COLUMN: Falling back in love with what Lafayette is — and what it can be

People dancing in front of a stage at Festivals Acadiens
The Acadiana Advocate

Since moving to Lafayette in 2010, I’ve been one of its biggest hype men. Its food. Its music, Its festivals. Its culture. Its innovation. Its people. I don’t just love these things. I love telling other people about them. 

The last few years have been tough on my love for Lafayette. Our stagnating economy cost friends jobs and has dried up capital for local nonprofits, businesses and startups. National political rancor infected our politics, distracting from what local governments should really pay attention to, like paving roads and improving drainage. 

Making matters worse, when the pandemic hit, it took away so much of what I love about this place. My wife and I chose to lock down hard to protect ourselves and our young daughter. We removed ourselves from normal routines of communing with friends and being active participants in our culture. We were lucky to stay healthy and employed while largely working from home. But we were no longer able to share in most of what we enjoyed about living in Lafayette.

A switch flipped in my head. I became a vocal critic. My rose-colored glasses shattered. 

Things got bad enough that I found myself seriously pondering the possibility of a future that didn’t include us being in Lafayette. Of not raising my child here. Of no longer building my career here. Of finding a new community to become a part of. And I know I’m not alone — several of my friends had chosen to leave for greener pastures in recent years. While the prospect of moving away filled me with sadness, it was becoming increasingly hard to believe that the rest of our lives would be best spent here rather than someplace else.

That’s all changed in the last few months. Not only because we got my daughter vaccinated and now feel comfortable getting back into the swing of enjoying the food, music, festivals and people of Lafayette. But because I’ve regained a perspective that has restored my belief in Lafayette as a great place to make a life and raise a family.

Traveling, for example, helped me rediscover my appreciation for the quality of life Lafayette has to offer. We spent a week in Denver recently, and while it’s undoubtedly a great city and we had a great time, that trip reminded me how much I hate driving. We spent hours on the road just getting around town. Whereas our first night back, we drove two minutes to Downtown, parked with ease, walked a block to get some delicious food at Vestal, walked another block to see Dege Legg’s amazing Cablog show at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, walked a block back to the garage, and, after another two-minute drive, we were back home. 

But it’s not just about convenience or access to great food and cultural activities. What we love most is the sense of connectedness we have to this community. On that night out we literally ran into more than a dozen friends we were excited to see and make plans with to spend more time together.

While bigger cities provide access to more activities and venues, what’s often missing is that sense of community. A colleague of mine who lives in Denver even commented about how it wasn’t common for people in that area to get together just to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Yet that’s second nature in this part of the world. Part of what we love about Lafayette is how it’s a community that actively creates new opportunities and reasons to commune with each other.

Lafayette also provides so many opportunities to make a difference. As much as I am infuriated and saddened by the many ways the mayor-president is violating my city’s rights and wasting our tax dollars, I feel like I can actually do something about it. Having lived in larger cities before, I know how much more helpless it can feel to be anonymous, to be disconnected, to not feel like anything I may do can actually move the needle.

A perfect example of this shift in my mindset is how I reacted to One Acadiana’s leadership trip to Pensacola, Fla. If I’m being honest, I’d become pretty cynical about events like this. Over the years Lafayette has sent multiple delegations to multiple successful cities, all with the intent of learning lessons about what worked elsewhere to apply them back home. Time after time, it seemed like nothing came out of these trips, as Lafayette continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, squandering opportunities to unlock our full potential.

Yet this time, rather than wallowing in that cynicism, a different perspective took hold. Something Quint Studer said months ago about his work revitalizing Pensacola stuck in my head. When push came to shove, revitalizing Pensacola came down to people deciding they wanted to make a difference.

This realization made me think of something that builder and boudin-maker Greg Walls told me recently. I was praising his magical Les Contes de Galerie dinner-and-a-show series at Johnson’s Boucaniere, the amazing barbecue restaurant that he and his wife built and operate. He chalked it up to a simple recipe: He’s just working to make Lafayette the kind of city he wants to live in.

That’s really what it’s all about — and what I’m most excited about. Not just enjoying what Lafayette is today, but dreaming about what Lafayette can be tomorrow. Not just in the abstract, but in the ways any one of us can make efforts to build a brighter future here in whatever image we see fit.

It’s that exact attitude and mindset that fostered the creation of Festival Acadiens et Créoles and Festival International a few decades ago, of LUS Fiber and the Acadiana Center for the Arts more than a decade ago. Or catalyzed the creation of events like the Krewe de Canailles walking parade or The Current itself a few years ago.

Not only do we have great food and great music and great festivals and great people. But what we also have is the perfect environment for people to get involved in making a difference. In coming together to create something new that can make a significant impact on improving our own lives and the lives of everyone around us.

Lafayette is undoubtedly flawed. All sorts of deficiencies and missed opportunities keep me up at night. And I’ll continue to point them out. 

But I’m also happy to share that I’ve rediscovered my love for Lafayette. It’s a place I’m proud to call home and that I’m proud to share with so many wonderful people who love it just like I do.