Lawrence and Boulder have a lot in common, but the way the two cities handle growth doesn't have to be the same.
It seems like Lawrence, Kansas, and Boulder, Colorado, are always comparing notes.
Residents of one city point to the other to illustrate what is right or wrong about their own hometown. Often the conversations seem to vacillate between the smug contention that "we're better" and the question, "why can't we be more like them?"
Now, some writers from Boulder seem to be telling Lawrence, "you don't want to be like us."
A couple of writers for the Boulder Weekly came to Lawrence earlier this month and went home with a story that included such questionable assertion as "every single woman in Lawrence " is drop-dead gorgeous" and "you can always find a parking place downtown." The alternative newspaper article presents a skewed vision of the city, but it is interesting to see how a couple of people who drop in for the weekend view Lawrence.
The conclusion of the writers sort of boils down to Lawrence is what Boulder used to be -- smaller, more friendly, more laid-back, more affordable. In an interview with the Journal-World, one of the authors expanded on this theme, noting ways that Boulder now suffers by comparison with Lawrence and offering some food for thought to Lawrence residents.
"In Boulder," he said, "you see it time and time again, this selfish, me-me-me attitude. The charm of Lawrence " is that it's a place small enough where people can get along and respect each other's needs."
"The biggest problem with Boulder," he continued, "is the way they managed growth here. You don't get a sense they look at the big picture. Growth has pretty much been capped. Boulder became a prime destination for white-collar migrants, and the cost of living goes way up."
Boulder "managed" its growth by trying to stop it. Some years ago, city officials placed strident controls on growth. Eventually a new policies were adopted but they also tried to stunt growth. Curbing residential development didn't stop the demand for housing but it did limit the supply. That, of course, drove the cost of housing up in Boulder, making it more difficult for low- and moderate-income people to live there. That isn't the scenario Lawrence wants, so the city needs to find ways to manage growth without strangling it.
Lawrence also doesn't want to be a "me-me-me" kind of place. We want to be a city "where people can get along and respect each other's needs." Lawrence always has been filled with diverse people and opinions. For the most part, we've done a good job of accepting and even embracing that diversity. Maintaining that sense of community will be more challenging as Lawrence grows, but we shouldn't assume that feeling can't be maintained just because our population grows. Lawrence has grown plenty in the last 145 years, but the town still retains much of the progressive, open-minded attitude that the original settlers brought with them from New England.
The Boulder authors are far from experts on urban growth, but their observations are interesting and could be somewhat instructive. Managing growth doesn't necessarily mean stopping growth, and getting bigger doesn't have to change the character of a city.
Lawrence is growing, but it doesn't necessarily have to grow up to be Boulder.