There are ample reasons to be optimistic as Lawrence readies for 2018. Here are but a few:
• People still love us. Although you certainly can find many corners of Kansas where Lawrence is the butt of a dismissive joke, a key piece of evidence paints a different picture. We have a growing population. Most counties in Kansas can’t make that claim. Since 2010, Douglas County has added nearly 9,000 residents, according to a Census report released earlier this year. Our growth rate in that period was higher than any urban county in the state. That many people surely aren’t wrong about our prospects for success.
• People invest in us. It is one thing to live here. It is another to invest millions of dollars into our community. Such investment continues to happen in Lawrence. Through November, the city has issued permits for $160 million in new residential and commercial construction in Lawrence. While that number is down a bit from 2015 and 2016 totals, those were the two largest construction years in our history. Our 2017 performance is still about 20 percent above our recent averages.
• The University of Kansas campus is being transformed. The Central District project underway on campus is building the infrastructure that will help KU function as a major research institution for decades to come. So much attention is paid to KU athletics, football wins and losses and amenities at stadiums. But all of that is ancillary to KU’s real mission and its real value to the Lawrence economy. Major research institutions can make the world a better place, and with a little more planning and effort on our part, Lawrence can prosper with it.
• We already have a great downtown. Americans are rediscovering the joys of urban living. While Lawrence certainly isn’t urban compared with many large U.S. cities, we are fortunate to have a downtown that fills an attractive niche. It has a vibrancy that often is associated with a larger downtown, but it is surrounded by a smaller city. Lawrence has a chance to have its cake and eat it too. We can continue to be a small city but still capitalize on the trend of urban renewal, if we manage our downtown well. It will be important for us in 2018 to keep our downtown “problems” in perspective. One of the larger downtown debates is likely whether new development is outpacing the supply of parking. There are worse problems to have.
It is easy to be pessimistic about the current state of affairs — and sometimes it is warranted. But Lawrence continues to be blessed with many attributes. Some simply have been the result of good fortune. Many, however, have been grown and nurtured over the years. Often, one advantage has been used to create another. That’s why it is important for us to occasionally take stock of what we have to offer the world. Lawrence, like many communities, can become too wrapped up in what is wrong and consumed by what can go wrong. Certainly, we should not ignore our ills. But it also is good to recognize that having the foresight to build upon our strengths is often the medicine we are most in need of.
Here is hoping that 2018 is a year that gives us ample opportunity to build.