In Response to Frustrations with the City of Lawrence

Over on Reddit, there was a post that has been the subject of a lot of my thinking today, between work projects and hanging out with the kiddo. I’m reproducing my response to it here for myself because I want to think more about this issue. Below, my comment, copied and pasted:

I’ve been thinking about this post all day. I moved back to Lawrence ten years ago, strongly based on my memories of growing up here in the 90s, and I definitely get a “vibe” that Lawrence is becoming a less friendly place for me to live. I’ve spent a lot of time interrogating that idea, wondering what it means. Is it because Lawrence is changing, or because I am growing older? What is it that I want Lawrence to do? Are there other towns I think get it right? Am I willing to be the change I want to see, and to step up and get involved? No easy answers.

I’ve considered getting involved in local politics because I know Lawrence as a community can do better and feel like we must do better if we want better. But I’ve also watched closely many city leaders on social media and seen how the experience has impacted them, and truth be told, I think Lawrence, like much of the U.S., is a deeply divided place, not just along the usual ideological lines, but economic and social ones as well. Being in leadership in this town is quite frankly, humiliating and seems pretty darned traumatic at times. Who has the energy for being disliked by so many people? Not me.

Lawrence basically cannot make up its mind about what it wants to be anymore (if it ever could). There’s no shared vision for this town that unites us (the closest thing seems to be a love for KU basketball, but that doesn’t get us very far). Any attempt to steer it with a vision seems to enrage a percentage of the population. And this feeling has only gotten worse to me in the last few years, with COVID. It’s a large problem for the country writ small in my opinion. No vision, so no forward momentum.

And I feel like we’re all in a bit of a malaise post COVID in other ways. This is represented well in the food scene. About the only restaurants I still enjoy eating at are Big Mill and Lucky Sebs. So much has gone up in price, and quality and service has suffered. But is that because COVID ruined my taste buds? Because inflation means it’s impossible to make a survivable living in food services in this region so everyone quality has fled, or been forced to cut corners to make it? And a number of service people straight up died in the pandemic, too, right? Looking at the labor shortage, I try to remind myself that has to be a factor (although maybe a smaller one).

I’m in my mid-40s now and I miss the surety I had about how to solve problems in my 20s and 30s. I’m a lot more tired now, and sometimes even just thinking about the problems our community faces leave me feeling overwhelmingly exhausted, and nothing feels like an “easy” answer anymore. Probably none of my answers were actually easy before. The certainty of being right is gone, now, anyway.

I get how you’re feeling. I really do. It’s easy to get angry at people pointing out the downsides of a place you call home, so I also get how people have reacted to this post.

Me, I hunger for strong leadership with strong ideas about how to move our community forward. I don’t think I’m smart enough to have the ideas, but I’ll definitely be watching and provide my support to whoever does. We need solutions, or things will continue to feel aimless and like a slow, steady decline.

I doubt we’re going to find it here on Reddit, but who knows. Maybe we will. I would love to see more serious conversations about the future of our community here. I appreciate your willingness to push the hard conversations we probably need to have.

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