TOPEKA, Kan. - If we are serious about growing our community and changing the prevailing images that weigh us down, we need work toward a paradigm shift and shed the cow town mentality that is enemy number one to progress. It won't work anymore to fix things on the cheap, put things off and take shortcuts. If we are serious about attracting individuals who have good jobs to offer and the ability to solidly contribute to our tax base over the long haul we need to transcend the here-and-now in our planning.
To do this, we start with small things. Small feats often have more of a positive psychological impact on a collective than you might think. When we begin to achieve progress on small levels it empowers people; it sets the wheels into motion as a segue to additional substantial positive changes. To change a community, you have to first begin to improve the perceptions of it from within. Little by little community image improves, people feel empowered and take a more active role in their government. Pretty soon, people start to actively shape the future of their community by demanding progress. They realize that it is much more powerful to stand with ideas rather than let other people come up with them first and oppose.
Downtown Topeka is starting to shape up nicely with some happening nightspots. Groups such as Chords and Oil have begun to shake things up and help people appreciate the necessity and positive influence of art in the community. Young people are becoming increasingly involved and engaged in local government. Little by little, we will make Topeka a more progressive place and reject the cow town mentality that has prevailed for too long.
I think the clean indoor air ordinance recently passed by the Topeka City Council is one of those small successes that will have a ripple effect on many levels for progress in our community. Our community image will thereby be enhanced and it plants the seed for additional betterment with the end result of attracting and retaining young professionals.
Another simple thing we need to do in Topeka is complete our streets. Last Spring, our voters passed a small sales tax increase to maintain and improve streets, gutters, curbs, sidewalks, alleys and street lighting. We had to do this because we got behind. The cow town mentality had prevailed for too long, we dug ourselves a huge hole and there wasn't enough money in the budget to catch up on repairs. So when the design and planning takes place, we need to do it right. The tax increase has passed the revenue will be spent and the work will be done. The only question that remains is how we do it. Complete streets don't cost any more money than the streets of yesterday, so why not? When we make our roadways safer and user-friendly for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and the disabled as well as motorists it will improve our image and plant another seed for betterment.
Topeka has fallen behind and we have a long road ahead of us in the next 10-20 years. We need to stop saying 'no,' start saying 'yes' and be the city of today and tomorrow not yesterday.