ECI Report Snapshot: The wisdom of one of Lafayette’s oldest subdivisions

by Christiaan Mader

Sterling Grove figures large in the Connector's history. It will also figure large in the Connector's legacy.

A beautification and redevelopment concept for Sterling Grove sketched by ECI designers Evangeline Corridor Initiative

[Editor's Note: The following is the fourth part in a series of distillations and analysis of reports published by LCG's Evangeline Corridor Initiative. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sterling Grove is the oldest subdivision in Lafayette. That distinction belongs to Mill's Addition. We regret the error.]

Not only is Sterling Grove one of Lafayette’s oldest subdivision, its residents are among the I-49 Connector’s oldest gadflies. Since the early 1990s, folks hailing from the majestic oaken streets east of the Thruway have lobbied to keep the Connector as far away from their historic homes as they could manage. The once, and likely present, residents of Lafayette’s first historic district succeeded in bending the Connector away from the Romanesque facade of St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church, playing a key role in shaping the geometry of the Connector’s current design.

For the purposes of the Evangeline Corridor Initiative’s federally funded studies, the dissents and desires of Sterling Grove’s current residents are collected along with those of locals to the nearby LaPlace and Simcoe neighborhoods, which don’t face exactly the same issues. Proximity to the Connector is an obvious and shared concern, but the report also points to standing complaints of widespread blight, crime, pervasive homelessness and noise — i.e. the rumbling of passing trains and their noxious horns —which affect each neighborhood in similar but evidently varying degrees.

LaPlace and Simcoe have not attracted much affluence by way of stately and historic homes, as has been the case in Sterling Grove. Those two neighborhoods want to redress concerns regarding the Connector similar to those communicated by Sterling Grove, but they lack the clout of federal historic protections granted to that neighborhood. The historic designation enabled residents of Sterling Grove to win considerations in the Connector’s original environmental documents and consequent preliminary designs of several years ago.

By and large, folks in all three neighborhoods feel left out of Lafayette's late twentieth century growth. Like residents of the other historic interior neighborhoods studied by ECI — McComb-Veazey, Downtown, Freetown/Port Rico — neighbors in Sterling Grove, La Place and Simcoe blame the Evangeline Thruway for disconnecting them from a Lafayette which sprawled southward and outward, in a microcosm of white flight.

However the Connector is built through the district — as an elevated or buried mainline — it appears that reconnecting with Downtown is a priority for residents in the area.

“If Downtown were more accessible, then a lot of the challenges would be eliminated,” the report says of area accessibility. An upcoming re-striping of a stretch of West Congress Street will connect La Place to Downtown with bike lanes, crosswalks and reduced traffic speeds. That’s a development yet threatened by the Connector’s eventual design.

Of particular note here is poor access to essential services like urgent care clinics or hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and money. While not explicit, the report alludes to at least anecdotal cases of redlining in the three neighborhood district— an illegal practice in which banks refuse loans in poverty stricken neighborhoods, usually populated with minorities. That perception comports with the crushing investment malaise reported throughout the studied Corridor.

That cycle of disinvestment could be largely tangential to issues raised by the Connector’s construction. Why urban, historic city centers suffer the way that they do is a complicated topic not limited to infrastructural racism. Yet the report reveals a sense that the interstate’s structure could mitigate or make worse the economic prospects in that area.

Residents want commercial activity, but they don’t want the big box retail, gas stations and hotels typically associated with interstate zones. They want what they perceive to be the privileged bounty of the other side of the Thruway — wine bars, cafés and farmers markets. That’s a familiar refrain. Once again, as in McComb-Veazey and Freetown, folks in Sterling Grove perceive themselves on the wrong side of the tracks.