Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Risky Business

My friend Lisa and I were driving through Baton Rouge on a recent Saturday evening when, at the corner of Perkins and Bluebonnet Roads, we were blinded by flashing police lights.

I’m not talking about a traffic cop who had pulled over a speeder. I’m talking about a dozen patrol cars -- from Baton Rouge city police officers to state troopers to sheriff deputies -- and a lot of hubbub.

Neither of us had any idea what was going on, and moved on through the intersection, passing by one of our favorite upscale shopping destinations, Perkins Rowe.

I didn’t learn until the following morning that a shooting had occurred in the street flanking Perkins Rowe -- two groups of men fired off as many as seven gunshots, with one bullet hitting a vehicle with two adults and three children. No one was injured.

While I must emphasize that the shootings did not occur inside the mixed-use shopping and entertainment destination (as was originally, and erroneously, reported), it was a little close for comfort. And it begs the question -- how safe are open-air shopping centers at night?

I don’t have the answer to that, but I feel pretty confident that the best response is “it depends.” It depends on the location of the center, on the layout of the center, on the dynamics and demographics of the area. Perkins Rowe is in a great part of Baton Rouge -- with plenty of money and relatively little crime. But it is also a magnet for those who want to see and be seen. Charming streets encourage drive-by traffic and storefront parking. Eateries and wine bars are night-life magnets. And the landscaped courtyards and fountains are particularly pleasant on balmy Baton Rouge evenings.

It isn’t just the responsible adult patrons who are drawn to the center at night, but a less savory populace could be as well. Kids drive their cars through the streets, meet up with friends, drive around some more. Most are probably behaving, some aren’t. The young men who fired shots next-door most certainly weren’t.

Some have suggested that open-air center streets be cordoned off at night, forcing patrons to park and walk to bars and restaurants and movie theatres. I can see their point, as limiting car traffic would also impede cruising. But I also know that the harder it is to access a venue, the less likely you are to visit.


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