Showing posts with label population. Show all posts
Showing posts with label population. Show all posts

Friday, July 11, 2008

It sucks to be second fiddle . . . and falling fast

In the capital city of Louisiana, the mayor is howling at the moon and -- perhaps -- praying for another hurricane.

The Census Bureau's 2007 population estimates are in, and Baton Rouge didn't do so well. The city -- whose population swelled in 2005 with the near loss of New Orleans -- has not been able to hold on to its demographic largesse and now has assumed its historical position. That would be second banana to the Crescent City, which continues to slowly rebuild from its swamping during Katrina and now has a good 12,000 people on Baton Rouge.

NOT ONLY THAT, Baton Rouge's population drop, in sheer numbers, was the third biggest in the nation -- notching another bad-list triumph for Louisiana. In terms of percentage of population lost, the capital city was a solid No. 2, behind front-runner Columbus, Ga.

At least if you believe the federal government's numbers.

According to The (Baton Rouge) Advocate,
Mayor-President Kip Holden doesn't:
New Orleans was the nation’s fastest-growing city during the same period, regaining the title of Louisiana’s most populous city from Baton Rouge for the first time since Hurricane Katrina displaced tens of thousands of people in August 2005.
The estimated 2007 population for New Orleans was 239,124, an increase of 28,926 but still just more than half of the city’s pre-Katrina population of 453,726.

Baton Rouge’s estimated population was 227,071.

Mayor-President Kip Holden said Wednesday that the Census report is a flawed estimate that dramatically underreported the city’s population.

“They take a mathematical extrapolation — that they come up with themselves — and come up with erroneous numbers,” Holden said. “Until we have a full census, they would do us all a favor if they would just go away for a couple of years until we can know the exact population.”

Holden said the report contradicts what he said is clear evidence of Baton Rouge’s ongoing growth: steady school enrollment, climbing sales tax revenue and booming business development.

“You can go virtually all over Baton Rouge and buildings are coming up everywhere,” Holden said. “So if that number was correct, would banks be out here loaning all these people money to build condos and apartments and office buildings and restaurants?”
I'M SURE THE CENSUS PEOPLE would be happy to take Holden's contention under advisement, but first they'll have to carve out a parameter in their database for "buildings are coming up everywhere."

They'll get right on that . . . just as soon as they get their giggles under control.

At least one Louisiana demographer
is surprised that anyone is surprised by the Census Bureau's estimate.
Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said the simultaneous population drop in Baton Rouge and growth in New Orleans was “anything but a surprise” given the ongoing resettling of Katrina victims.

“To me, it’s just very logical; it was very expected,” Stonecipher said.

Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans urban planner with GCR and Associates, said the shifts in both cities are related and most likely the result of major improvements in services in New Orleans during the summer and fall of 2006.

“When you look at when most people came back to New Orleans, it was really in that period,” he said. “Many of the people from New Orleans were clearly in Baton Rouge.”

The Census report is the second this year to estimate a population drop for the Baton Rouge area.

The bureau released population estimates for parishes and counties in March. That report estimated a population drop parishwide and was also criticized by city-parish officials.

East Baton Rouge Parish had an estimated population of 431,278 in July 2006, but that dropped to 430,317 by July 2007, or a loss of 961 residents, that report showed.

Holden said the estimates are “crippling” for Baton Rouge because federal and state funding is often tied to population. He said Congress should come up with a new method for calculating population between censuses.
WHAT MIGHT BE more useful than trying to convince the world -- and convince it on the sketchiest of anecdotal evidence -- that Baton Rouge can hold its population better than a New Orleans levee holds water would be, instead, figuring out why all those folks (presumably New Orleanians) fled after three years in paradise.

Of course, the pull of home is a strong one . . . particularly for natives of as insular a city as New Orleans. Still, we find that people are leaving Baton Rouge to return to a city that has one of the world's worst mayors at the helm.

They're leaving Red Stick for a city with the highest murder rate in the nation. And that race isn't even close.

They're leaving to return to a city where the school system is still a shambles. And where graft is bigger than Rex on Mardi Gras day.

They're leaving to return to a city that's just a direct hit by a Category 2 or 3 hurricane from oblivion. Again. Likely for good next time.

They're leaving for a city that's still largely in ruins, is a municipal-infrastructure nightmare, suffers under sky-high electric rates and needs patrols by National Guardsmen to stave off utter chaos. As opposed to its normal, everyday pre-Katrina chaos.

I KNOW WHAT IT IS to miss home. To miss one's culture . . . familiar foods . . . familiar music . . . familiar sights and sounds. For reasons transcending all good sense, there aren't that many days that I don't miss Baton Rouge.

But that's not enough to make me go back. And I live 1,100 miles distant from there. Have for 20 years now.

Baton Rouge's former exiles from the Big Easy had found refuge less than 90 minutes away from home. They found themselves relocated somewhere with a somewhat similar culture, closely related cuisine and an identical climate. And any onset of Crescent City delirium tremens would be easily "fixed" by a short road trip.

Did I mention the "one direct hit from oblivion . . . again" thing?

THAT'S WHAT Baton Rouge's mayor needs to be worrying about: Why in the name of Buckskin Bill and Tabby Thomas would people want to leave America's Next Great City(TM) for the corrupt, dysfunctional, beaten-down, dangerous basket case that is New Orleans?

Why would people do that if Baton Rouge is sitting there on the first high land on the Mississippi, just ready to launch itself into greatness?

Could it be that Baton Rouge ain't as wonderful as the mayor thinks?

Could it be that the crime isn't that much lower, the murders not that staggeringly fewer, the landscape not that less dilapidated and the public schools not that much better as to be meaningful to a homesick exile?

Could it be that Louisiana's once-again Second City barely outperforms a crippled New Orleans in the essentials that make a city livable while lacking the kind of vibrant, indigenous culture that makes the Crescent City -- in a very real sense -- the spiritual heartbeat of America?

WHEN MY WIFE AND I LEFT Baton Rouge in 1988, it was pretty much the same size it is now . . . perhaps 10,000 or so smaller in population. That kind of anemic population growth doesn't point to a vibrant, fundamentally sound municipality.

When we arrived in Omaha 20 years ago, Nebraska's largest city was about 100,000 people smaller than it is today. And even then, it still was 100,000 people larger than Baton Rouge is now.

What's the difference?

I think it comes down to this: Leaders of "next great cities" don't waste their time (and the taxpayers' money) trying to mau-mau the federal gummint when census figures don't fall their way. Leaders of great cities (those of "next" or "present" greatness) want to find out why the numbers turned against them.

They want to find out why people left -- or why more people aren't moving in. They want to find out where their city falls short.

And once they've done that, leaders of "great" cities -- or even "pretty good" cities -- move heaven and earth to fix what's wrong and improve what's right. That's not what it looks like Baton Rouge's Kip Holden is doing here.

Nobody likes a whiner, Kip. Not even exiled New Orleanians whose only alternative is "Crazy" Ray Nagin.