Only in Lawrence

Series to explore what makes city unique

Sunday, December 12, 2004

There's a T-shirt on the wall of Henry's coffee shop in downtown Lawrence bearing a map of Kansas.

Much of the state is depicted as a desert, unwelcoming to human life -- with the exception of a lone spot in the northeast. Lawrence is pinpointed with a palm tree.

"Midwest Oasis," the T-shirt shouts.

That's perhaps a bit ungenerous to our friends and neighbors across the state, most of whom pay taxes that make possible the city's backbone: Kansas University.

But there's no denying Lawrence is different. Pick up a newspaper from the past couple of years, and you'll find stories bearing it out: Surveys and voting results show we're younger, less religious and more Democratic than the rest of Kansas. And while many of the state's counties are emptying, Lawrence's population continues to increase.

Not even a smoking ban could stop that.

There also are the less-easily quantifiable differences: In Lawrence, it seems, gays and lesbians are a little more free to be out of the closet. The arts flourish. And our basketball team is always one of the best.

The differences aren't always to our benefit. Outside Douglas County -- and, sometimes even within our borders -- many Kansans think of Lawrence as "Snob Hill," a place to avoid rather than love.

"If you like this area, you say it's more cosmopolitan than the rest of Kansas," Allan Cigler, a political science professor at Kansas University, said after last month's presidential election. "If you don't like it, it's a deviant county."

There's got to be a reason for all of this, some reason Lawrence attracts anarchists and artists, hipsters and hippies, a record enrollment of college students and a quickly growing community of retirees from out-of-town.

So we're going to figure this thing out.

In the coming months, the Lawrence Journal-World and 6News will bring you "Only in Lawrence," a series of stories about the things that make our city, if not an "oasis," at least very different from the region that surrounds it.

Some of these stories will be lighthearted, some of them will be serious. But in all of them, we want to hear from you.

Why do you live in Lawrence? What makes it different from other cities you know? And is that good or bad?

Give us a call at 832-7126, or e-mail us at

We're looking forward to the conversation.