Imagine putting together a puzzle without ever seeing the picture on the front of the box.
Some city commissioners believe Lawrence is doing just that when it comes to the city's growth.
Mayor Boog Highberger, along with commissioners Sue Hack and David Schauner, on Wednesday called for the hiring of an outside consultant to help the city create an overall "vision" for community planning.
"We can't just continue to say how wonderful Lawrence, Kansas, is because I don't think it is going to last if we don't take steps to make it last," Hack said.
Hack and Schauner - who have been on opposite sides of several issues - released a joint statement Wednesday calling for the city, the county, the school district and the Law-rence Chamber of Commerce to join in the search for a consultant who would help the community answer big questions about what it wants to be in coming decades.
And Highberger on Wednesday began work on an effort to bring a team of planning and design professionals to study Lawrence. He asked a meeting of university officials, neighborhood leaders, developers and others to help identify community needs in an application for a $15,000 grant to make that project possible.
The study - sponsored by the American Institute of Architects - would focus on ways to make Lawrence more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. A $5,000 city match would be needed to obtain the grant.
Highberger said the process could help the community build consensus about its future. The city will learn if it has been selected by mid-February.
"I don't think our problems have been about growth per se, but really about what growth will look like," Highberger said.
Hack said the AIA program could help jump-start a more formal vision process.
But there was confusion Wednesday about the commissioners' intent.
Some members of Highberger's stakeholders group on Wednesday said they were looking for some specific direction. Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering, said he thought the city had failed to clearly plot out where the next round of development should take place.
"There's a big frustration that there's no big arrow pointing to where we are going to grow," Struble said.
Carrie Lindsey, president of the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County, said details would be important during the visioning process.
"It is not enough to say that we want good jobs," Lindsey said. "We need to say what kind of good jobs we want. We can't just say we want neighborhoods. We need to say what kind of neighborhoods we want."
Lavern Squier, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said the community must figure out how to protect its existing advantages, and develop new ones.
"At times we probably have had prosperity happen to us," Squier said, "rather than us having pursued prosperity in a planned way."