You can drive across town in 20 minutes.
Longer if you stop to enjoy the variety of attractions here.
Longer still if you want to meet people of all the different cultures and religions who live here.
Even longer if you want to take the time to talk to them and discover that they like living in Wichita. And that they think there’s plenty to do here.
Asked by The Eagle to explain why they live here, many Wichitans wrote passionately about their city. It turns out that people who live here love it — and none more so than those who have lived somewhere else.
They’re weary of those who bad-mouth Wichita, while admitting the city is not without flaws. Public transportation could be better, they say. The arts could receive more support. We need to get behind recycling. There could be more bike paths.
Changes are afoot this year to address some of these complaints, and 2012 will offer many chances for residents to help plan what is to come.
In fact, this year could set a record for public input. A host of groups are set to plan the needs and priorities of the community for the future, including Visioneering Wichita, Young Professionals of Wichita, the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., the Regional Economic Area Partnership and the city.
“A perfect storm is happening,” says Suzie Ahlstrand, executive director of Visioneering Wichita.
And each effort will rely heavily on feedback from residents, who aren’t shy about offering it.
Barbara Fox, a recently retired nurse who has lived in Wichita since 1975, says she loves this city because “we have four seasons, semi-clean air, affordable housing, a nice mix of employment opportunities” and can get anywhere in 20 minutes.
But, she says, “We shoot ourselves in the foot by lagging in recycling, water fluoridation, walking/biking paths, (and) public transportation.”
The Rev. Leigh Carlson Burgess, 56, resident chaplain at Wesley Medical Center, says she has lived in about 10 other cities of varying sizes, and none was perfect.
“However, on whole, I find Wichita to be a friendly place, diverse and more open to a range of human experiences and ideas than people give it credit for,” she says.
“Out and around in our city, I encounter many different racial and ethnic groups and overhear the sweet music of languages other than English on our streets and in our stores. I experience this as a true blessing!” she says.
Jordan Walker, 23, who commutes from Wichita to Hutchinson, where she is Web and social media supervisor at Lowen Corp., finds Wichita “the perfect blend of big city and small town.”
“We move fast enough to create innovation, but we take time out to enjoy the small things in life. I love that,” she says.
“I love to travel and experience big city living,” Walker says, “but I always enjoy coming home where people take a breath once in a while.”
Bob Arterburn, a 58-year old electrical engineer, finds that Wichita is “close enough to the big cities to go there if I want, far enough away that they seldom if ever come here.”
“Traffic jams still tend to move at a pace above the speed limit,” he says.
And: “Ever waited more than 1/2 an hour for a table at one of Wichita’s many excellent restaurants?” Arterburn wrote. “Not likely.”
If you don’t like what you see around you, look up in the sky.
That’s the suggestion of Dave Carter, 66, who recently retired from Raytheon Airline Aviation Services.
“Where else in the world can you see — in the span of several hours — a steady stream of Citations, Learjets, Hawker Beechcraft and other Bombardier products overhead ?” Carter asked.
“Then there are the tankers arriving and departing to distant destinations from the world’s largest tanker base, McConnell; the FedEx Caravans feeding western Kansas with purple packages; the Wichita-built T1-A tanker transport trainers up from Oklahoma; and the many homebuilt and antique personal craft based at our area airports and rural airstrips.”
Also, Carter says, Wichita “offers million-dollar sunsets, free of charge.”
For Theresa Schultz, originally from Shawnee, who studied in Egypt and traveled much of Europe and Africa, Wichita seemed an unlikely choice.
But she and her husband and two sons have thrived here, says Schultz, a Realtor with J.P. Weigand & Sons. They joined Exploration Place, enjoy the Sedgwick County Zoo, became active in scouting, and grew close with neighbors.
“Wichita may not have been my dream location, but then life and location is what you choose to make of it,” she says.
Lori Lawrence, 53, an American Sign Language interpreter and a Wichita native who is active in the community, can’t imagine leaving the city.
“I believe Wichita is the perfect place to live and I also know we sometimes have to fight to make it and keep it so,” she says. “The biggest thing I would like to change isn’t the city, but the attitude of people who live here. The perception seems to be, and was among the kids I graduated high school with, that Wichita is not a desirable place to live.”
Lisa Hittle, 54, jazz director at Friends University, who has lived here since 1980, also gets irritated when people who live here say negative things about the city.
She loves living in Wichita, where there are rarely traffic jams, the cost of living is reasonable and she feels safe.
“Despite what some people think, there are always interesting things to see and do,” she says.
“The only things I would like to see improved are public transportation and more support (by the public) of the many great cultural offerings that happen in this city on a weekly basis.”
Charles Burdsal, 67, moved to Wichita in 1972 when he joined the faculty at Wichita State University, where he is a psychology professor and director of the Social Science Research Laboratory.
“I thought I’d be here a few years then move on. Well, WSU has grown into a good school, (and) Wichita is an easy place to be. The city government is more ‘honest’ as a whole than any place I’ve lived,” he says.
Burdsal says he has never understood the low opinion some Wichita natives have of the city.
“It has improved — WSU isn’t called Hillside High any more — but needs to change more,” he says.
This sentiment echoes a 2007 Visioneering Wichita survey, which found that people who live here are positive about the community, but believe their neighbors don’t like it as much as they do, and outsiders even less.
That feeling prevailed among people from all demographic groups in Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties, according to the survey.
More studies are planned. Visioneering Wichita, the downtown development group and Young Professionals plan to leverage a $125,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with another $82,000 of in-kind services to collaborate on a plan to define the Wichita area’s short-term priorities and gather public input on those priorities. The city plans to seek input on transit solutions and ways to adapt to the loss of federal funds for improvement programs.
And the Regional Economic Area Partnership has received a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to come up with a long-term plan for economic development, jobs, housing, transportation, public safety and the use of limited public funds.
Part of the three-year planning process will include extensive community input starting in the middle of this year, says Joe Yager, REAP’s chief executive. REAP includes Wichita, Wellington, Hutchinson, El Dorado and Newton, and Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties.
The REAP process is meant to align with the other planning efforts, Yager says.
“We will enhance those and utilize them for our process,” he says.
So area residents will have plenty of chances to express themselves in the coming year.
As long-time Wichita resident Mary Tomlinson, 86, puts it:
“If you can’t say anything positive about Wichita, you need to contribute something.”