The news this week that Lawrence had been identified by Forbes.com as the seventh smartest city in the country is an interesting honor.
On one hand, it's a wonderful compliment to the community, but it also could prompt a number of questions that begin with, "If we're so smart, then why can't we :"
The ranking was purely objective, based on the number of people who had achieved various levels of education. Almost 44 percent of Lawrence residents 25 or older have at least a bachelor's degree, and about 93 percent of residents had graduated from high school.
Those are numbers that should impress employers who might be considering locating in Lawrence. They would seem to indicate that we have a strong, well-educated work force. And yet, we haven't been particularly successful in recent years in attracting new businesses.
It's sometimes said that it's not so much how smart you are but what you do with that intelligence. In Lawrence, it seems that a lot of our energy is put into trying to outsmart one another. No matter what proposal is put forth, someone seems prepared to take exception.
That often is considered part of Lawrence's charm. We don't do things the easy way, but our lively debates are supposed to lead to better decision-making in the end. It would be interesting to know whether other cities on the "smartest" list, most of which also are university cities, have a similar situation. Are their streets falling apart? Are their bank accounts so low they cannot afford to correct many deficiencies or add badly needed community programs?
Perhaps the best way to look at this honor is as a challenge. Such a well-educated city ought to be able to tackle important issues with both intelligence and creativity. Experience tells us that there is no shortage of ideas or opinions in Lawrence. Now we just have to figure out how to be smart enough to translate them into positive action.