Bunkie: Newly-rural Louisiana area, striving to grow

Experts concerned rural areas will need to turn to metropolitan areas for resources in future
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 8:10 PM CST
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BUNKIE, La. (KALB) - In a city made up of just over 3,300 people and surrounded by farming families, it is likely of no surprise that Bunkie is now considered a rural area by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The change in classification comes after the bureau changed its criteria around the population density considered as urban, increasing the minimum population from 2,500 to 5,000. Bunkie was just one of 27 Louisiana areas, and one of four areas in Central Louisiana, to be re-classified as rural.

“I always thought of Bunkie as being a rural community. I never thought we had the distinction of being urban,” said Bunkie Mayor Brenda Sampson, a lifelong resident of the area. “I guess I was mainly basing it on the agricultural aspect of it because we have a thriving farming community.”

For decades, Bunkie’s rolling fields of rice and sugarcane were accompanied by a vibrant Mainstreet downtown. However, as the population struggled to grow, the city had to face the challenges that came with it, regardless of its classification.

“The only concern I have is trying to get some of our businesses and get more businesses in Bunkie, and I don’t think that matters whether you’re classified as urban or rural,” said Sampson. “I just would like Bunkie to thrive and be the best that it can.”

Sampson said the city has leaned into efforts to get mom-and-pop shops, which once defined the City of Bunkie, up and running again, as well as restoring downtown and removing blighted properties.

“We want to bring everybody into the fold. We want to have the mom and pop, but we’d like anybody else that wants to come into Bunkie to come in and we’ll be here to support them,” said Sampson.

Experts, however, fear those living in stagnant and declining populations of rural Louisiana could eventually experience a declining quality of life. Those areas will need to rely on metropolitan cities to provide what they can not. For Central Louisiana rural areas, like the newly-rural Jena, Many, Cottonport and Bunkie, that city is Alexandria.

“You have a place like Alexandria that’s looking both at its own city and how it grows, develops,” said Dr. Matt Fannin, an agricultural economist with the Baton Rouge LSU AgCenter. “And at the same time, it is the major retail trade center for all of Central Louisiana.”

Sampson said that is the way residents of Bunkie view Alexandria, as well, and she recognizes the need for the city to coordinate with metropolitan areas for sustainability and growth.

“There are certain things that Bunkie’s just not going to be able to do,” explained Sampson. “That we need to form a coalition with these mayors of these larger cities, and it’s almost like we’re an outshoot of these cities.”

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