Thursday, May 06, 2004

What's Kansas like?

Recently my friend Candace asked me about Kansas. In responding to her, I realized just how much I miss Kansas. So here are my thoughts on the Great State of Kansas.

I'll start with an overview, then provide a thumbnail sketch of some of the bigger cities and then I'll give you my pro's and con's.

Let's start with Kansas' top level domain.

I like eastern Kansas a lot, that's where I grew up. The Flint hills region between Lawrence and Wichita along I-335 in the Spring is one of the prettiest places on Earth in my opinion. The state is mainly grassland, which is good for grazing cattle and raising wheat, corn, soybeans, milo etc.

Kansas doesn't have many people, the entire state has only 2.6-2.8 million people. By comparison, the city of LA has over 3 million alone. Orange county has about 3 million people. LA county has about 10 million people. Kansas is a rural state, which I like.

Kansas has some hills, but no mountains. Kansas is pretty flat, flatter than a pancake. See the Annals of Improbable Research

Western Kansas is particularly flat. It's a long, boring drive to Colorado to go skiing from anywhere in Eastern Kansas. They are also draining the acquifer under Western Kansas slowly and in about 40 years it will turn into a virtual desert. I would not move to western Kansas for just that reason.

To help you follow along and visualize the state, here's an interactive map of Kansas. If you click on the county, it will bring up a page for it with information on the biggest city in the county. I'll tell you what counties the cities are in as I go.

1. Wichita in Sedgwick County
Wichita is definitely the largest town in Kansas and the one where a person could most easily find a job, I'd guess. To be honest, my wife hates Wichita, but she grew up there, so it's an emotionally charged place for her. I've spent some time there, but not enough to really form an opinion. But I don't really like it. It seems to have a lot of vicious crime. Which is unusual for Kansas.

Sarah's family has lived there a long time and they have a very nice house, although they're moving to Oklahoma actually.

Wichita is big enough to have it's own airport, which is convenient. It's only a regional airport, but having an airport is town is always handy.

2. Hutchinson in Reno County
Hutchinson is pretty small, but it's nicer in my opinion. Most people refer to it as Hutch.

Hutchison had a lot of oil money in the 70's and that helped set up the economy. Dillons, an upscale supermarket chain in Kansas, is based in Hutchinson now. I won Hutchison's debate tournament one year, so I've always been well-disposed towards Hutchison. They do have a nice high school and I think the tax base is pretty good. My supervisor at the Legal Aid Society was from Hutchinson, and he was one of the most honorable men I've ever met. So personally, I like Hutchinson. My wife doesn't care for it.

3. Salina in Saline county
Salina is a sleepy town in the middle of Kansas...railroad tracks run through the middle of town, which I always hated. It is far away from anything. I've visited Salina several times. It's far from Kansas City and even farther from Colorado and there's nothing to do there. I wouldn't ever live there.

4. Lawrence in Douglas County
If I were to move back to Kansas, I'd move close to Lawrence, Kansas. That's where I went to law school at KU. KU is online at www.ukans.edu.

I once heard someone say that Austin is an oasis in the middle of Texas, in much the same way that Lawrence is an oasis in the middle of the desert that is the entire Midwest.

Lawrence has a decent live music scene for its size. The Bottleneck in Lawrence attracts some national bands. Lawrence has an interesting vibe. There are lots of young punks with piercings in town along with your usual retinue of college students. KU is the flagship university in Kansas, so it is the nicest in many ways. Most of the graduate programs in the state are located at KU.

KU has about 30,000 students and there are 80,000 people in Douglas county. Lawrence is a college town mainly and a bedroom community for the Kansas City metro area. Lawrence probably has the highest density of libraries in the entire state.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but anyone in Kansas who has a single liberal bone in his or her body eventually moves to Lawrence or leaves the state entirely.

Don't get me wrong, Lawrence has its own share of problems. That's where I practiced law, so I could tell you about the deadbeats and drunks and wife-beaters. No place is perfect. But Lawrence is better than many. I really liked Lawrence.

Another nice thing about Lawrence is that it is about 30-45 minutes from Kansas City, so the amenities of the big city are close at hand for shopping or a night out on the town. Kansas City also has an international airport. KCI is a well-designed airport that is north of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri is a nice place. Next door is Westport, which is a popular bar district. Johnson county, Kansas is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Johnson county and Douglas county are growing closer together.

Land in most of Kansas is REALLY cheap compared to anywhere in California. Kansas land is cheap compared to anywhere on either coast, I think. There's a lot more land than people.

5. Holton in Jackson county
If you really wanted a really small town, I'd suggest Holton, near Lawrence.

My wife had an internship there one summer and lived in a renovated barn in Holton. I really liked Holton. It's a tiny, tiny town, tho.

Jefferson county is between Douglas (Lawrence) and Jackson (Holton). My grandparents used to own a farm in Jefferson county near Perry Lake.

Advantages of Kansas:
Cost of living is cheap. Land is cheap. Food is cheap. Plenty of clean water. Lots of clean air. Little crime.

Disadvantages of Kansas:
Jobs are scarce. Not a lot of industry or high paying jobs. Flat. Boring. Conservative. I'm ashamed to admit that when I left Kansas one of the school boards had just voted to ban the teaching of evolution. It was overturned the next year, but it's still hard to believe there are people that ignorant out there. There are lots of Christians in Kansas. Kansas is also very white bread. Not many minorities, especially in the rural areas. But lots of rednecks.

The brain drain is a very real thing in places like Kansas. The best and the brightest find better paying jobs in big cities around the country and leave forever. Most of my friends from college now live in Austin, Texas and will probably never move back to Kansas.

The pace is of life is definitely slower in Kansas.

And perhaps the biggest downside:
You can only get country music on the radio away from the big towns. ;-)

So, I hope this gives you a better idea about Kansas.

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