Mike Whitehead, Editor, SB Magazine

One Last Thing

Don't stop working for our future

Mike whitehead,
SB Magazine
March 2005

When I lived on the west coast, I thought of Shreveport-Bossier a lot. Every year I would write "please transfer me to Shreveport-Bossier" when I filled out the "next assignment" box on my Gannett evaluation.

Don't get me wrong, I liked living in California and Oregon (grow where you are planted, as the old saying goes), but I wanted to move back to the south. I wanted to move back home. After all, I'm a fifth generation Texan, and in the Gannett world, Shreveport-Bossier is as close as I could get to my home.

When I worked at The Dallas Morning News, 1 would sometimes come to Shreveport-Bossier on weekends for fun. That was long before casinos, which would have made my trip even more fun. I loved the restaurants here, but mostly I liked the friendly attitude of those who lived in the area.

Once I officially moved to Shreveport, I quickly settled in to my new home. 1 really liked it here. That was November 1995. Now, almost 10 years later, I still like it here. Like some of us, I want to see Shreveport-Bossier improve.

That was the impetus for our cover story this month - Shreveport-Bossier in the year 2050. Of course, none of us really know what will happen. Some of us won't even be around for 2050, but that doesn't make the discussion any less valid.

Any time I want to have a deep conversation about Shreveport-Bossier, I usually get in the car and drive over to see Jim Gardner, our former mayor. When I first moved here, I had the good fortune of having dinner with Mr. Gardner, his wife, Ann, and their good friends, Ann and Woody Wilson.

From that time until now, there is no one I trust more than Jim Gardner. I think the world of him, but he will be embarrassed if I go on and on. I sat down with him to ask him about Shreveport-Bossier in 2050 and offer my thoughts on the topic.

When it comes to local history, Mr. Gardner knows his stuff. (He also just published the first volume of his memoirs and is working on the second.) Since he was mayor 50 years ago, he seemed like the goto guy to talk about Shreveport-Bossier 50 years from now.

"When I was mayor 50 years ago I would have been confident in predicting the population pattern for the next 50 years," he said. "But I would have been wrong. The census count from 1910 to 1960 was a straight line, growing 25,000 to 30,000 every 10 years. So I would have said we would be at 300,000 now instead of 200,000. Today there doesn't seem to be a pattern."

"We have to change the patterns we see today to build a bright future 50 years from now."

That quote is the perfect example of why our future is so complicated. We don't know where we are going based on where we have been. Or, to put it another way, we have to change the patterns we see today to build a bright future 50 years from now.

Mr. Gardner made another astute observation. "Who would have thought we could have I-49, navigation on the Red River, the Bio-med Technology Center, five casinos and the expansion of General Motors without any population growth?"

When our area was undergoing its biggest growth spurt, there was a community commitment to plan and complete those plans. The biggest fear for us now is abandoning our sense of urgency to plan for the future. There are some issues we must tackle so we can be successful in 50 years.

Mr. Gardner believes we have two big issues - the inner city and crime. I agree.

For the sake of this discussion, we will define the inner city as anything in existence by the 1930s - Highland, Allendale, Queensborough and Cedar Grove. These are the areas suffering the most.

And, for the sake of this discussion, we all define crime as anything that directly affects us. That's the problem. There's some horrific crime that we never see in our neighborhoods. But it does exist and we have to find solutions to curb violent crime. If we are honest, we care the most about crime that directly affects us. Like purse snatchings at local Wal-Mart stores.

Other tough issues also come to mind. We don't like to talk about it, but we still have a wide gap when it comes to issues of race, and we especially have a wide gap when it comes to differences in socio-economic levels. Any way you want to measure it, the divide between the haves and have nots is greater here than in most cities.

I believe there is something even more fundamental to tackle. The problem is you and the problem is me. The problem is getting people engaged in their community. Mr. Gardner and I agree that 50 years ago many more people, especially young and talented people, worked to improve the community. I hope that's not a judgment of our ages. For a variety of reasons, I think it's absolutely true.

In case you were wondering, this is not about Mayor Keith Hightower, or Mayor George Dement, or Lo Walker or the Shreveport or Bossier city councils. Sure, we need leadership in those positions because that is the top of the food chain in today's community power structure.

As we like to say in sports, this is a team game. It's up to all of us. If we believe we can't succeed or go about our business without getting deeply involved in community issues, we will fail. We have to do it one person at a time, one day at a time.

As Mr. Gardner so aptly put it: "I go to a lot of meetings concerning our city because I want to do it. I'm 80 years old and still fighting for Shreveport. When I'm drawing my last breath, I'll still be trying to do something for our city."

That's the model for each and every one of us. Count me in. How about you? SB

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