September 25, 2023

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Special Interests v. Silent Majority

In a few days a number of Lawrence residents will gather at two public meetings to discuss and make recommendations relative to how they believe “downtown Lawrence” should develop over the next 20 years.

They will be engaged in the “Community Outreach efforts for the Downtown Lawrence Master Plan.” One meeting will be a “Community-Wide Workshop” and the other a “Downtown Business and Property Owner Workshop.” This sounds good, but there is one major flaw: all meetings are to be public, open and transparent.

Chances are there will be many generalizations about the need for an update of the master plan and generalizations about what needs to be done to come up with a realistic and workable blueprint.

The trouble is some in the two audiences who should speak up will not express their true opinions for fear of angering those in city hall and some neighborhood advocates and….suffering damaging consequences or retaliations from various city offices.

Likewise, some who could make valuable and meaningful suggestions and ideas will not attend the meetings.

Those in the Chicago firm hired to develop the master plan have made it clear they intend to gather all the information they need in an open public forum format. This almost guarantees many important issues and situations affecting the creation of a visionary, sound and workable plan will go unheard.

At one time, years ago, Lawrence was a far more united community. There was a great town-gown relationship and the majority of citizens were motivated on doing what they could to make Lawrence a better community and the University a better state-aided school.

And, they wanted Lawrence to be a stand-alone, strong, proud city – not a suburb of Kansas City or Topeka.

Something happened and today it is dangerously divided in many ways that makes it increasingly difficult to take advantage of the many assets of the city and university, which in turn could make Lawrence a truly outstanding university city.

It is puzzling why city officials and/or citizens decided to hire a Chicago firm to design the blueprint for the future of Downtown Lawrence.

Supposedly, one of the nation’s best schools for teaching city government is located on Mt. Oread. Does it seem reasonable those in this program, people who live and work in Lawrence and KU, might have some good ideas of what seems to work in Lawrence and what recommendations they might have to help make it a better functioning community….including a better downtown.

Do Chicago people have a better understanding of Lawrence, its history and dreams and opportunities for the future?

Hopefully, the two upcoming meetings will be productive and result in many good, realistic, challenging and visionary ideas.

Unfortunately the commitment to transparency and openness handicaps the possibility of the Chicago people hearing many concerns that play a significant role in keeping Lawrence from maximizing its potential. The insistence not to have private meetings relative to city matters could cause the city to be short-changed and the new, updated or revised downtown master plan will be a shallow overview rather than a challenging, well thought out, workable blueprint.
Lawrence needs and deserves better.