By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – There has been a bit of a buzz in my neck of the woods this week about a “scorching” letter written by an Alabama tourist to Mayor Cantrell of New Orleans. This visitor took issue with the homelessness, blight, and open drug use in the city and implored the mayor to “be a leader” and clean up her city.
I can’t speak about NOLA, but I can’t argue with what this guy probably saw because I see the same thing here in Shreveport, and I suspect this is the case in many cities across the nation. In Shreveport, for example, the homeless population downtown can be seen everywhere; on every bench, in doorways of every abandoned building, and posted up in front of the public library. Some ask for money, most stare sullenly into space and avoid eye contact. It is sad to me, and I know that a wide variety of circumstances have brought them here. Some of this may be of their own doing, but not always.
Does this deter tourists? Probably, some.
More puzzling to me is that I don’t see this everywhere. I don’t travel widely, but I do travel. We recently returned from a trip to the Midwest to visit my husband’s family. As is our custom, we spent a day in Des Moines, exploring the vibrant downtown and then attending an iCubs baseball game. Shreveport doesn’t have minor league baseball, so we grab it when we can.
In Des Moines we did not see blight, homelessness, drug use, abandonment; I’m sure some of that is there, we just didn’t see it downtown. We walked blocks, inside the skywalks and outside on the street. Granted, a lot of the shops in the skywalks that we had seen before are gone. A lot of people are still working from home. But the majority of businesses there are booming and there are people living, working, and playing downtown.
It makes coming home to a dirty, crumbling city somewhat depressing.
I am not sure what the answer is. My husband would say it is the Democrats we seem to put into office. “Look at every city that ever had a Democrat mayor!” he screams. “It goes to hell!”
He’s not wrong.
Except the mayor of Des Moines is a Democrat.
Obviously, the blight and decay of our cities is the result of a combination of factors. For example, Louisiana only has two Fortune 500 companies, the highest of which ranks only 143 (CenturyLink). We are not a business friendly state with a rank of 49 on that list. I love my state for its natural beauty, but we have a lot of problems.
At the very least, we have got to get people back to work across this country. Everywhere we went on our travels we saw help wanted signs and places understaffed. Product shortages are evident. From the lowest to the highest, we have got to get this economy going and these jobs filled. The unemployment subsidies need to stop. ANYone who wants a job should be able to find one right now.
And while the tourist who wrote the letter to Mayor Cantrell will likely find his pleas falling of deaf ears in the mayor’s office, I hope he knows that a lot of other people see and agree with his words. We need to elect leaders who will step up and lead, who will do the right thing and not necessarily the popular thing, and who will get this country back on its feet.
It is overdue.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.