This post is by Camille Manning-Broome, CEO of CPEX.
When CPEX organizers launched the Government Street Project in spring 2013, the intention was to transform the area into a more attractive and accessible community corridor. The initiative has paid off in more ways than expected: The seeds planted by the project have bloomed exponentially, ushering in an economic and cultural renaissance for the businesses and residents of Mid City.
CPEX may have led the way with Better Block, but this transformative project could not have happened without unprecedented collaboration and partnerships between CPEX and the many partners, community members and volunteers who helped turn the vision for a walkable Government Street into a reality. Our partnership with the Mayor's Office and Mid City Redevelopment Alliance and the tremendous support of the Walls Project, EBR Redevelopment Authority, EBR Department of Transportation and Drainage, elbow/room, Mid City Merchants, Stantec, Makaira Design + Build and a host of volunteer residents and businesses were instrumental to the project’s success.
Justin Lemoine, owner and lead developer of ELS Landscape Architecture Studio and co-founder of Mid City Makers Market, is a firsthand witness to the continued positive impact of the project. “The quality of life in Mid City has improved dramatically over the past five years, thanks to the Government Street Better Block,” Lemoine says. “Just seeing that the city was making this investment in a complete street and intended to make the neighborhood a better, safer place has spurred so much development and improved our lives here.”
We spoke with Lemoine about the project’s long-term effects on the community’s economic growth, quality of life and role as a Baton Rouge cultural hub. Here are a few highlights of that conversation.
How has planning paid off for Mid City’s economy?
The Government Street Project has truly revitalized the local economy. In the past decade alone, Mid City has become home to 48 new businesses, with even more seeking a place in Mid City. 10 years ago you’d be hard-pressed to find one coffee shop in the area, and now you have three within residential walking distance.
Where there used to be vacant buildings, you now have viable, successful businesses contributing to the economy. The building housing French Truck Coffee was vacant for a long time, and now it’s a thriving social sanctuary. And this rapid economic growth has moved beyond Government Street; it’s had a massive ripple effect throughout the broader neighborhood.
What effect has this had on the community?
Astoundingly, within 10 years property values in Mid City have almost doubled. Residents see the investment that groups like CPEX and local businesses have made in the neighborhood and reflect it by investing in their own homes. Furthermore, lots that were vacant and in danger of overgrowth have been cleared for new residential construction, and that is a direct result of Mid City’s economic growth.
People don’t move to Mid City because it’s just a place to live; they live here because they have an immense sense of love and pride in their neighborhoods and community. It’s a feeling that can’t easily be replicated. One of the intentions of the Government Street Project was to make the area more pedestrian friendly, which has given residents a literal sense of closeness since everything they need can be found within walking distance.
How has this affected local culture?
One of the largest benefits from Mid City’s walkability is the immersion it encourages. Mid City hosts multiple art shows every year, and you barely have to leave home to experience them. Art is literally around the corner, and it’s thriving in Mid City.
The Government Street Project has proven to the larger community that Mid City values art. Events like Hot Art, Cool Nights, Mid City Makers Market and White Light Night host dozens of businesses and hundreds of local artists, and participation grows every year. Mid City is Baton Rouge’s artistic center, and it’s a role that residents fulfill joyfully. There’s nowhere else like Mid City, and it’s incredible to see what this investment has done for the community.