Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Killing It Softly?

I read Steve Austin's post today and quickly fired off a comment, but that just got me thinking more about what I see as a problem downtown.

His statement "When we leave the dream world of the Cheapside market, our true urban reality bitch slaps us" made me realize that we in Lexington create good public open space, marvel in it(until the freshness wears off) and then move on to the next one. We do it all over town, but downtown especially.

Triangle Park was one of the first. A remnant piece across Vine St from the Lexington Center, it was bought by some wealthy friends as a gift to the city and landscaped with a fountain and many lush trees. Designed as a quiet space and a refuge from the bustle of the newly one-wayed Main and Vine Streets, it soon became a place to picnic in the grass and watch the children play in the fountain. They say that liability concerns put a halt to that.

Phoenix Park was hastily bought by the City as an area that needed to be cleaned up in time for the sports world to arrive in town for the NCAA finals. A failed business venture had left a gaping hole in the center of town-that sounds familiar-and the City quickly grassed over the rubble and voila, a park. After 1986, the Library and the State began plans to build on some of the property and the public demanded some public open space remain. Some redesign and a place to relocate some monuments and Lexington had another lunchtime refuge in the downtown.

Across Main St land was acquired for the proposed downtown Arts Center. Both visual and performing arts were to be housed in one place. Kind of like Singletary Center Central. They were grand plans but there was no big wealthy benefactor to complete the deal, so it sat. The State, having bought most of the land and paid for clearing it, then stepped in and designed, built and occupied our new Court House Plaza. Once again, here was a grand plan for open space and fountains, trees and refuge-maybe when the trees get bigger- and a lunchtime place of activity.

Each of these spaces has been allowed to function as a gathering place for memorials or protests, yet none have acted as a center of impromptu or spontaneous performance art. There have been few street food vendors without some coordinated activity also taking place.

Now we have the Cheapside Pavilion, more accurately named the 5/3 Pavilion, scene of a number of weekly activities. All planned and scheduled well in advance but stark and empty the rest of the time. Accompanying this space will be the beautifully done streetscape and rain gardens, will they be as stark and empty without some planned event? I can remember when we had sidewalk benches all along Main and Vine-and trees- until they were being used by the wrong type of citizens. Then they were removed.

There is a muted cry for the current grassy field, beautified for the world-wide company, to be another civic plaza. A place for gathering and enjoying the great outdoors. Some think that they should be allowed to use this space as another of their living rooms. I can't say as they truly use the ones that they have to their fullest extent now. Should this be commandeered and made public, it would remove more taxable property off the rolls(it is bad enough that a church wishes to remove several million dollars worth of commercial property just down the road) and create one more programmable public scape.

The upcoming Spotlight Festival, to held in conjunction with the WEG, is supposed to have a number of street performers at various locations(all approved and coordinated) and this is intended to give our visitors a "sense of Kentucky". As if it happens all the time. We can clearly see that it doesn't. We have been testing all the other venues, maybe we should test the downtown public spaces as we lead up to the games and festival. If the street performers go over well during the festival and the visitors do come back will they find these same performers-or others-anywhere in town?

Mr. Austin thinks that we need a paid coordinator for the 5/3 Pavilion. I think that we need for our creative types to just come up with something and "just do it". There are some events already with set times and they should be avoided, but if you get there first, go ahead and do your thing. Activity breeds activity.

Otherwise, we are killing our downtown softly.

No comments: