Archive for Saturday, December 24, 2005

Simons: Small, focused group is key to city’s long-range planning

December 24, 2005

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Fortunately, a number of Lawrence residents seem to be waking up to the realization the city needs to do a far better job of planning for the future.

Saturday Columns

A few years ago, many residents were involved in the Horizon 2020 plan, which was supposed to provide a blueprint for how the city should accommodate its expected growth. It was a nice-sounding project and it got many local residents involved, but it was almost out of date by the time all parties signed off on the plan.

Although few will admit it, the city has been taking a Band-Aid approach to planning rather than looking at the true major needs of the city in the next 25 to 50 years. There hasn't been the vision and courage to call for specific action and to think further into the future.

The Horizon 2020 process was more of an effort to make as many people as comfortable as possible. Because of that, politics, personal likes and dislikes and an attitude of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" played too great a role. Hammering out a bold, visionary plan for the future is not designed to make friends.

The town hall meeting process of Horizon 2020 is not the best way to approach the task. It will not get done with a "select" committee of 500 well-intentioned local residents.

What is needed is a small group of people, maybe 10, but not more than 15, who would have the task of formulating a growth blueprint. This group would be made up of individuals who merit the respect of the community, are truly interested in what is best for Lawrence and who have courage and vision.

This isn't a committee of city and county commissioners and school board members. This body should set up a process in which they hear the ideas and wishes of all interested parties: the city, the county, the school district and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, but also neighborhood associations, downtown merchants, rural residents and university officials.

They also should hear from those who project population trends, as well as those interested in recreation and park facilities, traffic issues, police and fire department needs and many other topics.

Representatives of such groups would be invited to appear before the 10- to 15-member body and make their case. The committee would study all presentations, seek the advice of professionals in various fields and then make a presentation to city, county and school officials.

This isn't an exercise to try to make everyone feel good but rather an opportunity to show the leadership, vision and courage to make Lawrence and Douglas County a true leader, setting an example of how to plan for the future.

It is hoped the present discussion about growth and how Lawrence and Douglas County will deal with this fortunate situation will not be bogged down by partisan, political, special interests and political give-and-take.

Lawrence deserves better, and someone needs to step up and take a leadership role in this vital process.

Like Kansas University, Lawrence and Douglas County appear to be perched on an important brink. The university can either take the necessary actions now to boost the school to greater academic excellence or it can join the vast number of average or mediocre state universities. Lawrence and Douglas County can plan boldly and look to the future or they can settle for what is most comfortable, easiest and least controversial, and continue to deal with future growth challenges in a patchwork fashion.

The opportunity to plan for greatness, to make the decisions today that will pay dividends for the city and its residents for years to come, is here today.

The city and county should not miss this rare opportunity to plan for a very special future.

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