Innovative Planner Suggests Lafayette Can Fashion Itself into a Competitive Location

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Uncategorized

“Capital follows people. People follow place. Place needs investment.”

James Lima, of JLP+D, a New York City planning firm that specializes in the economics of placemaking, coined those lines to help describe what communities must do to “design, activate and manage places” to increase connections between people and the physical spaces around them.

Lima discussed “The Experience of Place” Wednesday evening at The Acadiana Center for The Arts. He was the quarterly speaker for Civic Con Acadiana, hosted by One Acadiana and presented by Stuller Industries.

Lima’s remarks focused on successful community placemaking efforts in a variety of urban settings, including those in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Pensacola, Fla.; Asheville, N.C. His firm, which specializes in the economics of placemaking, participated in many of those placemaking efforts. His remarks included observations about community placemaking efforts in downtown Lafayette.

Lima said by connecting community assets together, planners can create vibrant places that will “unlock” real estate values, capture the value created and redirect that value to achieve community goals. The treasured result of such efforts would be to help downtowns and cities become more compelling to people and thus more competitive.

He said a sense of place is important because people today have more choices about where they wish to work and live. He also said that downtowns are “talent attractions,” a belief shared by downtown Lafayette enthusiasts who have been trying myriad approaches in downtown to lure talented young people to live and work there.

Lima suggested that urban downtowns position themselves for growth by attracting residents – more “feet on the street,” he said – by encouraging establishment of restaurants and nightspots, by supporting the arts by locating museums and entertainment venues downtown, and with parks and open spaces.

“That positions you well as a community,” he said.

Downtowns also should invest in “great places” by supporting better lighting, defined shopping areas, primary streets and with attractive streetscaping.

Lafayette, he said, serves itself well with Parc San Souci, which he said could be improved, and with the Opportunity Machine, which attracts entrepreneurs.

Of special appeal, he said, is the proximity of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“A lot of cities would like a campus at the edge of downtown,” he said. That creates a challenge – making a better connection between UL Lafayette and the downtown.

“Every year, Lafayette is a ‘talent factory’,” he suggested, that “makes thousands of graduates. That’s extremely valuable” to a community.

Lafayette’s downtown can claim an arts center, an annual international festival, a focus on innovative restaurants. Downtown, he said, should “amplify itself as an important cultural center.”

“I’m struck by how much you have,” he said, including a stock of buildings, a walkable downtown, bike lanes, arts and culture venues.

A challenge, he said, was that Johnston Street does not invite people to walk from the campus to downtown. He said improving that connection will take thought and planning.

City and university leaders said the campus-to-downtown disconnect has been proven in the past. In a 2014 survey, they said, many UL Lafayette students seemed to be unaware of where downtown was. Some suggested it was from two to five miles away from the campus, rather than just the few blocks that it is.

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