Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Expenses of time, gas money cut appeal of living in bedroom community

June 21, 2006


If Lawrence really is growing slower than it once did, Tom Bracciano thinks he knows why: Commuting isn't as cool as it used to be.

"After a while people realize that they can move to Olathe," said Bracciano, who as director of facilities for the Lawrence school district keeps an eye on the city's population trends. "They realize they can buy a cheaper house and not have to commute. That is probably becoming a more popular thought all the time with gas prices.

"I just think some of our bedroom community appeal has worn off."

Some professional planners are thinking along the same lines. Dean Palos, director of planning for Johnson County and a Lawrence resident, said he'd observed how Lawrence had become much more a part of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

At first glance, that would seem like a change that would fuel population growth, not slow it. But Palos said it might mean that potential Lawrence residents now are more likely to compare Lawrence with other K.C. metro area cities before they make a decision about where to live.

"You have to focus on your demographics," Palos said. "You have to look at what the average cost of a home is and what the travel times are to major employers.

"There is no question that someone could choose to live in Tonganoxie or Basehor and their housing costs are going to be lower and their travel time to a job in Kansas City is going to be less."

That's why Palos said Lawrence leaders should take a careful look at not only how much the community is growing but also who is causing the growth.

Identify what's important

It may be that the city would find that lower- to moderate-income residents are finding other area communities to live in. Then the city would have to determine whether that is a good or bad trend.

Eudora seeing growth

Eudora Mayor Tom Pyle and Bill and Sheryl Coppinger, Eudora builders, say their city has been seeing rapid population growth in the last few years - which includes many people moving from Lawrence. Enlarge video

On one hand, if the city becomes skewed more toward a middle- to upper-class income range, that could lead to new types of retail and residential development with a heavy emphasis on quality of life factors. But on the other hand, people fear that if low- to moderate-income residents do begin leaving the city, the community will lose much of its prized diversity.

Figuring out which direction the community wants to go will be one of the key questions asked during a visioning process that city commissioners tentatively have planned for this fall.

"One of the more important things about a visioning process is that you identify what is really important to you," said Larissa Brown, chief planner for Goody Clancy, a Boston-based consulting firm. "Those things can be places, but they also can be ideas."

And planners said the community shouldn't go into the process necessarily thinking that a slowdown in growth is a sign that the community had done something wrong.

"Most communities have heydays, and then they kind of pass," said Francis Parker, a professor of urban planning at Ball State University.

Census data

Explore population trends in census data for Lawrence and other Kansas cities from 1900 to 2006. Go »

Parker said it was important for Lawrence to realize that its long-term trend was still on the positive side of the growth ledger and determine how to maintain and manage that growth.

"As long as the community recognizes that it will have a different set of issues, life can still be good," Parker said.

Time to get aggressive?

But for some the numbers create a sense of unease. Bracciano, who in addition to working for the school district also made an unsuccessful run for the City Commission in 2005, said the community had to get more aggressive in attracting jobs.

"If you are seeing growth slow down, that is a real warning sign," Bracciano said. "You have to have something to bring the young families in. That is what keeps the community growing and alive. They pay the taxes. They do the work."

Bracciano said he sensed the community had become too complacent and was beginning to put too much stock in the thought that "growth is inevitable" for Lawrence because of its location and attributes.

"I know what we've recognized at the school district is that we're competing for kids with these other communities," Bracciano said. "It's time for the city to get in the competitive mode too. They have to get off their butt and make things happen."

But Palos said he hoped the community wouldn't enter its upcoming visioning process in too negative of a mood. He said the community still had the "wonderful" statistic that 47 percent of all residents 25 or older have a bachelor's degree, a downtown that is the envy of many and universities that add uniqueness.

"I think Lawrence needs to remember what it can do extremely well, and that is provide a high quality of life," Palos said. "When you mention Lawrence to other people, their eyes still roll back in their head and they say how nice a community it is."


monkeyhawk 12 years ago

Bracciano gets it. He also got my vote. We will see Lawrence begin to grow again when at least three, hopefully four, members of the commission are replaced. Too bad we missed our chance to elect normal folks like Bracciano, et. al. Could be worse when bozo and merrill run.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Bracciano is just sucking up to the cancerous growth lobby, as are you, monkeyhawk.

The factors that have apparently slowed the growth of Lawrence are many and varied, and have almost nothing to do with the actions of the city commission.

And even if it did, this really isn't bad news. Pyramid growth schemes aren't some magic elixir, and even if they are, Lawrence will continue to grow because it's still a very attractive place to live. Even though the whiners on this board may disagree, it's a more attractive place now than it would be if chambocrats had retained their stranglehold on the commission.

hockmano 12 years ago

Maybe they should try to attract more business entities, like factories, corporate companies and retail establishments? Maybe if people could find decent jobs here they wouldn't move somewhere else!

Godot 12 years ago

"One of the more important things about a visioning process is that you identify what is really important to you," said Larissa Brown, chief planner for Goody Clancy, a Boston-based consulting firm. "Those things can be places, but they also can be ideas."

We don't need visioning; we need a commission that will quit trying to manipulate the growth of Lawrence and, instead, tend to the basics. Fix the streets, fix the sewers, keep the parks neat, fight the fires and catch the crooks, you know, simple stuff that our current commission just can't seem to wrap their collective brains around.

Let "the people" create the vision with their hard earned dollars and their own desires!

I hate the thought of the 3 PLC majority and their board appointees determining "what is important" for the future direction of Lawrence. I am sure, if they get their way, it will mean stagnation, even regression for Lawrence. At any rate, it will mean more and more government interference.

Please, someone, cancel the visioning process! Try, just for, say, three years, to not propose any new project, any new laws, any new bans, any new vision, any new art, new luxury paid by the taxpayers; just take care of the back log of neglected basic needs.

Just stand back, do not interfere, do not do for Lawrence what private businesses could and should do. Then watch in amazement as private businesses pop up to provide the vision, the amenities, and the quality of life luxuries in Lawrence that will, in turn, provide jobs and attract a population that supports a government that stays within its bounds.

Sigmund 12 years ago

Commuting was never cool, trust me. The reason people commute is there are not many good paying jobs in Lawrence, nor is there likely to be with the zero growth PLC in charge. We all can't work for the City of Lawrence or Kansas University. Get a clue, Lawrence is ideally placed to attract all kinds of good high paying high technology firms and jobs, but would you risk a couple of million dollars in Lawrence with the Kurrent Kommissioners looking to impose all kinds of restrictions on where, when, who, what you and your employees can do?

Lawrence has a reputation for being a doper student town, run by a bunch of neo-socialist-hippie-facist Kommissioners, a ton of cute coeds, an expensive downtown where you can buy hemp clothing, a higher cost of living than Johnson County, and a great basketball team. Nope were not going to get many new good paying jobs in Lawrence anytime soon.

Sigmund 12 years ago

Oh by tthe way, the economy is not some zero sum game pyramid scheme. If someone prospers and grows it does NOT mean that it is necessarily done at the expense of someone else. Anyone who has that view of the economy should not be in charge of making decisions that impact the economic health and well being of a City, let alone its citizens. Why is it when Lawrence needs experts it looks to KU, yet I have never seen a professor of Economics or Business ever consulted?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.