Young and talented people leave Wichita all too often. I should know, since I was almost one of them.
Six years ago I thought about leaving Wichita. I was in love with the energy other cities had to offer and did not find that same energy here. With the looming economic downturn and a job search that wasn’t panning out as quickly as I had hoped, I sold my house and was ready to move on.
After deciding to stick it out one more year, I found an apartment in Old Town and strived to discover what, if any, culture Wichita had to offer. What I found surprised, excited and, quite frankly, reinvigorated me. And ultimately, it is what helped change my mind about this community.
I found that Wichita has a robust arts scene. Final Fridays, the monthly art crawl, has brought the thriving art scene to life in Old Town, on Commerce Street and around other parts of downtown, while First Fridays, the monthly music crawl, bring the energy of live music to the area. During these crawls, many businesses and galleries serve as venues to showcase local and national artists.
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Wichita also has a multitude of diverse entertainment offerings, including the Intrust Bank Arena, the Orpheum Theatre, Music Theatre of Wichita, Wichita Symphony and the Warren Theatres, just to name a few. There are diverse shopping opportunities and amazing dining choices all around the city and at a fraction of the cost of our big-city counterparts.
I’ve recently become a family man and have discovered another side of Wichita that makes it so desirable — the cost of living, excellent school systems, a world class zoo, and those Midwestern values. Wichita is not only a community for the young and single, but for those raising a family. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find other communities that can provide both lifestyles so successfully.
When I think of areas for potential growth in our community, I think about the river. Young professionals are a physically active group. The community needs to provide a stronger sense of place for these activities, and the river is a natural draw. When looking for an outlet for exercise, I quickly discovered the paths along the river and through the parks system. Although these trails are wonderful, I was sad to see them so underutilized. Our riverfront has the possibility to be so much more than it currently is.
There is something else unique about this town. The people here do not become just a face in the crowd, like many other large communities. When you get involved, you can immediately see the difference you make. When I became active in Young Professionals of Wichita, I immediately found that my voice was heard, that I could make a change, and I could affect the future direction of my community — a direction that is still being determined. I am at the forefront of determining this direction because our opinions are not just needed, but are being requested. Just like businesses, our young talent is being pursued by outsiders every day, and they have choices to make. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure we provide unique opportunities unlike what is drawing them elsewhere.
In today’s market, it is common for companies to move to where the employees are. Young professionals often first choose where to live, then in turn find a job. I know my experience closely mirrors what many young professionals are currently going through, which is why it is vital this community focuses on what it takes to keep them here. With downtown revitalization under way, the possibilities of what could be really excite me. This is our chance to dream about our future and not to reminisce about the past. Not to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished, but to focus on our potential. As an architect, I understand how important this idea of place is. We need a front door worth presenting to our visitors: a thriving, cutting-edge downtown. One that lets the world know that we are a progressive community never satisfied with what we have, but always searching for what is next.