KU, Lawrence should strive to be a ‘giant redwood’

September 14, 2013


What is Lawrence’s future? What’s the future of Kansas University, and how do the futures of these two entities affect the future of Kansas?

Will Lawrence, with KU, remain a typical college town in many respects or will the city and KU find a place among America’s best? The late KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy used to point out there would be a “forest of universities in the Trans-Mississippi West, but within that forest there will be a few giant redwoods. We want KU to be one of those redwoods.”

How many people in Lawrence, at the university or even in Topeka are thinking about the so-called “big picture” — the future of the city and KU 20 or 30 years from now, not just in the next year or two?

Rochester, Minn., is a city of about 107,000 population about 80 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is the home of the Mayo Clinic, one of the country’s foremost medical centers.

Through the joint efforts of leaders at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester city officials and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a revitalization plan for the city of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic was designed to pay major dividends for the entire state and its taxpayers.

“Destination Medical Center,” a $6 billion makeover is a two-decade effort intended to double the size of Mayo Clinic and transform Rochester into a “hip, attractive destination” in its own right.

The state is putting approximately $550 million into the deal, Rochester is committing around $500 million in improvements, and a $3.2 billion capital campaign is underway at Mayo Clinic with a large portion of the funds earmarked for “Destination Medical Center.”

A news report said, “Over the next two decades, Mayo hopes to turn its already renowned facility into a global health destination on a par with the best health care center in the nation. To woo patients and top doctors, it wants that facility to sit in a city with a vibrant and diverse economy and all the charm and appeal of Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., or Austin, Texas.”

In other words, Mayo officials, Rochester leaders and the Minnesota governor know there are a handful of truly top medical centers in the U.S. but they are committed to having “Destination Medical Center” become the true giant redwood among the country’s most highly respected medical centers. They already are good, but they want to be the best, to separate themselves from the others.

The governor is enthusiastic about the project and how the clinic’s growth in excellence and innovation will encourage new medical research startups throughout the state.

Dayton has one pet project in the package and that is a high-speed rail line between Rochester and the Twin Cities, a train that could whisk patients, their families, shoppers, doctors, research executives, etc., from the Twin Cities to Rochester considerably quicker than current transportation.

Rochester’s mission is to upgrade the city in every manner: new and better hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, recreation opportunities and convention sites and major improvements in retail outlets.

Those involved know “Destination Medical Center” will be a challenge, but the governor says, 20 years from now, “Rochester is going to be better, it’s going to be newer, it’s going to be more attractive, it’s going to be more dynamic and it’s going to have more people.”

He added, “Not to say there are not going to be challenges along the way. The challenges with expansion and further development and growth are far preferable to the ones on the other side. I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for Rochester.”

The governor’s chief of staff has been appointed to chair the “Destination Medical Center” board. The project is the largest economic development effort in the state’s history.

Mayo CEO Dr. John Noseworthy said, “Health care is under attack. It is too expensive, it’s too inefficient in this country, and Americans spend too much money and struggle with their medical bills.

“Mayo Clinic is leading the charge to change that. We’ve been here for 150 years … we are completely committed to our patients and to our staff and to our community.”

Again, the clinic, the city and the state all want to distinguish themselves and transform Rochester and the Mayo Clinic into the world’s leader, with the entire state benefiting in numerous ways.

Why couldn’t this be a model for Lawrence, KU and the state of Kansas? Lawrence’s population is approximately 90,000, and the university attracts thousands of visitors a year. The university already is recognized as one of the nation’s top two or three schools in special education, pharmaceutical chemistry and public administration, and other schools and departments are ranked among the top 10 at the nation’s state-aided universities. Some schools, such as the School of Business, are making major advancements in national rankings.

Why not make the commitment to make these schools and departments the best in their respective fields, not the runner-up — the best faculty, best students, best doctoral programs and top facilities — and bring other programs up to the top tier?

Could officials in Topeka be convinced of the tremendous payback for the state if KU enjoyed this excellence and reputation, which, in turn, would help attract superior students, faculty and researchers and increase the likelihood of attracting new industry and research to the state and Mount Oread? It can’t be done, however, without dynamic, powerful, committed leadership.

Mayo Clinic has tens of thousands of patients and their families coming to Rochester every year for health care. They want top-flight modern hotel/motel facilities, excellent restaurants, top-line retail establishments and first-class recreational facilities.

KU already attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Lawrence for various athletic events. Why not have them come to Lawrence for something other than seeing a player dunk a basketball or score a touchdown? Why not come to Lawrence for a great and pleasurable two- or three-day stay to enjoy other activities? Programs at the university, the opportunity to learn more about advances in various academic and research areas and perhaps the time to get a medical checkup at either an expanded Lawrence Memorial Hospital or the excellent nearby KU Hospital. Or perhaps work in a visit to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to discus a myriad of mental health matters and do some shopping at a number of updated Lawrence stores.

KU officials could aim to separate themselves from other state-aided universities around the country or in the Big 12, just as Dr. Noseworthy wants to elevate the Mayo Clinic to even higher levels of excellence in health care delivery. He says health costs are too high, that health care is under attack and that it’s too inefficient.

Doesn’t this sound familiar relative to the costs and inefficiency in higher education and the frustration and anger of students and their parents?

Lawrence has undergone exercises such as Horizon 2020 and other efforts to plan for the future, but too much time is spent trying to decide matters such as whether it’s in the best interest of the city to ban couches on the front porches of local homes rather than setting future goals for the city — and the university.

What is KU’s plan for the future, 20 years from now? Does the Kansas Board of Regents have a definite plan and a method to achieve truly national or world-class distinction? How about the city? Will it continue to rock along dealing with situations as they arise, or could there be a truly challenging long-range plan that would test the resolve and commitment of all residents? How about the state and what it could do to help transform Lawrence and KU into one of the nation’s best university and host city combinations — by all measurements?

If Rochester, the Mayo Clinic and the state of Minnesota can develop and initiate a plan to become a “giant redwood” of American medical care and research, what’s to keep Lawrence, KU and the state of Kansas from dreaming, committing and initiating their own “giant redwood” plan?


Robert Rauktis 2 years, 2 months ago

Both coastal and mountain redwoods need predictable moisture. That ain't in the cards for Kansas.. . maybe in a day, but not a year.

If you seriously want to cut costs of health problems in the U.S, you'd get some percentage of the forty plus in shape. Cut into the maladies of the Two: too many calories and too little exercise. That shaves the demographics a little. Beyond the people eliminate themselves.

Avoid stupid, wasteful, crony ideas of yet another expensive man made and little used concrete trail half out of the city. People don't go out of town to run on concrete or stone. They run in town as they like buildings; out because they like nature. That's why God invented Rim Rock.

In other words use the environment you got, don't spend ludicrous money importing California notions like redwoods. Big growth isn't in the cards without some basics.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

The local movers and shakers of the real estate industry want Lawrence to become a city of 250,000 ..... for obvious reasons. Their bank accounts. Of course this is costing taxpayers a lot of tax $$$$$ money.

The more growth the more crime as we are watching. The more crime the more the police budget grows and grows and grows. How do we want to spend money?

New residential cost taxpayers too much money because houses do not in and of themselves DO NOT generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of services coming from city hall.

Destroying downtown will cost the community a small fortune. Why not bring back the shopping experience instead of lining Mass street with more bar and grills than Lawrence can ever support? Reinstate Lawrence downtown as the central business district and maintain the old architecture that humans love.

One relatively new industry that does well in Lawrence is the bicycle competition. Bring it on.

People driving to Lawrence to shop our big box stores is simply NOT a realistic plan though some city commissioners continue to believe we can steal from well established markets.

Lawrence cost too much for seniors to relocate no matter how much wealthy developers keep thinking otherwise......they don't do homework. They prefer speculation no matter the cost to taxpayers. Then again former KU students living in the KCMO metro say Lawrence costs too much money.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 2 months ago

The flip side of a renowned medical center complex is a town dedicated to the health of its residents. Rochester has gone a long way toward creating a healthy environment with its Active Living Rochester program, which Lawrence would do good to emulate: http://c133251.r51.cf0.rackcdn.com/CaseStudy_NLC_ActiveLivingRochester_June2012.pdf

We've done a pretty good job laying the foundations for such a program and it wouldn't take a whole lot of additional effort to even surpass Rochester in this respect. Some ideas that come to mind:

-a viable bicycle path program that separates bicycles from heavy motorized vehicle use areas. While I'm fine with competitive bicyclist groups like the Oread Bicycle club sharing the road with cars, Lawrence would do good for the health of its citizens if kids, retired folks and adults interested in daily bicycle commutes to work would have such a safe way to spend their time on bicycles. It could really be a selling point for attracting businesses to the area, I think, as well, as employers who care about the health and safety of their employees would be the kind of businesses we'd like to invite to Lawrence.

-really showcase the fact that the Landon Trail that runs out of Topeka and hooks up to the Flint Hills Trail also connects up to the west end of Clinton Lake. This means that it is possible to actually hike from Lawrence to the Flint Hills

-create "green corridors" hooking up the Clinton Lake woods and prairies with the Baker/Wakarusa wetlands, and while we're at it, connect it up with the Baldwin Woods, Prairie Park nature center and the Kaw River areas, creating a really interesting network of wild areas that could be a draw to hikers, nature lovers and a real boon to the public/private educational community.

While we don't have redwoods in these parts, we do have some prairies that have been living continuously since the ice age, which makes them older than those redwoods. They provide a nice metaphor for the observation that it takes a diverse, vibrant community to support a healthy individual. Let's run with that!

KU_cynic 2 years, 2 months ago

If KU Med had been located in Lawrence (or even Topeka) rather than Kansas City, then a strategy of developing KU/Lawrence as a regionally or even nationally prominent healthcare and health science destination might make sense. For good and ill, KU Med is in Kansas City and is not going to be relocated to Lawrence. That legacy makes Simons's vision for KU/Lawrence seem unlikely.

I await articulation of a strategy for enhancing KU's prominence -- to Lawrence's economic benefit -- that acknowledges and overcomes the inherent disadvantages of the divided Lawrence and KU Med campuses. The failure -- yes failure -- of the massive investments in the Edwards Campus facilities to be integrated into Lawrence-based academic programs in a way that materially enhances KU's academic reputation and Lawrence's economy stand as a hard lesson and a continuing challenge, too.

jayhawklawrence 2 years, 2 months ago

I like the tone of this editorial very much. It is very positive and I want to listen.

Trumbull 2 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Mr Simons on local and KU issues : ) Usually disagree with him on National ones : )

O well. Nice article

fiddleback 2 years, 2 months ago

Pretty pathetic that Dolph can muster so much naive excitement for another state's investment in higher education and infrastructure, but can't bring himself to fully denounce the monstrous cretins he helped vote into office, the ones who would sooner drown kittens than send more money in the Lawrence's direction...

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

Rochester has had a community mission of service throughout its history. Cab drivers, auto mechanics, hotel staff. Everywhere you go, you can sense the intent to serve. DougCounty found information on healthy living. Rochester has more. It's comprehensive plan is to expand public transportation to adjacent communities. Every street has sidewalks. Buses stop everywhere and frequently. Affordable housing options are available, many of them ADA. It has quite a few open parks. The Clinic itself is non profit, and so are the physicians, labs, and other services. It has an incredible IT network that creates a diagnostic schedule that can be done in a week. You don't have to take off from work to go to appointments all over town.

We could create a model community using what we have. Improve the transportation to KU Med. LMH is quite good for a city our size. Medical records are computerized. Some clinics have access. Create closer ties with KU Med. Recruit more doctors and other professionals. Hmmm. Maybe, the new VoTech center should collaborate with a community college in KC to offer med tech courses. Work on a comprehensive plan that pulls everything together. There are a lot of things we could do that would be suited to Lawrence.

The question is, can Lawrencians define the city's mission and follow through? Or, will we just bicker and blame anyone else.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

Irtnog, Not only do I agree with you, but I think a regional center for medical care is a great idea. We should not even try to imitate the Mayo Clinic. The clinic is there if we need it. Lawrence's medical community is already moving towards a regional center. Lawrence needs to get behind this effort. We have an aging population and the city hopes to recruit more seniors. Even for the general population, occasional office visits may not suffice given the advances in modern medicine. And, we already know that we need to find ways to make healthcare less expensive.

As Dolph Simon said, "How many people in Lawrence, at the university or even in Topeka are thinking about the so-called “big picture” — the future of the city and KU 20 or 30 years from now, not just in the next year or two?" A regional medical center could be part of a bigger picture, certainly not the whole picture. By developing a new and up to date comprehensive plan with a sense of direction, we can focus our efforts. What hurts us now is short term thinking and hostile factions.

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