In 2021, Shreveport-Bossier is at a crossroads. On one hand, we have the need to recover from the health and economic devastation of the pandemic. The fear is heightened by unrest over violent crimes and joblessness in our community.
However, there is a great foundation to build on in the Shreveport-Bossier area. As we think about advancing a bright future for our community, we can lean on some of the ideas about fulfilling the great expectations of Shreveport-Bossier out of the Master Plan process. A place to begin is a look back at the concerted effort to capture the vision and will of the people of our community a decade ago.
Probably the greatest lessons for me in the Master Plan process came with reading each of the hundreds of personal vision statements. There is great wisdom to tap in the many possibility thinkers of Shreveport-Bossier. Insights in these personal statements are visionary and hold true now and 20 years from now.
Our community participants said we should “market our strengths to ourselves…grow in population but retain a small town Southern atmosphere…consider all visions…highly value education, economic development, and cultural arts…have race relations based on individuals rather than opposing groups…be a city dedicated to renewal…develop Shreveport into an inviting city for young professionals…and develop Shreveport into a beautiful retirement community.”
Participants also said we should “become a connected network of self-enhancing neighborhoods…capitalize on beauty and history of the city…have well-maintained yards with children playing outside without fear…have a diverse and peaceful community to raise children and grandchildren…and have a city dedicated to renewal.”
We will go a long way toward reaching our great expectations if we capitalize on our unique identity and celebrate it. It means capitalizing and celebrating on the uniqueness of Barksdale Air Force Base and the accompanying private business support of their mission; LSUHSC and excellent healthcare systems in our community; and the natural beauty in our Sportsman’s Paradise.
It means capitalizing and celebrating the low cost of living and ease of getting around our cities; the multiple cultural venues and non-profit opportunities generally found only in large cities; downtown Red River and Caddo-Bossier Port; and the new Amazon distribution center. As we get back to normal post-pandemic, moderate-sized cities may benefit from some of the lost luster of big city living.
To meet our potential, we will have to invest more in people. The future belongs to communities with an educated and skilled workforce. In community discussions, the most frequent topic of conversation was education. We will need to continue to prioritize childcare, early education, and early reading literacy.
We will need to prepare students for college and career in high school as we search for the best ways to engage our children. It is then that the proverb a “rising tide raises all boats” becomes the way to close the education gap, reduce poverty, and prevent crime.
We cannot just throw up our hands in exasperation when faced with developing solutions for high poverty and violent crime rates in our cities. Dealing with these issues is hard work and requires more than just a handful of people with a concern.
To reach our potential, people of different races will need to work together for the good of the whole community. It is in working together that we build relationships and respect – the result being “race relations based on individuals rather than opposing groups” as envisioned in Master Plan community meetings.
To reach our potential, we will need to invest in our roads and water/sewer infrastructure as well as the beautification of our neighborhoods. This helps maintain our low cost of living and the ease of getting from place to place. It attracts more small businesses and more jobs. And it helps develop a culture that supports “the connected network of self-enhancing neighborhoods” envisioned by our citizens at community meetings.
To reach our potential and develop solutions government leaders will need to build a diverse stewardship of the common good – to develop a framework that encourages planning, accountability, and transparency. It will take developing systems that reduce unpredictability for businesses and residents.
People invest only when there is predictability – when they can trust – when they know the process will not change much with political turnover – and when they are made aware the reasons for decisions.
Predictability, trust, transparency, and accountability – a culture that builds on our strengths – a culture that invests in our people – and one that “considers all visions”. This is what I would like to leave the next generation.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is past chair of the Citizens Advisory Board of the Shreveport-Caddo Master Plan, Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, and Blueprint Louisiana.