Review by Parish McDonald
Visions of Lincoln: Nebraska’s Capital City in the Present, Past and Future br>
Lincoln, Neb., may be about to go through a dramatic transformation. Like many small and medium-size cities, over the years different civic groups have contracted with a series of consultants regarding plans for the future. Often such plans are fragmented, and they are quickly put on the shelf and forgotten. Recently, an independent group of citizens pulled together a variety of these past plans and dramatically expanded them. The result is a wide-ranging plan for Lincoln, entitled Vision 2015, which is filled with what many may see as bold ideas. Presenting these types of ideas can be risky, especially when answering the bottom-line question: Will the population of Lincoln support these plans broadly enough to provide the public financing required to supplement private financing and put the plan into action?
Visions of Lincoln: Nebraska’s Capital City in the Present, Past and Future
, a 272-page hard cover book available November 2007, will celebrate what contributors feel is best about Lincoln, past and present, then will look to the challenges and possibilities of the future, as envisioned by the supporters of Vision 2015. The book is intended to help people get ready to move into a brighter future.
A wide array of community leaders is included in the book, including historian Jim McKee, who writes the central article, and National Geographic
photographer Joel Sartore, who contributes a photo essay. The book also includes essays by UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall, Downtown Lincoln Association President Polly McMullen, Vision 2015 leader Kent Seacrest, Lincoln Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Barbara Bartle, LPS Associate Superintendent Marilyn Moore, and columnist Cindy Lange-Kubick.
As Polly McMullen argues in the book, downtown areas in cities can survive and make dramatic transformations, as Lincoln has done and must continue to do. Vacancy rates in downtown Lincoln are the lowest they have been in over a quarter century, and a string of successes have made a significant difference in the last two decades to the new shape and spirit of downtown. These successes have come about through contributions by major downtown companies and organizations, including Ameritas, TierOne Bank, Nelnet, Douglas Theatres, Nanonation, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and UNL’s Mary Riepma Ross Theater. The success of the Historic Haymarket District is noted in particular as one way to integrate the past and the future, as the Haymarket includes a developing mix of business and entertainment, government buildings and havens for artists, clustered in a district noted for its historic buildings and architecture.
Another important step in the Vision 2015 plan is to discover ways to ensure the development of the long-term vitality and viability of downtown. A Downtown Master Plan features the development of a “people friendly” area, including a retail corridor that would allow expanded residential areas, as well as a centrally located open public space that would provide a new “living room” Civic Square. Over the next two decades, the master plan intends to allow for the emergence of a dynamic new downtown and build strong momentum for the city as a whole.
Two contributors to the book, Marilyn Moore and Barbara Bartle, highlight how important education is to Lincoln and that a strong education system, with schools and communities working together to improve the overall life of the city’s children, will be key to the future. One way to do this is through Lincoln’s Community Learning Centers’ plan, a coordinated approach to building strong families and healthy neighborhoods, looking at the whole experience of a child in his or her environment and noting areas in need of attention, whether that’s spotting the need for after-school care, identifying resources to help an alcoholic parent or helping a family to develop budgeting skills.
Articles by Kent Seacrest and Harvey Perlman identify what may be the most significant challenge to the city: comparing Lincoln to other cities that share the similar role of being home to both the state capitol and the state’s major research university and identifying ways to improve Lincoln’s showing in the comparison. Comparison cities include Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis; St. Paul, Minn; and Salt Lake City, Utah. All these cities are considered high-quality places to live. Lincoln has compared well in some categories, but not all. Other economic and social indicators reveal areas that need improvement.
One of these areas needing improvement is the brain drain that occurs with college students. Each year 8,000 new college students come to college in Lincoln and make Lincoln their home, yet not enough of them are choosing to remain in Nebraska once they graduate. The fear is that, unless the community makes significant efforts, Lincoln could follow the trend of many smaller communities and lose its future young people and jobs, leading to higher property taxes, reduction in services and a reduced quality of life. On the other hand, the book contends, major investment in plans such as Vision 2015 will provide quality jobs, affordable housing, and an overall increase in the quality of life in the city.
In the end, Visions of Lincoln
describes what the contributors feel is the major challenge for the city: to tell its story with style, communicating the advantages and benefits to living in the Lincoln community and saying, yes, this is indeed an outstanding place to live.
For more information, please visit www.visionsoflincoln.com.