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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lazy Summer Days

I don't find much I really want to talk about these days, other that commenting on other blogs and the online news.

I have walked the new South Limestone several time and we intend to attend the street party. Mrs Sweeper and I have enjoyed the Thursday Night Live evenings despite the heat and humidity. I even found time to go to the airport and ride on the new runway on Second Sunday.

South Limestone looks vastly different after a year of construction. All it needs now is a few towering street trees for daytime shade or the filtering on the streetlights, and we can all be transported back in time to the beginning of the last century. Mrs. Sweeper commented how the Tin Roof building now looks slightly out of place in the transition from restored residential toward the adapted commercial and the university. Maybe some design guidelines could help in a future redevelopment of the site. I also think that the hospital's parking lot begs for a street front use to hide the autos.

Thursday Night Live is something that we have talked about for a while and recently began attending in addition to our Tuesday jazz evenings. For this one we leave the guys at home and just have some "us" time. I have probably seen more old friends there than at Ecton Park and the food and drink are more varied. I just have to remember that the sling chairs are in MY car and get them out before I go to Cheapside. With so many people crowded into such a limited area it is still so strange to find that all the circulation paths can be fouled by one or two quick conversations in inconvenient locations.

Regular readers will know that I don't totally agree with the Second Sunday events held in Lexington, but this past Sunday was a really unique situation. The chance to ride on the new airport runway was just too much to pass up. Wide open space and basically very flat for 4000 feet. And then another 4000 feet back again. I saw my friends from Sprocket Jockeys(the pedicab folks) and just a ton of kids. The airport, for all their bad press, really did a super job and the DLC put on a good program. Maybe they are working the kinks out.

I heard the Mayor speak today about his efforts on historic preservation and came away with the impression that some things could be strengthened and that we will probably get some design guidelines, but that he will not try to impose any personal preferences on the outcome. Some of you will call that weak leadership but I am not so sure about that. I will have to wait until next month to see what Mr Gray has to add to the discussion.

Maybe something will break lose and strike my fancy in the next few weeks. We will see.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Community Gardens And Local Farmers

There are a few of my favorite blogs that are touting the resurgence of community gardens, particularly in the East End. I think that this a good thing since this is one of the areas that has been declared a "food desert". If this work here then maybe we can try it in other areas.

They (and others) continue to call for a downtown grocery and believe that that will bring population. I will say it again, retail always follows population. That does not mean that nourishing food cannot be made available in the downtown area, because it can. That suburban mega-Kroger will sell more junk food in sheer volume than all the really healthful food that is locally available.

One reason that I like the farmers market concept(but not always the downtown market) is the really locally grown products. Anything brought in from more that 80 miles is suspect and I will not consider it. More than 80 miles and you begin to account for storage and transportation. Do you realize the requirements for tomatoes for the large chains, sometimes a shelf life of up to 32 days. They would have to be picked green and forced into ripeness. Farmers from one or two counties away will bring crops picked within the last 24 hours, now that is fresh and fresher is nutritious.

A lot of those local farmers are small operations and limited in scope, but they are getting larger and more diversified in their offerings. Most are family farms, either recently or historically, transitioning from a crop that has fallen out of favor, tobacco.

Yesterday I noticed a group of young people in blue jackets around the Lexington Civic Center. We have the FFA State Convention in town this week. A whole new crop of farmers willing to follow in the family footsteps. It heartens me that so many want to continue to feed the rest of us. These are ones we need to support far more than the mega producers of corporate farming. This how we can make the whole state "Kentucky Proud".