No doubt, 2022 was a noisy political year. Underneath it, though, Lafayette tackled some sticky issues and made meaningful strides.
The Current commits investigative muscle not just to the challenges our community faces, but to probing for solutions near and far.
In stories I’ve reported and edited this year, I’ve seen promise all over our community, including efforts to tackle Lafayette’s mountain of blighted properties, its mounting fentanyl deaths, food insecurity and more.
While we look ahead to 2023, we should take stock of momentum we can build on.
Why this matters: Tax delinquent properties are choking Lafayette’s urban core. There are literally hundreds of them, most concentrated in distressed neighborhoods, and they are linked to violent crime and evaporating wealth. Years after adopting a policy to address this issue, Lafayette Consolidated Government began to execute it, working with nonprofits, developers and homeowners to offload the properties and put them back into productive use. In the last 24 months, LCG processed around 200 adjudicated parcels. That’s a win.
Why this matters: About half of Lafayette residents live in a food desert. It’s a staggering and almost unbelievable stat, but it underscores a wide income disparity and the economic collapse on the Northside. Naming the problem was step one. From there, local government, nonprofits and community groups have stepped in to fill the gap. Lafayette has long way to go — every city does — but solutions are in motion that may restore access to good nutrition in some of our poorest neighborhoods while giving them an economic boost, too.
Why this matters: “It’s a significant baby step,” McComb Veazey chair Tina Bingham told me this year about a sweep of new projects underway in the Evangeline Thruway corridor.
Lafayette’s urban core neighborhoods have been stuck in limbo by the decades-delayed I-49 Connector. Now, some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods are seeing streams of public investment ahead of the Connector’s construction.
The Guillory administration put $14 million worth of Evangeline Corridor projects in motion in 2022, up from $500,000 the year before. Maybe we don’t have to wait on the Connector to move Lafayette forward?
Why this matters: The biggest flaw in LCG’s bike plan is that it may well be too ambitious for a community that’s been, at-best, bike skeptical. The inner loop concept alone would be a world-class facility, but it goes further than that, blazing bike trails to the far-flung corners of the city. If the Guillory administration can get over the political hurdles to come, the bike plan could be transformative in terms of how we get around and how Lafayette competes in the marketplace for talent.
Why this matters: This story was a glimmer of hope in an unfolding tragedy. Efforts to distribute the overdose-reversing drug naloxone have largely worked, slowing down the rate of opioid deaths reported in Lafayette Parish. The death toll is still disturbing, up 300% from 2015. Stephen Marcantel’s reporting underscores a note of frustrated hope: We’ve got a way to save lives, but distribution remains a challenge.
Progress in the fentanyl crisis underscores the two edges of solutions reporting: Spotlighting a workable fix can make its limitations achingly clear.
A cynical view would point out that baby steps only get you so far. I’d counter this way: So long as they’re moving us in the right direction, they’re worth taking.