Steven Jackson is the District 3 Commissioner in Caddo Parish, LA, representing several Shreveport-area neighborhoods including Allendale (which the I-49 inner city connector would cut through). Jackson began his term in 2016. I spoke with him earlier this month to hear his thoughts on the I-49 project, the impact of Shreveport's existing inner city highways and what makes Allendale a special neighborhood.
Rachel Quednau: What’s been your involvement in the I-49 connector?
Steven Jackson: Last year, I became an elected official. I did work for the previous mayor as a staffer. I would go to the MPO meetings to represent him when he couldn’t go. I didn’t have a vote or a voice, though, because I was representing him.
As an elected official myself I’ve been a little concerned and somewhat skeptical of the community participation and the way the public meetings have been done. I don’t think we’ve done the best that we possibly could to get as much public input and be sympathetic to the needs of the citizens of that community.
I don’t advocate for or against the project. I’m just trying to provide facts.
Rachel: How do the residents in your district feel about the project?
Steven: Their position is, for the most part, opposed to the inner city connector because a lot of them would be uprooted. The perception is that these are just low-income renters and unemployed people. The truth is that most of the people that live on the route actually own their homes.
One of the things that individuals can cherish in this country is the right to own property. In this case, you have folks who own their property who pay mortgages, they pay taxes... There are some folks in my district, though, who believe it’s good.
Rachel: Do you think the inner-city connector would be good or bad for your district?
Steven: What I will say is we already have I-49 running through our city. I say to people, let’s drive on I-49 from where it dead-ends into the city [Take a virtual drive on Google Streetview]. For the most part, all that you see are gas stations, fast food restaurants and a couple of big box chain stores. Let’s look at what we have as a best practice or litmus test. Given the test that we have, you don’t see this big economic development that people claim.
Shreveport’s areas with the fastest growing real estate and the fastest growing economic development are the areas furthest away from the interstate.
Rachel: When do you realistically think a decision will be made about which highway path to move forward on?
Steven: You know, there’s a process but as we see now with President Trump, he has indicated that he wants a very large infrastructure bill and he also has indicated that he wants to reduce the environmental review process. That’s kind of where the [I-49 connector] process continues to be held up. So really it’s going to be up to what the change in national policy is.
Rachel: Who are the different stakeholders for this project and what are their motivations for supporting or not supporting the different options?
Steven: I try to not to get into what other groups or individuals motivations are. I do know what motivates the folks who are against it. They say, “This is our neighborhood.” There’s a sense of pride and ownership. Twenty or thirty years ago that wasn’t the case. It was gangs and drugs in the neighborhood. People have questioned whether that was neglected because of the interstate. They closed schools...
But that’s no longer the case. It’s been cleaned up. When the weather is nice I like to ride through my district. You see kids playing in the street. That’s almost nonexistent in today’s America with Facebook and Snapchat. These are kids out riding their bikes, riding their skateboards, running up and down playing basketball…
Rachel: What other positive things are happening in the neighborhood right now?
Steven: There’s a community garden. That was a grocery store effort but it's temporarily closed... The buying power of that nonprofit grocery store (Fuller Center for Housing) just wasn’t as strong as a Walmart or a Kroger. While they were selling tomatoes at 10 cents, the neighborhood grocery store was selling them at 25 cents. I’m looking to connect the nonprofit to the hospital or casino that buys food in bulk.
Thanks to Commissioner Steven Jackson for taking the time to speak with Strong Towns.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
(Top photo from Heliopolis.la)