to provide more walkable and bike-friendly neighborhoods — one of the prime attractions to what analyst Richard Florida called “the creative class.”

Smart urban development is, increasingly, shrewd economic development.

Baton Rouge’s assets for the next planning director also include a comprehensive plan developed by a team led by John Fregonese, one of the nation’s leading strategists for smart growth. FutureBR and the local team of the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence give guidance about good policy, not just good politics in city hall.

If there is a place where planning can make a difference, we think it is in Baton Rouge and in Duke’s important leadership role at the Planning Commission. With considerable experience in the administration of planning departments, and with a FutureBR road map ahead, we see Duke’s potential to provide a new level of leadership for smart growth in Baton Rouge.