Joy Jackson is a graduate student in UNC’s Master of Public Administration program and a CCP intern working in Caswell and Lenoir Counties.
After nearly a year of focusing our efforts in Lenoir County on the city of Kinston, CCP interns recently sat down with the town manager of nearby La Grange in an effort to engage the community and offer assistance for local projects.
Located on I-70 between the larger towns of Goldsboro and Kinston, La Grange has many notable differences from other communities where CCP works. With a population of 2,800, the town is significantly smaller than neighboring Kinston, home to over 22,000 residents. However, with a total area of only 2.3 miles it is far more densely populated than Yanceyville in Caswell County. While the town itself is small, its interconnectivity with the larger near by communities, including the matriculation of their students to North Lenoir County High School, affords easy access to additional resources. However, this proximity does not prevent the town from experiencing challenges related to its small size.
La Grange faces many of the same issues that many small towns experience. The municipality operates on a very tight budget, the result of a limited tax base and the always growing costs of maintaining town services. La Grange also struggles with high electricity costs and is currently seeking creative ways to address this issue. The revitalization of the downtown area and the construction of dedicated recreation facilities are also goals of the town manager. However, the town’s relative low cost of living, even with high utility costs, and the ties to the larger economies of nearby towns seems to provide some stability for the community and its residents.
My very initial impressions La Grange are of a relatively healthy community. Well maintained streets often lead into neighborhoods with neat lawns and tidy homes. The two square block main street, despite the town’s desire to see it revitalized, appears to have retail storefronts that are trafficked by residents. The town’s schools are newly constructed and their facilities (ball parks, play grounds, etc) seem relatively new and well kept. In addition, the construction of a local splash park, an outdoor area the size of a playground with water features where children can play, is near completion. La Grange, more so than nearby towns of the same age, has the feel of a planned community, in contrast to many older small towns whose age and incremental growth is often reflected in its layout and sometimes deterioration.
These are of course my very initial observations of the town. They will inevitably deepen, become more nuanced or change drastically as CCP becomes more involved with the community. However, what is obvious is that La Grange will provide CCP with a new back drop to implement its model which carries with it the potential for new interventions and achievements.