Lawrence and Douglas County have changed considerably since the Horizon 2020 comprehensive plan was adopted in 1997 — and not always in the ways that were expected.
Horizon 2020 has been amended many times in the last 15 years, but it’s time to take a more in-depth look at the document both to adjust some of its expectations to current realities and to anticipate upcoming changes to the local landscape.
Local officials are in the process of forming a 10-member steering committee to conduct such a review. Planners recommend updating the plan, but say they think the work can be handled in-house without hiring an outside consultant. Such a process, they say, could be completed by mid-2015. However, it’s possible the steering committee will decide that tweaking Horizon 2020 isn’t sufficient and a new planning document is needed — a process that would take considerably longer.
A primary impetus for the review is the completion of the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway and the land-use issues that project raises. The city-county planning director also noted that two U.S. Census counts have occurred since Horizon 2020 was approved, which may alter some aspects of the plan.
That’s because the population of Lawrence and Douglas County hasn’t quite matched up with the expectations of local officials when Horizon 2020 was written. The document works with three different population projections for the city through 2030. The low projections called for Lawrence’s population to hit 88,961 by 2010 and 100,076 by 2020. The middle projection was for 95,178 in 2010 and 110,406 in 2020; the high projection was 99,013 by 2010 and 122,394.
After decades of dramatic population growth, those projections probably seemed reasonable to officials writing Horizon 2020. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to pass. The 2010 U.S. Census put Lawrence’s population at 87,643, more than 1,000 residents below the lowest Horizon 2020 projection. Subsequent Census updates have indicated continuing stagnant population growth in both the city and county.
Some local residents and officials also might question the validity of Horizon 2020’s assumption that “Lawrence and Douglas County will continue to be a desirable place for new businesses to locate and existing businesses to expand.”
The national economic downturn undoubtedly had a part in Lawrence’s lackluster population and business growth, but looking back at the original Horizon 2020 also makes us wonder what else might have gotten the document’s rosy projections off track.
The comprehensive plan has been used primarily to project and guide land use within the community. Maybe what Lawrence really needs is a more visionary document that outlines what the community aspires to be. Local leaders should be looking at Lawrence’s strengths and how to build on them. Instead of just drawing zoning districts on a map, the city should first think about the broad future of Lawrence: What kinds of businesses should we try to attract? How can we build on our connections with Kansas University? What can we do to make Lawrence a more vibrant — and growing — community? Such a vision for the future then could serve as a guide for many land-use decisions.
Planning for Lawrence’s future is more than looking at the physical footprint of the city and how we think it will be used. The community needs a vision for the future and some specific plans to make that vision a reality.