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Archive for Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Series, forums about discussion, not arguments

October 24, 2001

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Back in April, we kicked off the Lawrence is Growing: Finding Common Ground project with these goals: Giving everyone a voice in planning the community's future. Making sure those voices were heard. And we wanted to start changing the nature of the discussion on growth.

In the months since, we've heard hundreds of voices. Some spoke up at community gatherings or group meetings, some talked to us in neighborhoods and other gathering places, some over the telephone. More people made their voices heard in e-mail or on growth.lawrence.com, our project's companion Web site.

And we started hearing what we hoped for: more discussion, less argument.

From a topic that usually was framed as "growth vs. no growth," we've found more understanding of many viewpoints, and more discussion.

The project started in April with a four-week series of stories and features in the Journal-World, on 6News and on the Internet, to provide basic information to help residents understand the history, challenges and opportunities facing all of us as Lawrence and Douglas County continue to grow.

While exhaustive, that series of reports was just the start. While those stories were being prepared and being presented, we visited your meetings to hear what you had to say, we sought you out in your neighborhoods and other gathering places, and we conducted a scientific poll and online polls.

That first phase of the project culminated May 7 in an interactive community forum. More than 200 people turned out for the televised meeting at Liberty Hall to discuss growth issues. Several dozen people called in questions and comments for our moderator to pose to a panel of stakeholders. More e-mailed comments.

Our next steps were suggested by participants, readers and viewers during the first phase and at the interactive forum. They told us to narrow the focus of the discussion and more fully explore key issues they had identified during the initial reporting.

We set up a schedule and had meetings over the summer. Each forum focused on a single issue and was moderated with an eye toward reaching consensus on the selected topics. Each forum drew from 30 to 50 participants.

Then, we got together again at Liberty Hall. This time, we invited city, county, school, university and business leaders. And we invited representatives from each of the forums to tell those leaders how the community wanted to see growth occur.

The meeting's goal was finding common ground on the often divisive issue of how Lawrence should grow.

At the meeting, citizen representatives presented the results of a series of discussions conducted this summer on the growth issues found to be most important during the first phase of the project. Those topics were open space preservation, planning, business and economic development, traffic and transportation, schools and social capital.

The reports from those six representatives are printed in this section. Along with the results of our April poll, we hope this document serves as a report from the community on what it worries about, hopes for and wants to see as Lawrence grows. And we hope it can serve as a means to keep the discussion going.

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