July 28, 2016 02:02 PM
Clifton Chenier, zydeco king and prince of McComb-Veazey

Editor's Note: The following is the second part in a series of distillations and analysis of reports published by LCG's Evangeline Corridor Initiative. Click here for the first installment, covering Downtown and Freetown/Port Rico.

Based on resident feedback in a report published by the Evangeline Corridor Initiative, folks in McComb-Veazey are keenly aware of what the I-49 Connector project presents — an opportunity to hook McComb back into Lafayette’s urban network, or make permanent the separation rended open by the construction of the Evangeline Thurway in the 1960s. The good news is that residents of McComb haven’t forgotten their once mighty bustle. The bad news is it’s unclear how to bring it back.

That sense of history — memories of a vibrant, swinging and swaggering zydeco and swamp pop scene in the 1960s — is a genuine asset for McComb’s aspirations. The neighborhood lays compelling claim to historic significance as the birth place of Clifton Chenier and the home of the long lost Blue Angel Club. Scores of historic homes and a biographical connection to monumental cultural figures like Chenier and the important tradition he represents make a case for McComb to clamor for historic preservation status. To be sure, achieving historic designation takes tremendous effort. Architecture students worked for two years in Freetown/Port Rico, documenting homes and history to land the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic places just this year.

While not a panacea, a historic designation could unlock some of the economic tangle that’s kept McComb in disrepair for decades by introducing tax incentives for home repair and upkeep, depending on the type of designation received.

Residents report malignant disinvestment in the district dating back to the 1960s, a direct result of the kind of infrastructural racism cauterized by the Thruway.

There’s a sense in the report that McComb residents think of the rest of Lafayette as mere steps from their doorways but a world apart from their homes. “You can’t get to the hospital if a train is coming,” the report notes.

The expressed purpose of the charrette that generated the report — and the federal grant that funded them — was to gather insight and vision of how McComb would interact with the Connector. The report reveals optimism for bootstrap economic opportunity provided to McComb by the Connector’s design and construction. With the right design, the report indicates, residents believe McComb could see the sort of improvements that would attract new businesses to the commercially bereft area.

Resident suggestions of new bike paths, better access to public transit and improvements to existing connections to Downtown like the Jefferson Street Underpass demonstrate a desire to re-link with the rest of Lafayette’s historic urban core. Banded together, McComb and other neighborhoods caught on “the wrong side” of the Thruway, as the report puts it, could provide patronage essential to continued growth on the other side of the tracks and highway.

That perceived alienation from a white Lafayette moving southward is, naturally, nothing new. With Northside High parched for education dollars, the school board builds a new school in Youngsville. While historic neighborhood thoroughfares in McComb remain cracked and crumbling, the city adds lanes to Verot School Road. Besides funding for a new park in the area, the budget is scant on major improvements in the district.

But the neighborhood has a lot going for it the way of pride, unity and vision thanks to efforts by groups like the McComb-Veazey Coterie. Funding and investment are key, but pride, identity and a long memory for what can be go a long way in turning neighborhoods around.