Has Lafayette Found its de Tocqueville?

It seems that Lafayette, the city that honors the Marquis de Lafayette, might well have found its de Tocqueville in Geoff Daily.

De Tocqueville was the Frenchman who toured the newly sovereign nation and became our nation’s most insightful commentator. He came to the new United States to survey its penal system and came away an an ardent fan of the new democracy. A product of his own culture and station in French culture his judgments on the way the new nation was growing were oft ambivalent but his insight into the reasons for the growing differences between the old world and the new world aborning were and remain influential. He turned an outsider’s eye on something new and saw shapes emerging that were difficult for those participating to recognize. De Toqueville concluded that the free availability of enormous amounts of new land for every citizen —the frontier— made impossible the old world feudal relationship based on the nobility’s ownership of the land and the tenant’s dependent relationship. In the new world every yeoman could own his own land. And they did. The emerging culture of equality had much to recommend it; and, on de Toqueville’s account, much about which to worry. He was concerned that equality might too often become mediocrity and overpower the natural nobility he attributed to the founding fathers. De Toqueville remained hopeful about the American experiment and kept an attentive eye on its development.

Daily came to Lafayette to see a new fiber-optic network. He has repeatedly published his notes on our experiment. He appears to have found something more than just a network–just as de Tocqueville found something more than just a penal system. He finds a community-owned network and attributes much to the culture of the area and the nobility of its leaders. And he Daily has an advantage de Toqueville never had: he may have missed the revolution but is in a position to see the launching of the new network from the beginning and to see if the potential of enormous amounts of new bandwidth has effects on our community that are analogous to the frontier in our nation’s history. Like his predecessor, Daily, is already warning that our future is what we will make of it.

A sympathetic outsiders eye has come to Lafayette. That is a good thing, surely. It will be interesting to see if Daily proves as insightful about the cultural changes that follow as his predecessor.

WBS: “Why Lafayette Can Be That Shining City on the Hill”

What’s Being Said Department

Geoff Daily over at AppRising has posted a remarkable article, “Lafayette Can Be That Shining City on the Hill.” It’s remarkable for the sympathy and insight that he shows. Enough so that you really ought to go read the whole piece. Go on, I meant it…

But I do want to preserve here the opening and closing bits of the post and briefly comment.

Opening ‘graph:

During my week in Lafayette a message I attempted to leave behind is that building a full fiber network isn’t enough; it’s as, if not more, important to focus on getting the community engaged with the use of broadband.


Lafayette is a unique and special community that I can’t wait to continue exploring, but for now I’ll end this coverage with the following charge to the people of Lafayette:

Your community is poised to take a bold step into the 21st century.

But your investment in a new network means nothing if no one uses it.

Your community can become that shining city on the hill for fiber and the use of broadband.

But only if you leverage the strength of your history, culture, and people to make the most of what’s possible.

If done right, Lafayette can guarantee its economic prosperity for the next 100 years.

But it’s going to take hard work to do so, not just building the network but getting the community ready to use it.

Cajuns know that through hard work great things can be achieved.

So set the goal to be great, make the commitment to do what it takes, and anything is possible.

Geoff is exactly right on these points and we’d do well to heed his call.

My small quibble is that by characterizing our place as Cajun he misses the parallel histories of the French, Creoles and Americains in this small area and the role of that admixture in building the unique place for which he clearly holds affection. A trip to some Zydeco haunts and more thorough introduction to the flavors and implications of gumbo can await a return visit.

French on Basic Cable

Just for the record:

A letter in today’s Advertiser rasises, again, the question of whether the French-language channel should have been moved off of Cox’s basic cable lineup.

And the answer of course is “no”—it should not have. In a city where the census says 13% of the population speaks French in the home it should be. Communities that call themselves Cajun, Creole, and French all speak a unique local version of the language and ought to be served.

We lost easy access to that channel when Cox decided it would be more profitable for them if Acadiana was made more like Baton Rouge. So they combined the two areas and aligned Lafayette’s channel offerings with Baton Rouge’s.

Unwise. And it is an issue that will not go away.

My guess is that this is not a mistake that french-speaking cajun fiddling Terry Huval will make. There is no reason why TV9 can’t be on channel 9…..except that Baton Rouge has a channel 9 on broadcast. But that won’t bother a local cable company.

“Fiber gives transplant desire to return home”

Buddy Guidry, a Lafayette native working out of New York, declares in a letter in today’s Advertiser that Lafayette’s fiber to the home network has led him to plan to move home and start a legal services business here.

I hope he, and many like him, do move home. While it’s easy to notice big ticket, larger businesses like NuComm
the real value (as I’ve commented before) will come from small businesses that will be able to afford fast, efficient, high-tech communications services that are currently only available to large businesses. Sez Buddy:

the one light I see at the end of the tunnel is the fiber-to-the-home initiative. This has given me a desire to move back home to Lafayette and start my own legal services business, which would be less likely to succeed without fiber optics.

How does a legal services firm benefit? I don’t know for sure. But that doesn’t matter since apparently Buddy Guidry does. And you can bet there his remarks are only a small indication of the value “the little guy” will find in the system once it comes online.

More immediately, Guidry is participating in the new, positive “buzz” about Lafayette…and that buzz is building.

Anecdotally: I was in Baton Rouge to celebrate a marriage recently and the crowd was mostly made up of mutual friends who’d graduated from some of the city’s most demanding high schools in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Like many well-educated Louisianians they’d scattered all over the country. From the groom (living in Tucson) to those who’d stayed (and were doing things like being head of “GIS for the state”) the topic of conversation went straight to how “progressive” they’d heard Lafayette was compared to the rest of the state and several said they’d considered moving to Lafayette based on their (vauge) sense that it was a great place to be. Fiber played in, of course, but they also talked about music, a laid-back attitude, food, and cool festivals. That sounded a whole like how my generation, some 15 years earlier had talked about Austin…

Something is going on here and Buddy Guidry’s letter is only the tip of the iceberg.

Lafayette in Top Ten

Recent articles in both the Advertiser and the Advocate cheered on Lafayette’s selection as one of the top 10 places in the South for the creative class and we discussed it here as well. But at the time of all the hoopla the article itself wasn’t online and my bookseller doesn’t carry Southern Business & Development. 😉 Hence folks haven’t read the article. It is now available online and you can look at how Lafayette compares to Austin, Raleigh, and Atlanta for yourself.

The part locals will be interested in:

Lafayette, La.
Lafayette keeps stride with the larger metros with the kind of cultural diversity and forward thinking that sets this creative city and parish apart. With a rich French heritage blended with Spanish, American, Indian and African influences, Lafayette represents a colorful combination of lifestyles. Locals still exhibit proudly a “wildcatter mentality” founded on risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit. An example is the city’s “Fiber to the Premises Initiative,” designed to make state-of-the-art communications and technology available to every household in the area. The University of Louisiana Lafayette is the only institution in the UL System to be classified as a Research University with High Research Activity by The Carnegie Foundation. In May 2007, Lafayette will host the fourth TechSouth Annual Summit and Exposition, designed to bring IT leaders and users together in a setting specifically created for knowledge sharing and networking.

Festival International

Festival International, et en anglais : Festival International Acadiana’s francophone world music festival. T’ain’t nothing like it. If you’re not from here you need to get yourself here. And if you’re from here you need to get yourself over there…..

So it is Festival time again and I’m taking a break from the fun. Just got back from listening to the Malvenas, catching a little distant Brazilian folk, watching grandkids play in the fountain, and mixing up Lebanese and Cajun for lunch. (Spicy Chicken Gyros and Crawfish Maque Choux — both recommended.)

About this time of year every year I’m moved to make a springtime expression of Lafayette’s thanks for the support we’ve has received from around the country and around the world. My server logs and emails, make it clear that our fiber conflict has attracted supporters from all over. The most appropriate expression of our thanks has always seemed to me to be to share with those folks that which makes the community worth fighting for.

So, before you go much further, click over to the KRVS website and catch the ongoing Festival International Stream which will be running all day today (Sat. 28th) and tomorrow (Sun. 29th). Get the music up in the background. Festival International is a great expression of what makes Lafayette and South Louisiana so unique. In a band which runs roughly south of I-10 (but further north near Lafayette) you’ll find a unique and uniquely open culture. Leavened with a healthy dose African traditions the gumbo of cultures here is classically creole–in the anthropological sense: it is an uneven mixture of cultures. The original settler culture here was not British but French and other cultures, including what we call “Americain,” are layered over that, not the other way around. Traditionalists remain amused by the American nervousness over things that can’t be changed in human nature and confused at why anyone would think they should supressed be instead of celebrated. One index of that attitude: While the rest of the country seems lost in an anxiety attack over immigrant culture, Lafayette invites the world particularly if they don’t speak English, to come on over and show us their stuff with the intent of adopting what we like best.

You’re not in Kansas, Toto.

There’s a nice, and growing collection of images and videos over at the Advertiser site that offer up a taste of the ambiance…. [Video index sans flash; images index sans flash]

Thanks all…local and not…here’s what we’ve been fighting for.

“City is among creative” (updated)

Lafayette has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Cities in the South for the Creative Class by Southern Business and Development magazine.

So saith this morning’s Advertiser. The phrase refers Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida’s analysis points to the fact that fast, clean economic growth has been associated in recent years with a welcoming environment for the so-called creative class. The thesis runs something like this: Wealth in the new economy flows from youthful creativity. To an unprecedented degree the information economy means that those most productive people can live where they want. And they want to live in a cool place. They want to live in Austin, not Pittsburgh… So Austin booms and Pittsburgh languishes. The conclusion is obvious: if you and your community want in on some of that new, cool, clean, high wage growth you make sure that you provide the sorts of things those folks want. A great music scene, good food, tolerance, outdoor fun, diversity, a relaxed ambiance, low barriers to outside participation in the economy, night life, cool tech, an open politics….and so on.

It is encapsulated in the words of the subtitle to a Florida essay in the Washington Monthly: “Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race.”

(If all that sounds somewhat familiar it’ll be because you’ve been hanging around with economic development nerds…or, more likely, you caught a whiff of the discussion surrounding last year’s Richard Florida lecture in the Independent/Iberia Bank Lecture Series.)

That’s the category Southern Business and Development thinks Lafayette excels in. It’s a good place to be. It’s fairly easy to see why Lafayette might have ranked. The cool tech factor would be pretty amazing for a major city much less a smaller, laid-back one like Lafayette. The magazine specifically mentions the Fiber To The Home project that is our focus here–and it has to be a nice feature to think that you could tap into your office net at 1 or 200 meg speeds if you want to work from home this week. There’s nothing more laid back than staying home. The food and the music is legendary and if you travel in Zydeco circles you might think tolerance wasn’t obviously a problem. Cajun and Creole cultures are a huge draw–and huge reason why our talented are hesitant to leave. There’s nothing else in the US like Festival International. Francophone music? Really?! From all over the world? Neat indeed.

Sounds pretty good for the hometown…

Of course the effect is spoiled if you scroll to the bottom of the page and read the irrational—and irrelevant—bigotry in the discussion space spouted by some resentful local fool. Talk about leaving a foul taste in the mouth. And putting a stake right through the heart of any feel-good that you might have been harboring. Jeez.

Update: The Advocate also picks up on good publicity the morning after it appeared in the Advertiser. That version points explicitly to Richard Florida and has the following nice fragment:

In naming Lafayette, the magazine pointed out that while the smallest city on its list, “Lafayette keeps strides with the larger metros with the kind of cultural diversity and forward thinking that sets this creative city and parish apart.”

Lafayette Utilities System’s telecommunications project — which will bring an ultra high-speed fiber-optic network to each home and business in the city — is an example of Lafayette’s risk-taking, the magazine wrote.

“Locals still exhibit proudly a ‘wildcatter mentality’ founded on risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit,” the magazine wrote.

So if you need a URL to send those friends from college that you’ve been trying to entice down here for years you can send them this one without fearing that they’ll have to run into evidence that contradicts the upbeat substance of the report.