Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking at "Fresh Start" Part 2

Continuing with my comments on Mayor-elect Jim Gray's "Fresh Start" platform and actions that he proposes to take in his new administration, today we will look at his thoughts on neighborhoods and others.
Cities thrive when neighborhoods thrive. A healthy neighborhood has churches, schools, recreational facilities, and shopping within walking or short driving distance. This affords neighbors the opportunity to “meet up” with one another as neighbors and gives them a sense of place and belonging. I grew up in a small town that had all these services, and more, close by. In Lexington we have subdivisions larger than my hometown that are isolated from these basic services. That’s got to change. As mayor I’ll work to create better neighborhoods throughout Lexington.
Is there any neighborhood in Lexington that its residents think could not get better? The eternal question has always been "Who's definition of better are we using?" I'll ask you all, "What would you change about the neighborhood where you live or work?" and "How many of your neighbors would change the same things?"

My guess is that most would not change as many elements or as drastically as you would like. I also believe that you would not go along with many of your neighbors, as most Americans will look out for themselves first. I will tell you that my ideas for "improving" many neighborhoods would not go over well with those who live there. That said, lets see what Mr. Gray thinks.
Here are some other efforts I’ll undertake as mayor to support Fayette County neighborhoods:

Do business in the open. No backroom deals with any special interests that affect neighborhoods. When we discuss issues that affect neighborhoods, people who own homes there will be at the table.
I have to assume that he is talking about established neighborhoods here. Lexington's new subdivisions generally take place where there are no existing homeowners who will remain in the area.

Most of the conflicts arise as the developer reaches the remaining acreage, or full build-out, and those who were told, probably by a well meaning but less than knowledgeable realtor, that the land use for the remaining property will be the same as their unit. Unfortunately, due to demand or market situations, that may not remain true. As I have repeated here often, the retail follows the residential and once the residential reaches a tipping point, the commercial area will begin to fill in. In the older sections of town, that meant neighborhood retail but in today's world, the retail is all concentrated of the fringes and at major intersections. Even where it has been planned for over a decade, the residents do not want neighborhood shopping.

Interspersing higher density residential in these same neighborhoods is considered an even more heinous travesty.
Direct each department – police, code enforcement, building inspection, planning, traffic, etc. – to have a designated liaison for neighborhoods. That person will be responsible for navigating the bureaucracy to get questions answered and action taken quickly. The liaison will log every question or concern, describing it, the date it came in and the action taken. Quarterly the people in those jobs will meet to review current issues, define trends and recommend additional action if appropriate. Their reports will come directly to me as mayor and be shared with council members.
Wow, with personnel and staff time at a premium during the slow economic times, can you imagine what it would be like if we really did recover quickly? After having pared the individual divisions to the barest of essentials, we now want to add liaison duties. This sounds like an additional duty for the 311 call takers or for the neighborhood liaison function which currently exists in the Mayor's office. One call to a single person who can determine which agencies/divisions are affected rather than multiple calls, asking for immediate response, to multiple offices who won't get together to compare notes for several months. This appears to a level of bureaucracy that is NOT needed.

We may need better training for 311 call takers or more folks on the mayor's staff, but this proposal is just wrong.
Activate a city land bank, an idea that’s been around but never become reality. When code enforcement and building inspection identify abandoned or chronically neglected properties that are a blight on a neighborhood, we must use the power of the city to take them over and return them to productive, responsible private ownership.
A city land bank sounds like a good idea and I do approve of it. What is proposed here sounds like it is in direct opposition to the process used by the PDR program.

Under PDR, individual property owners apply to enter the program, receive funds and not allow their property to be developed. Whether it could be developed or not is irreverent. This proposed program appears to not be a voluntary forfeiture of the land and possibly a violation of Kentucky's eminent domain law. This law and the high cost of urban land has prevented the city (and most well meaning development interests) from moving forward on repairing some of our most blighted properties.

Kentucky law does not allow the use of municipal funds to be used to acquire property for non-municipal uses. We cannot take from a private entity to sell to another private entity. I am not even sure that the Municipal Housing Corp. could do it.

In the '50s and '60s, when we saw a significant industrial boom, it was a group of local business types who bought large chunks of available land for resale to corporations wishing to build manufacturing plants here. These same types of investors are today finding spaces for businesses in the electronics or medical research fields but no one has tried this in the residential realm.

The mayor, as always, can have a huge impact on bringing folks to the table but I see an extremely limited pool of philanthropic dollars to draw on.
Plan to create neighborhoods, not just subdivisions. For existing neighborhoods, examine our zoning and planning process to make it easier for them to function as small towns not just bedroom communities.
This action would go hand-in-glove with the first item, making neighborhoods livable. To accomplish the redesign of neighborhoods/subdivisions will take nearly a paradigm shift in residential living patterns. The addition of walkable shopping areas to existing neighborhoods would mot likely involve 1 or 2 of the centrally located blocks (yes, entire blocks) in order to create the mix of retail and civic building necessary to the small town feel(or function). I don't see many of our non-downtown residents agreeing to this.

Short of gasoline prices rising above $10 a gallon and energy prices even more unaffordable, I see most Lexington residents (downtown and non) clinging to the style with which they have become really comfortable.
Recruit philanthropists for projects to grow our parks system using models like Louisivlle’s Olmsted Parks.
This is the way to go, but as I pointed out above, the pool of philanthropic donors is very, very shallow and the needs are growing.
I will work with our university leadership, students, and citizens to ensure neighborhood issues surrounding student housing are heard and addressed, and not just one-sided; everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Simply put, Lexington is dependent upon city residents as well as the students who live and study here.
The student housing situation, both near campus and in some of the outlying subdivisions, is not going to be a simple fix and the parameters are constantly in flux. I think the any solution that we implement today will need to evolve, in order to keep up with the ever moving targets of both the students and the university.
As mayor, these are some of the things I’ll do to energize economic development and create good jobs here:

Elevate economic development to a cabinet-level position within my administration to make planning for economic development front and center in all city initiatives.
Economic development, otherwise known as job creation, will now be a top priority without adding any positions to the government payroll. The planning for these new jobs may end up being the sole reason that the government pursues any new project, from street repavings to a new City Hall building.

Job creation sometimes seems to run contrary to the interests of business. Many industry models are moving toward doing more, but with fewer employees. Automation has been the mantra of manufacturers for the past 40 years, including robotics to build autos, in the large factories, down to larger delivery vehicles to do route sales like the beer trucks (and other vehicles) which clog our downtown streets on a daily basis.

Should we accomplish the goal of dispersing the neighborhood retail throughout our existing suburban areas, we may find that we need more delivery personnel (hopefully driving smaller vehicles) to negotiate the local streets and reach all locations in a timely manner. Local people delivering local products to local outlets in a walkable, shopable neighborhood, finally what Lexington really needs.
Create a one-stop shop for people who want to start, or expand, businesses in Lexington. This ‘entrepreneur’s clearinghouse’ will also keep an index of Lexington entrepreneurs to help connect them with each other and in touch with the community’s needs.
This reads like a description of an App for one of those 4G wireless devices complete with facebook and twitter
Target employers and industries that we want in Lexington, and then work relentlessly to bring them to town.

We will take any new job creation under our new cabinet-level commissioner, but we really just want certain types of employers and just the clean types of industries. If we target the high paying, clean industries our troubles will be over.
Recruit three new corporate headquarters to Lexington.
I'm betting that this cannot be done in the next four years, given the current economic times, although it does not say how large of a corporate headquarters they need to be.
Define clear goals so that we can measure our progress to report to the community and see where and when we need to make changes.

Create an assets inventory of existing businesses and a strategy to leverage and grow them.

Identify business development best practices among benchmark cities like Louisville, Madison, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to confirm how we’re doing.

Create a plan aligned with UK’s Top 20 initiative to ensure that as the University grows, Lexington is able to attract and employ the best and brightest talent.

Actively mine our university graduate lists for folks who have achieved success elsewhere, and target them to come home and launch businesses here.
All of these are just making a chalk mark on the wall in a rainstorm or measuring the snowfall in a blizzard, you don't really know how you did until it is all over.

This is enough for today. Next the plan on aging and using business practices in LFUCG.

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