The gist: Recent surveys — including our own — have shed light on what might drive away Lafayette’s next generation. So we followed up with a second survey asking what’s attractive about staying put. With nearly 100 responses, they had a lot to say.
What’s keeping young people here? Culture, food and family. (Quotes edited for brevity and clarity.)
Culture. Over a third of survey takers cited Lafayette’s culture as a big factor for staying here. It’s a double-edged sword. Our first survey found that the emphasis on the Acadian heritage led to a hyper-conservative political climate that felt hostile to new ideas and marginalized people. On the other side of the coin, our festivals, rich history and growing emphasis on the arts create a cultural gravity that isn’t easily replicated.
“The culture is the biggest thing that keeps me here. While the city’s culture and history may be marred with racism, it is also given way to resilient and caring people who do help each other out. Seeing people put up community fridges, stand for LGBT acceptance, and shedding light on various injustices around the city show that this town is changing ultimately for the better. We can reconcile with our past and see ways to improve. Our difference is our future; we do not have long-established cities like New York, or monolithic local governments that are difficult to change. We pretty much have a blank slate to build whatever future we want for the city. That’s what keeps me here, knowing we can change. Knowing we can mold this city to be whatever the people need and want.” — Stephen Marcantel, 26.
(Disclosure: Marcantel is a contributor to The Current)
Family. About 53% of folks said their family was a major factor in their decision to stay. While young people are looking at settling down, they’re taking note that their roots are here. Whether it be aging parents, friends or children, young folks are leaning on their villages.
“I moved away more than 13 years ago after high school but recently moved back. There were lots of pros and cons to coming home, but what ultimately brought us back was the desire to be closer to family and friends.” — Hayes Berthelot, 32.
Food. Almost 40% of respondents cited food as a major advantage to living in Lafayette. From plate lunches to po-boys, nowhere else tastes quite like home.
“My 15-year-old who has lived all over with me and has wanderlust like no other says he’d never leave Lafayette. When asked why, he says, ‘There’s literally no where even close to it. You’d just miss it all the time and eventually come back. And you’d probably starve to death. Have you tried food in places like Arizona?’” — Sam Leger, 34.
Housing: While rental prices are climbing, Lafayette is generally affordable, and more affordable than competing cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge. People have also noted that becoming a homeowner feels more attainable here as opposed to other places. That contrasts with some of what we heard in our first survey.
Small Town Feel/Safety: Lafayette has enough of a social scene to keep young people busy without losing its charming small-town feel. Crime is perceived to be relatively low, and people feel safer here compared to other large cities in Louisiana.
Development: There are a lot of projects in the works that keep people optimistic for a future in the Hub City. New businesses, revitalizing Downtown, the upcoming bike plan.
Other Young People: That’s right, young folks are keeping young folks here. People are investing in the community and speaking out to be forces of change in Lafayette, altering the outlook of what can be possible in the city.