Turk File

Lafayette, clean up your act!

by Leslie Turk

Project Front Yard has been launched to help us change our image and our habits.

Photo by Robin May

City-Parish President Joey Durel and IberiaBank Acadiana President Jerry Vascocu unveil Project Front Yard, a community-wide initiative to help the city have a cleaner, more appealing "front yard."

Who could argue that Lafayette's curb appeal leaves something to be desired - a lot of something, actually. And according to local business and political leaders, our collective lack of community pride is costing us on the economic and job development front. Lafayette's food, music, culture and strength as an energy hub have carried us thus far, but some prospective job creators and business recruits are so turned off by their first impression of our fair city and parish that they pass us by for the next best opportunity and don't look back.

As he enters his final year in office, City-Parish President Joey Durel has determined that a cleaner, more appealing Lafayette Parish will be a part of his legacy. He launched Project Front Yard Monday at an epic press conference that brought together business leaders, various government agencies and institutions, and united local media to do more than amp up our Cleanest City ratings. He seeks nothing short of a cultural change in our community's psyche.

Durel has been blind-sided by the deep concern about litter among Lafayette's top CEOs. "When we first started meeting with local business leaders about what's important to Lafayette's futureĀ  it became pretty clear that their No. 1 concern was litter," he said, expecting issues like infrastructure, taxes and business incentives to top the list. Clearly Lafayette's aesthetic shortcomings have been on Durel's mind for much of his tenure, but a conversation with Advertiser publisher Judy Terzotis shortly after she transferred here from Colorado Springs sparked an idea.

Stunned by the gap between reputation and reality, the Gannett transplant suggested that community pride was an issue that all local media could rally around. As a result Durel summoned representatives from local print, radio, TV and billboard companies to his office recently and secured more than $500,000 in in-kind donations for Project Front Yard. "I said from the very beginning that buy in from the media was crucial to cultural change," he said, "and if the media didn't get behind it, we couldn't move forward."

Some key points from Monday's press conference:
- enforcement and prosecution for both civil and criminal infractions will be stepped up for everything from drive-by litter and snipe signs to abandoned cars and blighted-properties;
- local businesses can earn Project Front Yard designations for participating as good corporate citizens;
- the "Adopt a Road" program will be revamped into an "Adopt a Space" program with more frequent clean-up commitments for sponsors;
- public art projects are underway to make gateways to the city more attractive;
- public dollars can be directed to resurrect decaying parts of the city; for example, an investment in Four Corners via the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority will require a vote of the LCG council on Oct. 7;
- hundreds of donated shade trees will be planted this fall in three of the city's parks by members of The 705;
- both UL and the Lafayette Parish public school system have launched clean up projects that include student engagement for litter control;
- and Durel has directed LUS to develop a strategy for relocating utilities underground using public and private resources.

"This isn't something we're going to do in a matter of weeks, months or even a year," said Durel. "Change like this is going to take four years, five years. I couldn't be more excited to get started."