A visioning process being undertaken by local planning officials may be just what the community needs.
It comes up in almost any discussion about Lawrence's growth: It's hard to know how to get somewhere if you don't know where you're going.
The governor chided the community some time ago concerning the South Lawrence Trafficway project saying Lawrence "needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up." During the "Lawrence is Growing" process sponsored by the Journal-World, 6News and World Online, community members repeatedly said the city needs to look further into the future and create a "vision" of what it wants to be. Countywide planning, they said, is absolutely necessary.
Planning is the key word, so it seems appropriate that the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is getting involved. Commissioners announced last week that they would embark on a visioning process aimed at determining what Lawrence and the surrounding area should look like in 30 years.
Lawrence is growing, and the county is becoming more urbanized. As Planning Director Linda Finger accurately points out, that trend is going to occur "with or without direction. So far it's been without direction."
What planning staff members and commissioners say they are seeking is a "vision," which is different than a plan. It's not so much about land-use or setbacks or curb cuts as it is about how the city should look and feel, the kind of lifestyle it will provide for its residents.
The goal of setting a vision is to back off from individual project proposals and take a look at the big picture. If you chartered an airplane in 2032 and flew over Lawrence, what would you want it to look like? You'd probably want to see some orderly residential development with adequate infrastructure. You'd want to see industrial, commercial and retail developments that served the population without creating undue traffic, noise or other burdens for residential areas. You'd want to see parks, schools and public buildings with logical connections to individual neighborhoods and access to the broader community.
Vision doesn't have to be totally practical. When you're flying over in an airplane you won't see every flaw or problem in the community. The vision the planners are seeking won't replace Horizon 2020, the city's long-range planning guide, but it should supplement the document. Planning often gets mired in the details and loses sight of the big picture. Vision isn't about details; it's all about the big picture.
Of course, translating vision into planning won't be easy, but it's a good place to start. If the community can arrive at a vision for the future, that big picture view can be used as a touchstone to guide all the detailed decisions that will go into fulfilling that vision.
Some Lawrence residents may see a "visioning process" as a little too "touchy-feely" to be part of serious planning. It does have a dreamy quality to it, but that may be OK.
"If you can dream it, you can do it," Walt Disney said. Maybe it's time for Lawrence to dream a little.