Development in Lawrence should be about what Lawrence wants, not what a developer wants.
That's one of several lessons that can be gleaned from a recent Journal-World article about economic and retail development efforts in Manhattan. There was a lot of talk and little action on downtown redevelopment in Manhattan, said Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, until the chamber decided to take a bottom-up approach to the issue.
Butler and a local architect went to 31 different groups in Manhattan and asked them what they would do with downtown if "money was no object." Their conversations fed into 41 renditions of possible improvements. Those ideas were boiled down into one plan that was submitted to city planners and commissioners. Work now is under way on the downtown development plan.
"We wanted to use a different approach," Butler said, "Instead of getting a development group in here that said 'this is what we want to do,' we wanted to go to the community first."
Going "to the community first" might be a good lesson for Lawrence. We've had the habit over the years of letting developers take the lead in how the city grows, especially in the retail sector. Some company tells Lawrence what it wants to do here and we say yea or nay. Lawrence being the town it is, that approach often leads to opposition that stymies new projects. The projects that do move forward often take a piecemeal approach to development that may or may not contribute to the best long-range strategy. An example of that is the project-by-project development that has led to odd and congested traffic patterns in the area of 31st and Iowa streets.
Developers - either from Lawrence or elsewhere - can come up with what they think is the perfect idea for Lawrence. Not coincidentally, those ideas also are what the developers believe will be profitable. But those plans usually represent the vision of the developer, not of the community as a whole.
Development plans in Manhattan have not been without criticism or apprehension, but they are moving forward. One has to think that community buy-in for the project is at least a little stronger because community groups had a role in setting the vision that is being pursued. Perhaps Lawrence should consider following Manhattan's model of inviting the community to dream and then working to try to make at least a few of those dreams come true.