Friday, November 28, 2008

Walking the Virtual Streets

I spent this morning walking the "virtual" streets of Lexington by way of other Lexington based blogs. There is one that has caught my attention, Transform Lexington, and while he has many things to say most do not make a lot of sense to me.

Take his foundational thought,
Our Lexington, Kentucky USA is at an historical crossroads, and is now choosing its future. Our Lexington must evolve, and wholly transform. We must retake the lead in today's global, creative, Knowledge Age. We are meant to be a flagship city, for the world to emulate!
Lexington is always choosing its future, in everything that we do. As for evolving and transforming, what does that mean? To evolve means to change over time and we certainly have done that, but to transform implies that we rapidly become something that we currently are not. We cannot do both at the same time. Then there is the part about retaking the lead in a global Knowledge Age, when did we ever lead in anything close to a global knowledge-based term. Kentucky, of which Lexington is only a small part, does lead the world in race horse production, Bourbon whiskey, and some other agricultural products but not a top educational system. I don't think that you will find any "world class city" that believes Lexington is meant to be a "flagship city". If everything that follows on this blog is based on this, can any of it be believed?

That leads me to a post of the other day wherein he starts to give some concrete suggestions for improvements for Lexington.
Cultivate and incent world-leading, innovative, R & D jobs downtown, attracting the thought-leaders of the city, state and globe to Main Street, Vine Street, Upper, Lime, and others. Right now, the main jobs downtown are governmental, or in banks or law firms. These are not "leading-edge" professsions, compared to the next Alltech, Google or Tesla. (I suggest stimulating the Clean Energy Economy with Lexington, Kentucky being Ground Zero, the next Silicon Valley of biofuels, etc... synergizing UK with Alltech and KSTC) Create a great work environment downtown, and young brainiacs will flock downtown.
Downtown Lexington is the center of government for Fayette County, the financial hub for Central Kentucky and the locus for the judicial system. R&D jobs have been recruited and planned for the research park which UK has been trying to establish at Coldstream for the last 10-15 years, with little if any success. Lexmark has a whole campus of R&D and little manufacturing at their location. And what of Belcan, with their 300 or so engineers and thrie support staff housed in the Vine Center building, or Archvision now on Main St but formerly on the CentrePointe block. These are some of the leading edge professions. If Alltech is the type of company that we want, then why can we not entice them to move from Nicholasville. We have a "state of the art" robotics program at UK, why not build on that? Or the biomedical research buildings, that Homeland Security controls a large portion of, lets build on that.

And, by the way, nobody wants to party where they work.
Incent cool, affordable housing downtown, within walking distance of these innovative, world-leading jobs and businesses.

Incent a grocery store, a drugstore or two, a Joseph-Beth bookstore (or similar) and other liveable, cool retail outlets, also within walking distance of the jobs and residences.
These two are a little harder to pull off. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, preventing those working downtown from living there except that the area is not "family friendly". None of the recent condos are of the 3-4 room design that a young family would need. Everything has been built for the student population or the "empty nester"

If Cincinnatti cannot get their hometown mega-retailer Kroger to open a downtown grocery, what is Lexington to do? What kind of incentives sould we try?
Green it up - Phoenix Park should be a mini Millenium Park. Cheapside Park should be pristine, and then home to the Farmers' Market (this seems likely, actually). Make the corridor from Thoroughbred Park to the new Distillery District full of grass, trees, flowers, pretty sidewalks, etc... (LFUCG's new Streetscape plan is doing this, so this is already on the table.)
Lastly, we have this suggestion. Phoenix Park along with the Court House Plaza would make a micro Millenium Park. I wonder which of the definitions of pristine is being used here.
1.a. Remaining in a pure state; uncorrupted by civilization.
b. Remaining free from dirt or decay; clean: pristine mountain snow.
2. Of, relating to, or typical of the earliest time or condition; primitive or original.
If it is 1.a. then the Farmers Market could not be built there as a permanent location, if 1.b., the Market would have to clean up after themselves everyday (not very likely). If 2, then a grassy unpaved market area would not be a conducive nor attractive amenity. I like the corridor idea, but in order to install all that grass, we will have to remove all the auto traffic and the major highways that lead to downtown. That, of course, goes against all those who criticize Lexington for having the Interstates way outside the core area.

Transforming may think that these are great starting points, but he gives no way of reaching them save the government paying for the incentives. That means that all the good taxpaying folk outside of downtown will have to pay for the incentives and than travel to, pay for parking, enjoy, and then travel back home at their expense. It doesn't happen now and won't happen then. The "less than minimum wage jobs" of more dining establishments, music venues and festivals, that steal from the local money supply, will not make up for the hotel/housekeeping jobs that are paid for by outside (global) funds.

In regards to his comments on the "Athens of the West" roots, what few local folk realize is that the phrase arises from the preponderance of "eastern lawyers" and the culture they brought with them. The reason that they were here was to settle the overlapping land claims granted by the various jurisdictions, sight unseen. One of the most prominent lawyers was Henry Clay, and by the time of the Civil War, the title "Athens of the West" was fading into legend and dreams of what once was.

I do see Lexington as a mecca of sorts, a place where people travel to make their annual pilgrimage of their favorite pastime.
Mecca started as a holy site for Islam, and only now serves as a focal point of their faith.
The Meccan economy has been heavily dependent on the annual pilgrimage. As one scholar put it, "[Meccans] have no means of earning a living but by serving the hajjis." Wikipedia

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