Phillip LaFargue II, 34 – Communications director . Center for Planning Excellence

Phillip LaFargue II describes himself as an out-of-the-box thinker. It’s a trait that serves him well in his position as communications director of the Center for Planning Excellence, where he says he strives to create a safe space for ideas in project planning and the handling of CPEX’s media relations.

CPEX coordinates urban and rural neighborhood, community, parish, and regional planning in Louisiana with local governments through technical assistance, community outreach, and education.

“The hardest part of my job is that what we’re doing is making the case for something that does not yet exist,” he says. “CPEX comes up with solutions but does not tell people how to live.”

For LaFargue it’s a challenge, but one that is always interesting—and for a cause in which he is deeply passionate. CPEX grew out of Plan Baton Rouge, a program to revitalize downtown Baton Rouge and surrounding neighborhoods. Since hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, CPEX has a larger statewide role coordinating economic development, transportation, walkable neighborhoods, preservation of open space, mixed land use and housing, and fostering distinctive communities.

LaFargue enjoys hearing the input and ideas that come from a community grappling with how to grow in a smart and sustainable fashion. “Large public meetings are the norm with direct questions and answers,” he says. “Property rights, large sums of money, and political factors are involved.”

Born in Lake Charles, LaFargue has a bachelor’s degree in English from LSU and a Master’s degree in communications design from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He worked as a design consultant in Atlanta, as a city-planning advocate in Washington, D.C., and as a health care facilities designer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., before returning to his native Louisiana and joining CPEX.

“I’ve been in art, radio, and music promotion since college,” LaFargue notes. He is co-founder, brand manager, and designer for Valcour Records showcasing Louisiana musicians. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts.

“A person can make an impact as an individual in Baton Rouge. The city is ripe for progress,” he says. “I was uncertain coming into the community, but I am surrounded by bright people with exciting plans. I like being part of that.”

I wanted to be an artist or a Disney animator.

I would be an author, writer, illustrator, or screenwriter.

Don’t be afraid to have original ideas. No matter how farfetched, no matter your income or your education, share your ideas out loud. Just because something has never been done doesn’t mean your ideas can’t have an impact.

Baton Rouge has positive assets–a great downtown with nightlife, LSU research, and good health and medical care.

The Mississippi River, the LSU lakes, the Manship Theatre, and Town Square.

We debate whether to improve the community first or get more jobs first. It’s like the question of which comes first—the chicken or the egg. If we take dramatic steps to bring in good problem-solvers, other things will take care of themselves.

The hardest part of my job is that what we’re doing is making the case for something that does not yet exist.

During the next five years, I want to create something new that does two things: 1). It delivers quality information to the public citizen to make an informed decision about his or her community, and 2). It connects talent and creativity to opportunity.

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