Local leaders have been taking lessons

Published 11:40 pm Thursday, July 26, 2007

Parlez vous Francias?

I bet you didn’t know it, but many of our local leaders sure can.

In fact, they have become adept at speaking what many consider to be the most romantic of all languages.

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But before you think our elected leaders from both sides of the river have been listening to French on tape courses while driving in their cars, let me explain.

When I say they can speak French, I don’t mean so much with their mouths as I do with their pocketbooks.

If you have ever visited Paris on a summer vacation or honeymoon, you know that the “City of Lights” is filled with monument after monument.

From the Arch de Triomphe to the Louvre Pyramid, the capital city of France is crammed with impressive architecture.

If you get caught up in the lights, music and romance of Paris, you miss an important point — each one of these massive projects was built to demonstrate power.

And not just any power, but the power of one man.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the Arch de Triomphe in the height of his reign to commemorate his victory at Austerlitz.

When the construction of the project proved to be taking too long, Napoleon had a full-scale wooden replica to be built for his bride to see when she first entered the city.

If you think Napoleon thought highly of himself, try Francios Mitterand.

Mittterand, who ruled France from 1981 to 1995, was the master of building monumental projects.

In fact, the French socialist planned a series of projects the press dubbed “The Grand Projects.”From the Louvre Pyramid, to the Chunnel, to the National Library, millions, if not billions of dollars were spent on creating architectural masterpieces.

So what does this have to do with Southwest Mississippi?

The French lesson from Mitterand, Napoleon and other rulers in between is this — nothing shows the public that you are doing great things for your city like a monumental project.

Politicians love big projects and the politicians of the Miss-Lou are no different.

Look around you. In the past seven years I have been living in Natchez, the area has seen a sudden building blitz of monumental projects.

Big projects are glamorous and demonstrate that the city can do good things.

Starting with the Natchez Convention Center, the leaders of both Natchez and Vidalia have become interested in building “grand projects” of their own.

Towers and brick edifices have started to dot the Miss-Lou landscape.

The Natchez Convention Center, the Gateway Center in Vidalia, the Vidalia Riverfront and the new bridge over Liberty Road are three examples of monumental projects for the area commissioned by our local and state leaders.

Those are clearly public projects.

But even private, multi-million dollar projects, like the new convention center hotel, the condominiums on the bluff and the Roth Hill development are touted by our public leaders as proof they are doing something good for the city.

But if there is a final lesson from our French neighbors it might be this — while the city is trying to build monuments what is happening to the rest of the town?

In recent weeks, stories about overgrown properties, aging infrastructure and lack of recreational opportunities have made the news.

Each one of these issues has been around for many, many years, over many administrations.

As the sounds of construction fill the air, there has been little progress from our leaders on these issues.

Over the last few years there has been a reassessment of Mitterand’s grand projects. Twelve years after the leader’s death, some Frenchmen see Mitterand projects more as grand follies and a waste of government money.

Let’s hope residents of the Miss-Lou won’t feel the same a decade from now.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor at The Natchez Democrat.