City leaders call for ‘bold’ change to address racial injustice as part of strategic plan
photo by: Screenshot/City of Lawrence
As the city seeks to set priorities for its budget, its leaders say their goals will include addressing systemic racial injustice and investing in the well-being of all Lawrence residents.
At a special meeting of the Lawrence City Commission Saturday, commissioners worked on the city’s new strategic plan, which it will use to guide its budget decisions for the next three years. The strategic plan, which will update a plan created in 2017, spells out five outcomes the city would like to work toward, and one of them specifies that the city “intentionally acknowledges, removes, and prevents barriers created by systemic and institutional injustice.”
At the completion of the meeting Saturday, Mayor Jennifer Ananda said the desired outcomes the commission had discussed were the first step in the process of creating a worthy community for all residents.
“I’m very inspired to move forward and to really work cohesively to make this vision a reality,” Ananda said. “It doesn’t stop here. This is the seed, the beginning of a really broad conversation and some really exciting action and movement for our residents, for our staff, as well as for our commission.”
Ananda said that historically, the average resident envisioned when making policy decisions was white, middle-class and heterosexual, and that she thought it was time to write a plan that addressed disparities in the community. Other commissioners agreed that all the desired outcomes of the plan needed to be pursued with equity in mind.
Aside from the part of the plan that specifically mentions systemic injustice, the plan’s desired outcomes include “creating a welcoming community” where all people have “access to safe and affordable housing,” “efficient infrastructure” and “trusted public and community-based safety resources,” among other goals. It also stresses “arts, diverse culture, fun, and a quintessential downtown” and “a vibrant, sustainable local economy.”
The city began gathering community input last year about the spending priorities for the strategic plan. Saturday’s meeting was originally supposed to take place in March, in time to be complete ahead of the 2021 budget process, but it was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, the city reopened community feedback on the strategic plan to see how racial justice movements and the pandemic have affected community priorities. The priorities discussed Saturday were informed by that feedback, and City Manager Craig Owens has said there will likely be amendments to the 2021 budget, which is set to be adopted in August, to reflect those changes.
Commissioner Lisa Larsen said that the events of the past five months, including the pandemic and protests surrounding racial injustice and police brutality, have impacted how she views progress. Larsen said that instead of making incremental progress, it was time for the commission to make impactful change for community members who have experienced racial and social injustice.
“We must no longer be timid,” Larsen said. “We must be bold, deliberate and thoughtful.”
The city hired The Novak Consulting Group to help complete the strategic plan. Executive Vice President Julia Novak told the commission that all elements of the strategic plan would come back to the commission for consideration at an upcoming meeting. Once complete, the plan will also include indicators for gauging progress and completion of the outcomes.
The five outcomes the commission developed on Saturday are listed below:
“Unmistakable Identity: Lawrence is a welcoming community, synonymous with arts, diverse culture, fun, and a quintessential downtown. City parks and community events contribute to the vibrancy experienced by all people in Lawrence.”
“Strong, Welcoming Neighborhoods: All people in Lawrence live in safe, functional and aesthetically unique neighborhoods that provide opportunities to lead healthy lifestyles with access to safe and affordable housing and essential services that help them thrive.”
“Safe and Secure Community: Lawrence is a community where all people feel safe, secure, and have access to trusted public and community-based safety resources.”
“Prosperity and Economic Security: The City of Lawrence fosters an environment that provides all people and businesses the opportunity for economic security, and intentionally acknowledges, removes, and prevents barriers created by systemic and institutional injustice. Our community succeeds because of collective prosperity and a vibrant, sustainable local economy.”
“Infrastructure, Asset Management, and Connectivity: The City of Lawrence has well maintained, functional, and efficient infrastructure, facilities and other assets. Connectivity supports accessible, sustainable methods for safely moving people and information throughout the community and region. Investment in these assets reflects the City’s commitment to contribute to the well-being of all people.”