Archive for Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Your Turn: A look back at strategic planning in Lawrence

January 25, 2017


I was encouraged to see that city leaders are once again engaging in strategic planning. It was disappointing to read that this is thought to be the city’s first experience in strategic planning.

I suggest a few notes could be added to Rochelle Valverde’s recent article.

My thoughts come from having served as a member of the planning department from 1978 to 2005.

The first strategic plan was done in the early 1960s. I believe it was 1964 by Harland Bartholomew’s company. (This planning document used to be in the city planning department’s library. It may have been donated to Spencer Research Library.)

The Bartholomew strategic planning sessions produced several documents that led to the city’s first comprehensive land use plan and to a new zoning code. The Bartholomew plans provided the genesis of many of the larger land use decisions made in the next three decades. It was the predecessor of the public planning meetings held to create, review and adopt PLAN 95 and its successor, HORIZON 2020, comprehensive land use plans adopted in the 1980s and 2000. To illustrate this; the original concept of a southern loop around the city was developed in the 1960s plan. (Albeit, the original location for the southern loop was nearer to 19th Street than 31st Street.)

Considering the city’s future directions for the long-term, not short-term gains, was the strength of community leaders in the past.

When I came to the city in the late ’70s, three community leaders (City Manager Buford Watson, KU Chancellor Laurence Chalmers and Journal-World publisher Dolph Simons Sr.), met regularly to discuss the future directions of the city/university.) Not all decisions they made were altruistic, but securing the downtown’s place in history as the city’s center by anchoring both ends with government buildings has proven to be a successful strategy.

Expanding the strategic planning process into the 1970s and 1980s by including city commissioners and other community leaders improved the planning process in Lawrence. A good strategic plan can influence, even two to three decades later, the visions developed through an inclusive planning process.

City Commissioners and city department heads did participate in the strategic planning process known as SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) in the 1980s and 1990s. I know as I took part in these sessions.

A question for today might be: “What happened to end the strategic planning process in the past, or for that matter, to end the creation of a Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), that helped community leaders plan in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s for future public improvements?”

I have made it a practice not to comment on city planning for over a decade, but the portion of Valverde’s article that noted how city commissioners struggled at a recent study session to find a title to adequately describe the 2007-2016 period was too good to overlook. I suggest whatever the period is titled, it would be appropriate to footnote it as: “This period exhibited a lack of leadership or vision brought on through short-term thinking and individual goals that replaced community vision and leadership.”

— Linda Finger served as director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department from 1994 to 2005.


Ken Lassman 1 year, 4 months ago

Thank you, Linda, for your reminder of a time when the entire community was a more active participant in the strategic planning process. And thanks for also reminding us that those consensus documents were reviewed and updated in a transparent way and while certain special interests whined about having to justify altering the consensus plans developed for the future directions of our community, having seen the recent alternative, I must say that most people would prefer moving ahead with a strategic document that reflects the diversity of our community, not just the voices who are positioned the most strategically.

Charles Jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Excellent article, Linda. Agree there is a lack of leadership and vision. But it's not that our electeds don't care. The system -- particularly the 1 year rotating mayor -- impedes the development of skills, experience, connections and the long-view that go into leadership and vision. One thing certain about the 2007-2016 period. The challenges we face have grown much more severe.

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