Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Downtown Reflects Its Residents

The other day I responded to a comment on an article in Business Lexington The comment wasn't so much about the article as it was to an(I thought) inadequate response to another commenter. Since then I have decided to expand on these words here.

The original commenter is a well respected real estate broker who concentrates on commercial properties and the gist of what he said dealt with the look of downtown and his thoughts on who should be responsible for its usual condition. He pointed out some specific locations and named adjacent property owners. I took him to imply that, although we have some fine, civic minded property owners, there are still things that they could do for some of our main thoroughfares. He finished with a thought or two on simply enforcing the laws that are currently on the books and identifying that we are all stakeholders in how the face of Lexington comes across to the rest of the world.

The editor, Tom Martin, came back with a description of some efforts in other cities that could be implemented here. But these were still basically impersonal, government run clean-up campaigns that would be paid for by imposing some kind of additional fee somehow. Not quite the same as involving all the stakeholders, except for paying for it.

My thought is to place the blame squarely where it belongs. Downtown would not look as it does if it weren't for the people of the area. Downtown is a reflection of the people who live and work there.

My first point is also probably the most obvious one, as it occurs right in the center of town. Most folks would say the CentrePointe block, but I am looking across the street in Phoenix Park. A certain set of our residents have literally taken up camping in the park. Complete with assigned sleeping areas and stacks of their worldly possessions covered with tarps , to protect them from the rain. Some days, as I pass there, it looks like a roofless dormitory with some of the residents beginning to stir and others still sleeping in. Shortly after, they set up the rec rooms and the friends come by for a day of hanging out, playing cards and good conversation. Sooner or later some ministry group will come by with food and water for lunch and dinner.

Other cities have similar problems, as evidenced by an article recently published in the Wall Street Journal about urban tent cities for the homeless. Our homeless just haven't been provided with tents yet.

My second point takes on how we treat our places of public assembly, primarily the Court House Plaza. It is the most recent showplace for large crowds and a focal point of our civic pride. But have you looked at the pavers and stone walls of the plaza lately? Increasing numbers of black splotches of used gum (or whatever) and cigarette butts litter all around the approaches to the doorways. Trash barrels that get aimed at and hit about 60% of the time and skateboard tire marks on the steps and some low stone walls. Take a good look at this place after a public gathering of some size, a rally or holiday weekend, and before the city's clean-up crew get to it. It can be just disgusting what a crowd can leave behind.

The third point is about not just what a crowd leaves behind, but some of our favorite establishments in downtown. We have a burgeoning entertainment district going on in downtown Lexington, and I have not been shy about blogging about it. But some of these places leave the sidewalks and streets around their kitchen doors and areas where they place their refuse for pick up in a horrible state. Some of their Herbies and Rosies are sitting in a sea of detritus or a caked pile of grease, which nobody claens up for days. I have seen some places with sidewalk cafe tables just a few feet from a night spots recently emptied garbage bins. Mmmmm' good eating for lunch.

Then there are those night spots who advertise by posters and placards. Stapling, nailing, pasting or somehow adhearing said placards to whatever lightpost, box or other inantimate object that will take it. They do not remove any old ones, just rip as much as they can of what was left off and replace with a newer one. Occasionally the city will send a crew out to tryto clean thing up, but that is getting rarer in these times of budget crunches.

My questions to all of this is "Why are we such pigs about the way that we (ab)use our downtown?" Are we all like teenagers who allow their room to get so piled with trash that Mom has to come in and throw everything away? Why do we expect someone else to do the cleaning up?

People, we have the World coming to our house in the near future. All that some folks can talk about is the vacant block where a few ratty buildings used to stand, and they complain that it looks trashy. To me, it looks like someone is planning to do some type of project, that there is progress of some sort in this town. This is the space over the sofa reserved for a piece of artwork, while the rest of the house is littered with junk and piles of dust balls.

Our house need a good cleaning and we all need to help.


Ontherocks said...

I'm somewhat torn on the inhabitants of Phoenix Park. Generally, kicking people while they're down isn't something I support. These folks have nowhere to go. I've seen areas of town where they reside that look far worse. At least in the park they get trash collection service.

The flipside is that for residents of Park Place and lunch hour patrons, the park is largely unusable. For the taxpaying public that is pretty unacceptable. Short of enforcing vagrancy laws, I don't know how you dissuade folks from loitering in a park. Hell, I'd like to be able to loiter there some.

Further, my discomfort doesn't stem from being afraid of these folks. I've never had a bad encounter in that park. I just don't like stopping to eat my lunch in front of people who can't afford their own. Caro's with a side of guilt...I'll pass. Mmm....Caro's.

Streetsweeper said...

My position is not so much kicking them out of the park or some other nasty things, but actually doing things FOR them.

I would liken them to having your Dad or Grandfather sitting around the living room, unshaven and wearing just his boxers while you are trying to entertain friends. You just want them to clean up a little and keep the place a little more tidy.

The lunchtime crowd and apartment residents are just a small part of the downtown population that is affected. This group is in the park 24/7. Their stuff is always with them(I know, who can blame them). The enjoyment of the park, as you point out, is limited for most of the downtown population for a majority if the time.

My contention would be for the ministry groups who care for these less fortunate should find a better way to assist them than a hot meal once or twice a week. Maybe, rather than adopting a under-privileged child in some foreign country, we could support a Phoenix Park resident.