Our chance to think about our future

By The Mercury

It’s time again for a round of navel-gazing. It’s easy to complain about it or dismiss it, but we’d encourage you to participate and think hard. Because thinking hard about our future has been the key to past success, and this could be the root of whatever comes next.

We’re referring to a study being commissioned by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce to figure out where this region ought to go in the future.

It’s going to cost upwards of $170,000; most of the money is privately raised, but taxpayers are pitching in, too. The Manhattan city government is paying $15,000, and Riley County has been asked for a similar amount. We assume this will generate the usual complaints about paying “out-of-town experts” to tell us what we probably already know – or could know for a lot cheaper by hiring a K-State class to tell us – and then produce a bound notebook that will sit on a shelf gathering dust.

That is all certainly possible. But let’s keep in mind that it was serious, forward thinking that led K-State to get ahead of trends and position this community to be the location for NBAF. It was forward thinking that got the area positioned well to see Fort Riley grow, rather than get eliminated, 15 years ago. For that matter, it was forward thinking in the mid-19th Century that got a state university here to begin with.

Where is our world, our nation, and our state going, and how do we best fit into it to serve our interest, and the interests of our children and grandchildren? Those are the kinds of questions to start with.

The study will eventually produce a plan for community and economic development. It should meld together planning at K-State, Fort Riley, and other entities around the region. You’ll almost certainly be reading about it in The Mercury as the year goes along, since there will be public meetings dedicated to it.

For our part, we’d like to start with one thought: Manhattan is a government town, which for many years has been a very good, very stabilizing fact. The university and the Army base have kept this a strong and vibrant community. It is vitally important to keep those pillars strong. It is also important to keep building private enterprise that springs from (and also counterbalances) the university and the fort. Those are the things that make us unique.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent that, to grow, Manhattan needs to be a great place to live. It needs the kinds of amenities that smart young people look for, because smart young people can choose to live anywhere. Technology increasingly allows people to work remotely and live wherever they want.

That doesn’t mean we need to put diamonds in the sidewalks or promise free beer from all the water faucets. But we do need to pay attention to lifestyle issues – schools, parks, entertainment – that might not have been as much of an emphasis in past years.

The Manhattan region has tremendous strengths in this regard, too: Our public schools here are excellent, there’s often a lot going on, and it’s a very easy community to get around. So we’re not in crisis. But we don’t have the ocean or the mountains, and we need to think about the kinds of things that will attract and keep young people here a decade or two down the road. There’s no reason why we can’t be the most attractive community in that regard in the Midwest.

You might disagree with all that, and that’s fine. But you ought to get involved in one way or the other, because the door is open and your thoughts could make a difference.

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