New Orleans is one of the most poor and obese cities in the country. And if health is wealth, then the city is sick. Maybe even ICU sick in some instances. If only we could create jobs in healthcare that focuses on improving the community’s health. And train and hire people from the community. Then we could kill two birds with one stone. Reduce poverty and simultaneously improve our health. The proposed New Orleans Biodistrict can do that and more. That’s the kind of creative thinking our city needs.
Crime leads the daily news cycle. We see senseless killing on our streets daily. The mayor’s long-term approach to invest in youth training has yielded mixed results. The short-term result is an increase in homicides. But as terrible as these heinous crimes are, they pale in comparison to the destruction and devastation from health-related deaths. We willingly invest in more police and police technology.
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The “if it bleeds it leads” media obsession highlights the 300 tragic murders but completely ignores the thousands who needlessly die annually from poor health. Diabetes, heart ailments, and stroke kill more black men than all the shootings in all the metro parishes combined. People point to crime as a reason to recall the mayor. But we struggle to form and fund an innovative corridor that will not only improve health but also reduce crime.
The Biodistict New Orleans was created in 2005 by the state legislature. It is a business and health corridor from Carrollton Ave to Loyola and from Iberville to Earhart. It incorporates
- VA Hospital
- Tulane Hospital
- New Orleans BioInnovation Center
- Louisiana Cancer Research Center
- LSU Medical School
- Tulane Medical School
- Delgado School of Nursing
- Xavier University
New Orleans Working BioDistrict
Their vision is simple. It will make us healthier and safer. The district will make our city a better place to live. It promises not to gentrify the neighborhoods. People won’t be displaced. In fact their lives will be enhanced by the jobs and access to healthcare that our city sorely needs now. According to their literature the BioDistrict –
- will position New Orleans as a global center of excellence in healthcare specialties (e.g. cancer, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases). It will be a hub for healthcare industry anchors, world class research, biotech startups, and small businesses. The job-creating potential of an innovation district guides the economic development strategy for the BioDistrict.
- The BioDistrict seeks to create a model for equity and economic inclusion, including small business creation, local hiring, and workforce training to increase the wealth of residents in the region.
- The BioDistrict will be a walkable, vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community. Residents, researchers, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, and visitors will want to come here to live, work, innovate, and heal.
The biggest holdup had been an unclear vision and lack of oversight. The mayor, the governor, state representatives, economic agencies and university leaders appoint the board. But as they say, the devil is in the details. But issues still exist-
- A well laid out true master plan must be presented to the public. Public input is crucial.
- Including New Orleans East and The New Orleans East Hospital must be included.
- Clear financial benefits to the city must be defined. This is TIF money.
- City Council level flexibility to change the CEA is mandatory.
- This is an agreement between the state and the city. Who controls the money? The citizens of New Orleans must have control.
If this is not possible, then the current CEA is not the correct agreement. The BioDistrict can transform our city. We have to do it right. It’s been 17 years in the making. Be intentional. Get it right.
We need new ideas and projects in order to grow the city. The BioDisrict will attract startup companies. Included in the new proposal is a startup incubator that helps local young business people become startups that will anchor the community. Imagine out people healthy. Imagine our people transformed.Then imagine out people enriched. That’s a New Orleans we can all love. New Orleans needs the BioDistrict. But it needs the BioDistrict properly configured.