What has to be done to get Lawrence, Kansas University and the state of Kansas into positions of leadership rather than caught in a game of catch-up?
Friday's Journal-World carried stories about Lawrence and Douglas County officials trying to figure out how to put together a comprehensive transportation plan to meet the area's projected needs in the year 2030.
It's a worthy goal, but, based on history, it would be a major mistake to believe such a study will present a realistic vision of the needs of 2030, let alone predict anything close to the roads that will be in place by 2030.
The city's current traffic situation is in shambles. For a city that prides itself on being special, it surely has very special traffic problems. City officials have been trying to solve the 23rd Street mess for years; the South Lawrence Trafficway matter is criminal considering the massive increase in costs if and when concrete ever is poured for the long-delayed super-two highway. This isn't a matter that has just arisen. It's been in the making for years, and yet there is little corrective action.
Have local residents noticed how many big 18-wheelers now are using other streets in and around Lawrence in an effort to avoid the growing number of traffic bottlenecks? It's going to get worse.
It's great to think about 2030, but what about today's needs, which are getting worse day by day?
What are the real needs of KU? Reports this week told of a slight drop in student enrollment on the Mount Oread campus. A large part of this is attributed to university officials dismissing a number of students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences due to their failure to make sufficient academic progress.
Some years ago, university officials said they didn't think there would be pressure to add new buildings or expand the campus because it was likely there would be a significant change in the way students study and "attend" classes. It was suggested that "distance learning" would become more prevalent with students using new electronic means to converse with classroom instructors without having to leave their homes, which could be elsewhere in the state or even across the country.
Is this a possibility or a wild idea? Are additional new buildings needed on Mount Oread if increasing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students telecommute? What happens to tuition costs - and university income - if students do not have to be physically on the campus to attend classes?
Another story told of the impact of the Lawrence Virtual School on local K-12 enrollment numbers. The virtual school opened in 2004 and enrolls students from across the state. Currently, 815 students are getting their school work through the virtual school, and local officials credit the school's popularity with a slight gain in the district's total enrollment.
The growing popularity of the virtual school is credited for the growth in local school numbers, which had declined for four years before it opened. "The implication of that," said a school official, "is we probably won't be looking to build a new school, so it means maintaining what we have."
Could this same reasoning be applied to higher education, or will virtual schooling, distance learning or telecommuting fail to catch on at KU? What does this mean for new buildings, an expanded campus or the renovation of current buildings?
Could KU be a national leader in this field? Will KU's on-campus numbers in the years ahead stay about the same, decline or grow? What does this mean relative to the need for costly new buildings or the use of older structures?
Much time and effort a few years ago went into planning the city's growth and subsequent needs by the year 2020, and yet many numbers projected in that study were out of date before the document was presented to city officials for their approval.
How can well-meaning projections be more accurate? What can Lawrence residents do to be more accurate in looking to the future and coming up with actions that will place the city ahead of the game rather than in its usual costly position of playing catch-up?
Lawrence city leaders are reported to be urging city and county officials to launch a formal protest of recent U.S. Census numbers that show Lawrence's population declined in 2006. Why haven't these same city leaders taken more interest in past years to actions and policies of elected city officials that undoubtedly have played a significant role in Lawrence's current situation? Why wait until the damage has been done?
Why is it so hard for local or state officials to plan for the future, think big and set the standard for others to try to match? The potential for Lawrence, the university and the state is almost unlimited, but this potential is being handicapped, or wasted, by a lack of vision, courage and leadership.
As has been asked before, where are the leaders? Who has the ability to stimulate, excite, seize the initiative and enthuse the public to make Lawrence, KU and the state true leaders, not followers? Some cities, states and universities seem to have such individuals. Why not here in Kansas?