Still time to chime in on vision for future

LaShonda Garnes, community development manager with WSU’s Public Policy and Management Center, spoke recently in Derby about Project Wichita, which takes into account the opinions of local residents. Many responding mentioned wanting strong neighborhoods, including public safety and quality infrastructure.

The Project Wichita undertaking, which includes Derby, is making progress. There have been more than 239 total focus groups and more than 3,800 participants in the community engagement process, which is seeking to identify the future area citizens want and the steps necessary to achieve it. In addition to a regional vision, the process will produce an action plan focused on the next 10 years.

“Our goal with the focus groups was to provide the opportunity for anyone’s voice to be heard anywhere at any time,” said Aaron Bastian, Project Wichita co-chair and president of Fidelity Bank.

He said people in the area have “big dreams and have put a lot of thought into our region’s future.”

Debbie Gann, Project Wichita co-chair and retired Spirit AeroSystems executive, said officials “are overwhelmed by the positive community response to the first step of this listening phase.”

“Compared to other cities our size and larger that have led similar processes, these participation numbers are truly outstanding,” she said.

Focus group audiences included participants ages 9 to 90, business leaders to nonprofit organizations and senior citizens to high school students.

LaShonda Garnes, community development manager with WSU’s Public Policy and Management Center, which analyzed the community responses said one of many aspects mentioned is strong neighborhoods. “That impacts everybody,” she said.

The process’s feedback in its strong neighborhoods and communities category included safety and infrastructure issues, affordable housing, and supporting unique and diverse neighborhood cultures.

“People take pride in good housing stock,” Garnes said. “It’s what makes a community.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a well-off neighborhood, she said, as lower-income communities need to have strong neighborhoods, too, she said, including access to shopping.

And if there’s a “historical context” to it, that needs to be preserved as much as possible to provide pride, Garnes said.

“Everyone has a place and everyone fits in a place,” she said.

About 90 percent of the focus group discussions fit into one of eight broad topics.

Some examples of feedback pertinent to Derby are:

Cultural Arts and Attractions. Feedback included cultural investment in museums, art, entertainment and restaurants, natural attractions, festivals, and diverse entertainment options.

Economic Opportunity. Feedback included workforce development, emphasis on technology, promoting an education hub, and industry diversity and balance.

Transportation. Feedback included passenger trains, bike and walking paths, air service and connections, completion of Kellogg and regional expressways, and enhanced/improved public transit.

Education. Feedback included K-12 improvement and investment, all levels of higher education and pathways, increased emphasis on STEM, establishing goals for graduation, and global preparedness.

Community Wellness. Feedback included mental health care, access to quality health care, care for aging populations, homelessness, and food deserts.

There’s still time to take part in the process as the survey will be available online at www.projectwichita.org through July 6.

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