A City, Personified: Exploring Shreveport’s Identity

Introduction

Identity is a complicated concept burning to the core, and everyone at one time asks themselves: Who am I? Possessing a strong grasp on personal identity gives direction to our choices and clarity to our lives. Knowing yourself is the key to being successful in life.

Like human beings, cities possess a personality with specific strengths and weaknesses. While Shreveport does possess a unique personality, all too often Shreveporters have a demeanor of disappointment when it comes to what the city could be if things were only done differently. Ideas for a better Shreveport run rampant here, and the examples of failed attempts at realizing those ideas are just as numerous.

In order to propel Shreveport towards achieving its full potential, we must simultaneously explore our core identity. Like Freud dissected the psyche into three parts, let’s break down our identity crisis in a similar way: a metaphor, a question, and a way forward.

A Metaphor: Dallas

Dallas is like that much older step-sibling who’s a legend in your mind. You think about them a lot, but they have too much going on to think about you that much. Just distant enough to be cool. In your best moments, you know you want to be like them someday; in your worst moments, you feel they are too far ahead for you to ever catch up.

“Big Things Happen Here,” Dallas’ slogan, is demonstrated in their parks, bridges, museums, and even on billboards in our own city. It’s a boomtown of the twenty first century. Dallas does things big, and Shreveport’s proximity to Dallas has affected our identity, as we are often tempted to mimic Dallas and try do things big.

But that just won’t work for us.

We have some Texas flair from our close neighbor, in addition to our deep Louisiana roots. That may be why Shreveport is the biggest small town you know, yet, taken to the extreme, it only does harm to our self-worth to search for our identity by way of comparison with Dallas. We can do better, we can do “us.”

A Question: What is there to Love?

Weddings are a time when I go to a different city to see people from a distant life I forgot I had, and having conversations with these people is odd.

Those conversations are more important for me than for them because it forces me to consider why I moved away and why I enjoy Shreveport. Sometimes, it incites an existential crisis, but I take comfort in a few things that make this place what it is.

So, what do I love about this place? I love meeting passionate folks in local bands who have given their lives to music. It’s endearing to see them not only at a show, but in their commonplace, service-industry jobs. I’ve met and had substantial conversations with the local politicians who represent me. I’ve had the chance to talk with the folks who really love their city and who are making it into something better. I love hearing the conversation and character of unique neighborhoods, instead of being overwhelmed with an endless sea of suburban housing. I love unexpectedly seeing familiar faces at an art gallery, bar, restaurant, downtown street, show, or coffee shop. I love how friendly our region is towards new and aspiring business owners.

The things I love about Shreveport say something about our identity. The common thread is our smallness, our coziness, our intimacy, made possible by the size of our city. In fact, I see our city’s embrace of this smallness as a key to developing our collective self-love.

Our smallness is an asset to our identity and appeal as a city. While Shreveport’s smallness can also be a challenge, it does no good to be bashful about it. We can be the small kid on the block, but we have to develop an attitude and be smart about the way we improve our city.

A Way Forward: Magnifying the Collective “We”

So how should we move forward? Do we need something big and shiny to make our city more attractive? Maybe, but first, let’s ingest a healthy dose of wariness.

Shreveport has a complicated relationship with big ideas and industries. For example, take the casinos, which came about in the mid 1990’s. We hoped they would be a boon to our struggling economy. As the Shape of Shreveport documentary series pointed out in the episode “Out at Home,” the casinos were a win by bringing tourist dollars in. However, they reduced demand on other entertainment outlets, like the Shreveport Captains and Mudbugs, playing a part in both of the teams’ demise. While seen as a cure, the casinos didn’t slow the downfall already in play from the manufacturing sector.

Big industries were leaving Shreveport. GM’s plant was slowing, AT&T vacated, and the oil and gas booms and busts over the years have eviscerated the Shreveport economy. It serves as a lesson that we can’t put all our eggs into one basket. We need to diversify, we can’t put all our effort into attracting one industry – be it film, energy, or entertainment.

The collective “we”, the people of the city, is what makes this place attractive. Why? In many ways, it is easy for individuals, like industries, to make a difference in Shreveport. This, again, is due to our size, and it can work both ways. There are a few big fish in our small pond that make it what it is. At our best, these people are legends in the community. Whether an architect involved in the arts or a councilman giving back to his neighborhood, these people give life to our city. At our worst, some malevolent big fish present conflicts of interest which move resources out from the community. Additionally, the loss of our benevolent big fish (think leaders of Cohab and the Robinson) can leave us reeling. We are the ones who determine our direction.

So magnifying the collective “we” by allowing new voices to contribute to the community will make Shreveport more attractive. It will increase our accountability and transparency because we will have more engaged eyes and ears. It will increase our resilience because we will have extra hands and feet to step up and contribute when seasons change. It will increase our versatility by allowing a more diverse group of people to have a say in how Shreveport’s identity continues to evolve.

Shreveport, keep your head high. Don’t sacrifice your self-worth through comparison. Embrace the small things that make you who you are. You’ve got a bright future.