To the editor:
Two recent Journal-World articles have compared Lawrence unfavorably to other Big 12 towns (Aug. 22, page 1B). A problem in both is a rather facile analysis that fails to consider a range of factors affecting urban development in such settings.
It’s no secret that the relatively low wages in Lawrence are linked to its large student population and lack of employment options outside the public sector. Housing prices, on the other hand, are relatively high because of a comparatively low number of owner-occupied residences in the city. Simple contrasts to places such as Boulder are misleading because of nearly 10,000 Sun Microsystems and IBM jobs there, along with other such employers, and its proximity to Denver. Yes, Boulder itself is about the same size as Lawrence, but its metro area is nearly three times larger.
Without considering conditions such as these in making comparisons between “college” towns, it’s easy to get a misleading picture. It’s also probably unfair to use such comparisons to pillory unnamed local “leaders” and KU for “complacency” and “elitism.” In the absence of specific recommendations, or even many pertinent facts, such charges inevitably ring hollow. Perhaps the best way to engender “vision” and “courage” in civic leadership is to offer some concrete ideas, starting with an analysis of the city’s problems that goes beyond superficial comparisons.