Archive for Saturday, August 6, 2005

Simons: Lawrence should seek title of nation’s ‘finest university city’

August 6, 2005


Last week, this writer discussed the importance of Kansas University officials figuring out a way to project a genuine sense of enthusiasm, excitement and optimism about the school - both to the Mount Oread/Lawrence audience and to those across the state.

Several former and current KU faculty members were asked their thoughts about the university, and they said they were concerned about what they see as a dangerous "contentment" that seems to be prevalent and spreading on Mount Oread.

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Everyone seems relatively happy, and there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency. Enrollment numbers are growing, students and parents have not balked at the ever-increasing tuition costs, state legislators came through with a small increase for faculty salaries, and the school is attracting growing research dollars. Things are pretty good, so why get excited?

Time will tell whether this complacent attitude will cause lasting damage to the school.

This week, this writer wants to shift the focus from the campus to the community.

Some years ago, former KU Chancellor Gene Budig and this writer discussed the very positive town-gown relationship in Lawrence and the importance of working to maintain this unique situation rather than taking it for granted. There is nothing guaranteed or automatic in this important relationship. Numerous national news stories tell of stormy town-gown friction in other university cities. It is a two-way street if a city and a university are going to have a sustained, respectful, cooperative relationship.

During these visits, the idea emerged of what Lawrence would have to do or what conditions would need to be present for Lawrence to qualify for the title of "America's Finest University City."

This writer isn't aware of any manual or guidebook that details how to be a great university city, but it would seem there are a number of essential ingredients. How does Lawrence measure up in the following categories?

Is it a safe community? Is there a good inventory of housing for a wide range of incomes? Does the city have good, clean, honest law enforcement? Are there good job opportunities (both full-time and part-time) for students, spouses and faculty? Are consulting opportunities available for faculty members?

What is the child care situation for students and working parents? Does Lawrence, as well as the university, have good, better than just good, health care facilities? What about the public schools? How good are they and how do they measure up with those in other university cities where "education" is a primary focus? What recreation facilities, large city parks and cultural opportunities are available in the community?

Does the city have good transportation services, both within the city and to and from nearby metropolitan centers? How is the transportation infrastructure in Lawrence? Is it easy to get around Lawrence, for visitors to get to and from major athletic and cultural events? Is Lawrence clean, safe and pretty? Is attention given to the attractiveness of the city, its trafficways, parks and landscaping? Does Lawrence present a pleasant, well-planned appearance?

What about an abundant supply of clean, fresh water? And is Lawrence on the "information highway"?

For too many years, there has been the perception by some that Lawrence should be known as "The Home of the Cheap" or "The Home of Planners, Zoners and Delays" or even "The Home of Little Hitters." Maybe these are unfair characterizations, but it does suggest too many residents and/or city officials are not aiming high enough in trying to make Lawrence a truly outstanding, progressive university city.

Lawrence lacks natural features such as snow-capped mountains, beautiful ocean vistas or the nation's finest climate. But this doesn't mean Lawrence and its residents cannot, or should not, try to be the nation's best university city with or without some of the natural beauties others enjoy.

Lawrence residents are sure to have differing opinions or ideas of what are the necessary factors for Lawrence to be considered an excellent university city. But it is healthy for residents to think about ways to improve the community.

There are plenty of challenges, as well as opportunities, but think what a great place Lawrence could be if at least some of the issues noted above were addressed and improved.

Think of the joy and pleasure of living in a community that deserved the title of "America's Finest University City." Think what such a designation would mean in making Lawrence an even more attractive city in which to live, work and play.

Just as many at KU express their concern over an attitude or sense of "contentment" or complacency at KU, does a similar feeling exist among the off-campus, non-university people in Lawrence? Have things been too good and too easy in Lawrence since the end of World War II?

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