Editor's note: Lawrence Morgan grew up in Lawrence, graduated from Kansas University. Morgan now lives in San Francisco. This essay his thoughts on the future of Kansas.
Kansas Day is a look toward the future, not just the past, although there are many traditions in Kansas which are well worth nurturing for the next 50 years.
In today’s economy, however, there a number of ideas which need a closer look, and on Kansas 150th anniversary, it is time to do just that.
Kansans need to start using their brain power more. First, there is a need for new ideas like never before — from solar energy, to transportation and living styles, even board games. There is also a new need for certain older ideas — that Americans, for example, don’t need so much space for each person to live in. Rather, there can be parks and more buildings where community gatherings can take place.
Lawrence and other college towns have an ideal atmosphere for innovation. Costs are lower, there is more time to spend with friends, and the traffic is nothing like there is on the East and West coasts. We have a Silicon Valley here in the Bay Area, but there is no reason why it couldn’t take place in Lawrence, as well. Many firms are moving away from Silicon Valley as they look for cheaper, and yet attractive places, to relocate.
But it isn’t enough to give tax incentives to relocate. Many communities do that. We need to have new ideas, new firms, and also help old firms to stay here.
There also need to be ways to implement these ideas.
For that, I suggest reaching around the world to form partnerships, in addition to ideas presented locally.
When I was working on African projects, I saw many people with very good ideas, but no means either to implement them or patent them. The same is true with Kansans. If a person has a good idea, he needs to implement it and also to have income from it. Otherwise he will have the idea, but a firm in California or New York will eventually patent it, and take it away from him. There should be more local patent law firms, for example, which have reasonable costs so that any Kansan could see if his idea would work. There should also be provisions which would allow for only limited patenting of ideas, so that other parts of the world could use these ideas shortly after they are introduced.
I saw this first hand when I was a student at the University of Kansas. I would often have ideas, but I did not have any means to carry them out. Meanwhile, faculty got the grants. They had the staff and resources to get grant money which I did not. And yet I often had the better idea. I am sure this is often the case with other universities in other parts of the country, as well.
Second, there must be a college or learning experience in every town of any size in Kansas. Ever since my going to school in Lawrence years ago, there has never been an adequate community college in Lawrence. All people of all ages need a right to explore their interests, and it should not be at university prices. There needs to be meeting areas for discussion of issues as well, each week, and then those issues could be posted in the Journal-World. And small, locally-oriented community colleges could be in towns throughout the state.
There are many things that people want learning for, but they don’t need to go to a university. These learning experiences need not be centered around a degree or tests. Rather, they should be appreciated for themselves. Often people can eventually make a living with these new experiences. And the role of apprenticeship should be revived, as well.
Third, an even more open hand needs to be extended to people of all races and colors. We need to find ways to bring people together. For example, there are all kinds of ways of preparing and eating food which people in this country barely know about, if at all.
Fourth, health care coverage must be expanded to cover all the people of Kansas. No one should have to be constantly anxious about what to do if difficulty strikes.
Fifth, students of all ages should be open to new and expanding roles in society. It has been my experience that — even though I wanted to become a photographer and writer — I always had the choice to fall back on a second skill, a more practical one, so that I could make a living. Students could do everything from build trails, to build small houses and taking care of older people. This is true not just in Lawrence, but in all Kansas towns.
Sixth, the role of tourists in Kansas must be expanded. In Lawrence, the downtown is great. It’s a joy just to visit and enjoy it. Much of the Civil War beginnings could be greatly enhanced with trails leading between towns and within towns. The same is true of Ottawa, Eudora, Kansas City.
And seventh, many older people have valuable skills and knowledge. Why not share them with the community? With other countries? And learn how other people do things, as well. Now that the internet is commonplace, sharing skills and oral history could become an even larger thing in Kansas than ever before, making Kansas one of the top states in the nation in this area.
Kansas has many opportunities in these areas. We just need to think, ask questions more openly, and not depend so much on what other people think and say. It is time to make full use of our ideas for the next 50 years.