Mayor Perkins and city department leaders of Shreveport have spent their evenings over the last month holding community meetings and listening to individual citizens express their vision for Shreveport. The meetings sought citizen input on the best use of money coming from the federal government to city governments after the pandemic.
Money will come to all local government bodies – city council, parish commission, and school board. The city where government bodies work together and use resources wisely will be the ones that create a catalyst for positive change in their community.
These resources come to our city during a time of increased community concern about future pandemics, violent crime, joblessness, and education gaps. They also come at a time when there is new potential for moderate sized cities. People are less thrilled with big cities after the pandemic and will look for low cost of living, ease of living, and natural beauty in picking a place to settle. Shreveport-Bossier is one of the cities that can meet that demand.
Ten years ago, the city and parish government of Caddo-Shreveport came together to fund the Shreveport-Caddo Great Expectations Master Plan. We held town hall meetings involving over a thousand participants. We asked people to prioritize the “most important” opportunities in our community. We found that even after combining similar opportunities, there were still 38 different “most important” opportunities offered by people in our community. There is diversity of thought in our community.
We asked citizens to prioritize at each community meeting. In order, the top five priorities voted on by participants were (1) education; (2) roads and I-49 completion; (3) small businesses and workforce development; (4) downtown restoration; and (5) crime prevention. Ideas from our citizens and best practices from across the country in these areas were cataloged in the plan.
Participants gave particular attention to the need for our communities and school system to “engage our students” and better prepare them for college and career opportunities after graduation. There was also frequent mention of early childhood education and reading literacy by the third grade.
Our citizens made it clear that an individual and collective priority on small business development and a skilled and educated workforce is a top priority. Poverty and crime prevention would be even higher in priority if our discussion with over a thousand citizens was held today. The quote “a rising tide raises all boats” is the proverb that spurs the community to work to close the large education gap between races.
The shape of the roads and the need to complete I-49 were also frequently mentioned. Since then, there has been more infrastructure work done from the previous bond issue. In addition, our state legislators and business leaders have gotten us closer to building the I-49 inner city connector and new Jimmy Davis bridge. Downtown restoration made great strides before the pandemic and that work has been rekindled as we get back to normal.
I have gone to enough of the listening sessions this past month to know the priorities today and a decade ago are similar. There is great wisdom in tapping the intellectual capital of the many possibility thinkers of Shreveport-Bossier. It is a way to build on our strengths and invite the whole community in the decision-making.
Mayor Perkins announced recently a plan to also bring a bond issue to the citizens for their consideration. The fate of that bond issue will depend a great deal on whether the components presented to the public fall within the priorities of our citizens and whether sufficient trust is developed between our city leaders and the citizenry. Joseph Riley, the long-term mayor of Charleston, SC said “Change happens at the speed of trust”. It is a reality.
When we developed the Master Plan a decade ago, we built it on a framework that encouraged planning, accountability, communication, and transparency. We called it our “PACT” with citizens. Success of our city government depends on building a “PACT” framework that builds predictability and trust.
A thriving Shreveport-Bossier will require multiple recipes, many ingredients, and a diverse group of cooks. No one mayor or sheriff; council or commission member; or business or non-profit leader can do everything. But we can all do something to make our community a better place to live and work if we work together.
Let me close with one citizen’s vision of how we can create a greater future for Shreveport. She said, “Looking simultaneously through the present and into the future is how we create new worlds and make them real. We must see ourselves holding hands in the present to hand future generations a sustainable Shreveport.” Sounds like the right path.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is past chairman of the Citizens Advisory Group of the Shreveport-Caddo Master Plan, Greater Shreveport Chamber, Blueprint Louisiana, and the Northwest Louisiana Medical Society.