Where We Work: Mid City Baton Rouge

We often take for granted the way cities are designed (or not designed). We might consider them as ongoing projects that are not only impacted by planners, architects, and designers - but also by citizens. As citizens, we have a lasting impact on the design and development of the places we live. Cities are shifting constellations of systems and forces like transportation, education, and health care that must be tested and engaged. This renders the city not as a static space into which one may place architecture, but as the most important materials from which to develop projects. Today, the urban cores of many American cities have seen a dramatic out-migration of people, resources, and development into the suburbs, which has left many opportunities and challenges in the city. We see the city as a laboratory in which we can take on these challenges.

The concept of “Mid City” is a relatively recent development in Baton Rouge. As such, its history cannot be viewed in isolation from the history of Baton Rouge and that of most U.S. cities. Since the end of the 19th Century, the U.S. population has more than doubled, with 68% of Americans now living in urbanized areas. In the process, however, many urban centers have grown from dense, culturally rich cores to rapidly expanding, low-density development. As technologies of movement advanced from rail to bus to automobiles, settlement patterns expanded ever more rapidly across the landscape, particularly after World War II when the notion of a “downtown” came into being and the single-family, detached home became the standard for a generation of Americans. With the Federal Highway Act of 1956, interstate system development pushed growth even further, creating a marked distinction between downtown and suburb. Today, suburban America can be characterized by single-entry neighborhoods and car-centric retail centers. At the same time, older parts of cities face challenges like aging infrastructure and housing stock.

Mid City is a roughly eight-square-mile area and was one of the first expansions of the city of Baton Rouge outside of its 1817 boundaries. The area was once considered rural outskirts of the city until its peak development in the 1940s and 50s when it was incorporated as an official part of Baton Rouge. The subsequent construction of the interstate in Baton Rouge created a significant boundary between Mid City and a municipally-recognized downtown district while facilitating the suburban exodus common in most American cities at that time. These defining moments, however, made Mid City what it is today. With 4,300 people per square mile, Mid City is denser than most of the Baton Rouge area. It contains a broad range of residences, businesses, and institutions ranging from brand new commercial developments and historic homes to strip malls and old shotgun houses. Though some areas are confronted with issues of poverty, crime, and abandoned property, Mid City can also be characterized by its historic institutions, local businesses, and active neighborhood associations. The area contains a State-recognized Arts and Culture District and a Historical District. Mid City is important to the future of Baton Rouge because of its diversity and density. It represents a significant crossroads between physical, social, and economic conditions. It can serve as fertile ground for addressing the issues faced in much of modern America.