All of the attention and accolades Lafayette has been receiving lately has got to give you pause, that is if you've got a pulse, have opposable thumbs and walk upright.

Today we learn that Festival International de Louisiane was voted the Best World Music Festival in the About.com Reader's Choice Awards. To be clear, that means Festival is the Best World Music Festival in the world. You know, on the planet Earth.

A couple of weeks ago, Lafayette, our Lafayette was named the winner of Southern Living's the South's Tastiest Towns contest. Some 519,729 votes were cast and Lafayette had 194,502 of them. New Orleans came in third with 57,842 votes.

So what is it that we have? What makes Lafayette different from other cities in Louisiana, and for that matter, the country?

We have festivals, not just in Lafayette but all over Acadiana. And for those who make may think otherwise, festivals are not a given and neither is the tourism that they generate.

There's something to be said about our festivals, they're fun and all that, but there's also the sense of community that goes into creating and running one that brings people from all backgrounds together. There's a bond that develops between those behind the scenes and that radiates outward to the attendees, and that in turn brings them and their friends back time and again.

Festival International transforms downtown into an epicenter of global music, food and other activities coupled with a huge mix of tourists, music lovers and locals that the air teems with excitement, joy and, well, togetherness.

 

All of our music festivals, Cajun, zydeco, Latin, and tomorrow's Holi Festival, now in just its second year, have that same thing in mind.

We also have on a regular basis in the spring and fall, the much duplicated Downtown Alive! and Bach Lunch happenings - free and family-friendly - and that's the key: family-friendly - events taking place on Fridays in a Saturday-in-the-park environment.

But it takes more than festivals and the resulting great vibe to make Lafayette what it is. What is it that makes our city different, what makes us stand out?

Well, maybe size does matter.

We have some 200,000-plus people living in Lafayette Parish. So maybe we're not so huge as to be cut and parceled by overpasses and noisy interstates. We have traffic issues to be sure, but even those pale when compared to other cities.

And we're green. No, not so much in the ecological sense (though we do try and we can try harder), but in the sense you get when you fly into Lafayette. You see lots of trees and yards and parks in and around our downtown and in Lafayette neighborhoods in general. Overall, we're boarded by farmland, bayous, waterways and things like parks and other green spaces.

In other words, we're  not Cement City. There's not so much a stark division like an obnoxious thruway that cuts between the downtown and the nearby neighborhoods. Sure, we have Evangeline Thruway, but it has businesses and boulevards and lights breaking up what could otherwise be the deafening roar of fast-moving traffic.

Nor do we have huge manufacturing companies belching smoke and invisible smelly byproducts into the air. This isn't a dig on the cities whose economic bases consist of such, but you can usually smell the aforementioned before you see the cities.

Nor is it to say that these companies aren't making products we use and need every day. And yes, they have to be somewhere, Lafayette is fortunate that it's not here.

So, again, what is it that we have here that sets us apart?

What we do have in Lafayette is a character grounded by our homegrown and rooted sense of being, an undeniable sense of place; an uncommon respect for family and tradition, as well as an open mind to the good that the future can bring.

Of course, both Cajun and Creole cultures play a huge part in this, and there's also something to be said for those who've moved here for all those reasons. All of us not only believe in Lafayette, we are Lafayette. And this is only because we participate and therefore support what we have to offer; and it if it's not already here, we'll bring it to town or invent it.

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