Not cool

Trying to freeze Lawrence in time isn't a hot strategy for the future.

Staying the same just isn’t an option. Over the last several decades, growth has been a controversial topic in Lawrence. While some people celebrated the expansion of the town, others wanted to keep Lawrence just as it was: charming, friendly, convenient.

The only problem is that maintaining the status quo doesn’t work. We can try to keep Lawrence the same, but we can’t control the change that is occurring in other cities. If other cities grow and prosper, we lose stature and vibrancy. By staying the same, we become something less.

That’s why city officials are concerned about Lawrence’s future. It’s partly a numbers game, but that’s not the whole story.

One number officials are looking at is a small decline in population. Then there is the slippage in sales tax receipts and the decline in the local construction market. All of these are indications that Lawrence may be becoming a less desirable place to live and work.

In addition to the numbers, however, is the community’s mindset. We are a great town, but we can’t continue to be a great town simply by maintaining what we have. Even to maintain our current population and vitality, Lawrence must show some vision and innovation.

Lawrence’s downtown is a good example. Local residents have resisted major changes to downtown, but that hasn’t kept downtown from changing. Forty years ago, downtown was the center of Lawrence commerce. There were grocery stores and car dealerships downtown along with most of the city’s retail businesses. That’s not the case today.

Many people still think it was a good move to keep an enclosed mall from developing downtown, but that didn’t keep many of the stores that might have been housed by such a mall from building other stores in Lawrence, many outside downtown. We controlled, to an extent, what happened downtown, but that didn’t control what happened elsewhere. Downtown Lawrence still is a desirable spot, but vacant storefronts and business turnover are signs it is struggling.

News that Lawrence’s population growth has leveled off has been applauded by residents who say Lawrence is big enough, but the only alternative to growth is decline.

There’s more than one kind of growth. In addition to looking at the growth of population or jobs in Lawrence, we also need to grow some innovative ideas and strategies to maintain the city’s vibrant residential and business atmosphere. As City Manager David Corliss recently told the Journal-World, “Lawrence does not have a monopoly on coolness.” Sitting on our laurels while other cities reach for a dynamic future just isn’t cool.