The future remains ours to shape

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2001

It may not be spoken aloud, but there’s a lot of fear in the River Parishes, nowadays. One of the greatest assets of the region is its unique culture and history, its strong sense of family values and its natural beauty. The fear comes in at the threatened loss of all those unique qualities. In St. James Parish, the possibility of a regional airport to serve southeast Louisiana have many lifelong residents, and newer residents besides, fearful of the loss of the rural pleasures they’ve come to love. To many people the so-called “conveniences” of living in a city or the suburbs do not stack up against the mom-and-pop business which may be in its fourth or fifth generation, right up the street. In St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, the older residents are in an undeclared war against the encroachment of national store chains and franchises, massive subdivisions where green fields once lay and the all the attendant downsides of “civilization,” such as increased and more violent crime, traffic and noise. Long considered a “bedroom community,” where residents in the River Parishes lived while working “in town,” the picture is slowly changing. Now, many newer residents live and work here as jobs move here. This is good in many respects, but it comes along with the downside problems listed above. There’s a way to call a truce in this undeclared war. One thing is to come to the realization that this growth, long worked for by parish governments, is not likely to go away. Growth will come, even with all its problems. Parish governments have to come to grips with that growth, upgrading their resources and infrastructure and making government itself more responsive and reliable. This is an opportunity to examine where growth has occurred in earlier years and head off mistakes made there. Another thing is for those families whose roots go back to colonial times, (and there are many in this region) is to document that history. Talk to grandparents and record their memories. Join historical and genealogical organizations and preserve relics, photographs and other evidence of that simpler way of life still fresh in living memory. Yet another way is for long-time residents to welcome those newcomers, teaching them about our culture and making them feel at home and a part of the community they have selected to join. Economic development has a vital part in keeping a community alive. Children often grow up and move away, splintering families and scattering memories of what once was. However, we can work to keep the children home by providing them opportunities and making it worthwhile to remain to keep alive that history and culture. Once, it was unthinkable to imagine the cozy little towns and villages of the River Parishes would ever be confronted with fast-food restaurants, commuting time considerations and illicit drug trade. We have a golden opportunity to make the future of the region not only palatable to lifelong residents but also conducive to economic growth. It will take communication, commitment and consideration for one another. The rewards, though, will be great.