Editorial: Planning vision

Setting a broad vision for the future of Lawrence could be a useful part of the long-range planning process.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up some place else.”

The inimitable Yogi Berra probably wasn’t thinking about urban planning when he made that statement, but his words seem worth pondering as the Lawrence City Commission considers revising or replacing the city’s Horizon 2020 comprehensive plan.

At their Tuesday meeting, city commissioners acknowledged that the plan, drafted in the early 1990s, “has some age on it” and may no longer fill the city’s planning needs. They also agreed to create a task force, headed by Commissioner Mike Amyx, to examine whether it’s time to start working on a new comprehensive plan.

There’s little question that the city needs to update its approach, but before embarking on a grueling, multiyear process like the one that produced Horizon 2020, it seems that Lawrence needs to try to create a shared vision of where residents want the community to go.

Horizon 2020 is filled with excruciating detail about land use and city goals, but it’s impossible for such a document to accurately predict all of the changes that will occur in a community — or all of the opportunities that will arise. The plan needs to be flexible enough to allow the city to take advantage of opportunities but rigid enough to prevent developments that don’t suit particular locations or run counter to community priorities.

If city planners had a crystal ball, and could anticipate every proposed project and development the city would face in the next 20 years, it would make sense to draw up a plan that dealt with the specific details related to each of those requests. But that’s not the case. That’s why it seems that a community vision may be more important than — or perhaps a needed precursor to — a plan that guides future growth.

What are the community’s priorities when it comes to public transportation or recreation? What do residents see as the future of downtown Lawrence? Do we want parks and recreation facilities that residents of all ages can walk to? How about shopping areas? What kind of city layout addresses those values? Jobs are extremely important to the city’s future. How can we use city planning to attract more businesses and jobs? If people could look into that crystal ball, what would they want Lawrence to look like 20 or 30 years from now?

Not every proposal that comes before the city is going to fit neatly into one of the boxes detailed in a comprehensive plan. That’s when it might be helpful for city leaders to look beyond narrow regulations and consider a broader vision for the community. Too often, it seems Horizon 2020 is used as a reason to say “no.” The city needs to be able to say “no” to bad projects or even good projects in bad locations. But it also would be nice to have a long-range plan that offers a positive vision of what Lawrence wants to say “yes” to.