Thursday, September 3, 2009

So, Why Won't People Live Downtown?

I keep hearing the mantras "When there is a grocery store downtown, I will move back downtown" and "There is no grocery down there" but I don't understand the logic.

Lexington's original city limit was a circle of 1 mile in radius and centered on the Courthouse(now the Lexington History Museum). Traces of that limit are still visible today, if you know what you are looking for. One mile, straight up Upper St, will take you to Loudon Ave. And right out E. Main St. will get you to just about Walton Ave. Go along E. High St. and just past the tennis courts there is a small, white stone planted in the right of way that is just like the one on W. Main St. opposite the entry to the Catholic Cemetery. Other spots are a little harder to identify, like the point on Rose St near Washington, in front of the quadrangle or on S. Broadway at Pyke Rd. where the raised median starts( put in when the State widened the road in the '50s for the County). West High St, Newtown/Georgetown, Third St./Winchester Rd. and others have had all vestiges of the city limits removed some years ago.

This area held almost all of the population of Lexington until the early 20th century and had numerous groceries right up to the last quarter of that century. These groceries were not huge and the served the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods. The small corner stores are still there, but they are not what people call a grocery store these days. People could walk to the store (and did) for their fresh produce and goods. That appears to be what they want in a downtown of today and won't move until they get it.

But they don't have it where they live today. They seem to be perfectly happy to live better than 2 miles from a grocery and endure the weekly shopping trip for an entire weeks worth of supplies. At that point they have to drive. No one can carry that much on a bike or walking for that distance.

Today, there is not a full service grocery inside the old city limit line.

Now, take any house in the Masterson Station area, draw your 1 mile radius and show me the full service grocery there. Do likewise in the Polo Club/Blackford Pkwy subdivision or the Chilesburg area. Shoot, come all the way into the Andover area and find me a grocery of just about any kind. The lack of a grocery is not the real reason.

Nor do I think that it housing affordability, renter/owner mix or crime rates. I think that these people just don't want to have relationships with as many people as would be necessary in a real urban environment. Most people want to go home after a days work, pull their SUV into the garage and hide in their backyards or air conditioned television rooms. I am not sure that they could interact with as many people in halls or on the streets of a bustling downtown. They do that vicariously through their TV shows.

So, just what are your thoughts on why people don't want to live downtown.


Anonymous said...

I believe your last paragraph has more to do with it than many of the other reasons you stated. For example...

1. Crime, I live on Ohio Street (between 3rd and 4th) last year, well within the notorious East End neighborhood. People would ask whether i was concerned about violence and crime and i would point out that in my year in the East End there was only 1 shooting on my block. During that same year there were 2 in the Polo Club area, a high profile shooting in the Lexington Green parking lot, and various others in "safe" suburban neighborhoods.

2. Groceries, on Ohio I was less than a mile from the grocery on Euclid. Granted I had to drive but I drove a far shorter distance than most suburbanites drive to the grocery.

I believe it has to do with relationships more than most will admit. In dense urban areas one has little choice but to get to know their neighbors and there is a sense of communal investment in a place. I know its not your favorite subject but i feel like this is why there was so much outcry over Centrepointe, because downtowners have a perceived sense of ownership and a strong sense of place that doesnt exist in the burbs.

Furthermore, I feel that Lexingtonians have forgotten how to function in an urban setting. It's become unfamiliar to and foreign and therefore it's unnerving.

D Morse said...

Minor quibble: it is trivial to carry a few days' supply of grocs two miles on a bike. E.g.

JMC said...

Access. It is impossible to get downtown (and out of it). Most ALL successful downtowns have highway access (interstate, tollway, etc.) to downtown.

Streetsweeper said...

Ian, it is not that CentrePointe is my least favorite subject but I find that the most vocal critics to the project tend to live outside of downtown, although there are a number that do live inside the circle.

D Morse, You are correct. I did it for close to fifteen years without any modifications to a standard bicycle. A family of four cannot carry a full weeks worth of groceries that far, nor would they want to.

Jim, many of those successful cities are so, despite not because of those intrusive, neighborhood destroying swaths of concrete. A growing number of cities are learning that they can remove large lengths of these freeways and enhance their urban areas.

lexdan said...

What problem with access? I can get every I need to go on my bike. Trips are short. Traffic isn't a problem. That's because I live downtown. I rarely go outside of new circle. Sure there is a problem of access if you are trying to commute downtown from the burbs, but if you actually live downtown, there isn't a problem of access. As for Fayette Mall, and Hamburg, those I avoid like the plague.

I think the streetsweeper hit the nail on the head with his point about people not liking to be around other people. Look at the way people in the suburbs like to put basketball goals in their drive ways, have their own swimming pools, pool tables, home theaters and so on. That way they can sit at home by themselves rather than going out to a park, theater, bar, etc.

jenn said...

I just now found your blog and had to comment on this post. I live downtown and this is my third time living downtown Lexington. I love it here but I have some major concerns.
1. There's not really that much within walking distance. There are plenty of locations for dinner if you want to always have pizza, bar food, or something really expensive. For ethnic food you have to make it at least up to campus.
2. I commute to UK for traffic issues whatsoever until the construction on Limestone started. I still prefer it to New Circle. But I want to know, why is it that we can put all this money into road improvements when the equestrian games are coming but not before that? Were Lexington citizens not deserving before this?
3. I live in a studio in an older building. It's affordable. I am concerned that by the time all of the lofts are finished and the Distillery District has filled in that I will no longer be able to afford to live downtown.
4. Yes, you have to drive to pick up meat, eggs, milk, etc. once a week. But Saturday morning walks to the Farmer's Market will take care of the rest.
5. I don't see many cyclists downtown, there's nowhere for them to ride. However I don't want them here if they act the way they do on campus ignoring all traffic and safety guidelines. It amazes me that at least one does not get hit every single day. I have no problem sharing the road when they can ride with some common sense.