What will Lexington look like when we get to the middle of the century?
Now, what did you just think of when that question flashed through your mind? Was you first thought of how downtown would look and did you wonder if there would be many new buildings? We will have to accommodate several thousand new residents, so did you imagine a wider expanse of suburban housing developments? Maybe you thought of a community where just about everything you could need was close and available, but I doubt it.
For those of you who thought strictly of downtown, I am not surprised because most people do. The traditional method of gauging modernity of a city is to look at its downtown. Progress is measured by the number of striking new and wonderful buildings. How many of them will we have in the next 20 years? Will it be more or less than in the past 20?
Actually, it has been over 25 years since a tower crane graced the skyline of downtown for the construction of a new high-rise. That my friends is a pretty stagnant rate of progress in anybody's book. What has been proposed has been fought, tooth and nail, by just about every faction. Now, with a few select areas gentrifying at an ever increasing rate and more people desiring to live downtown, will we make all of it livable?
Lexington is considered to be very lucky to have its most historic buildings in the the downtown area and the problem continues as to how to preserve them and allow new progress to proceed. We, and many other progressive cities, have arrived at our current status by both allowing and decrying the loss of our older building stock. How we achieve a continuing balance there will take a lot of hard work.
How we handle the way in which we travel to and from downtown will play a big part in Lexington's future. So far we have been able to bypass the temptation to follow other cities and their urban expressways that they are now removing.
Our surface parking situation pales proportionately in comparison to cities twice our size. Our closest neighbor, Louisville, leads the nation in average temperature rise between urban and rural land use environments. The difference between their urban heat island and their outskirts will average nearly 2 degrees throughout all seasons. Surely, we can continue to do better.
Still, downtown is not the only place that will have to make a change for the better. Eventually the close-in suburbs will undergo a familiar transformation from dullsville to walkable and inviting places.
I call it a familiar transformation because it has happened in Lexington previously. A number of well known retail clusters retain vestiges of their residential roots as single family houses.
Take the Woodland Triangle as an example. The initial Woodland subdivision plat of 1884 laid out strictly residential lots. By 1906, only the school, the fire station and two small shops (one at High and Woodland and one at High and Kentucky) interrupted the housing stock. It would be another 10 years or so until the commercial structures typical of the '20s made their appearance in the triangle and bring the goods and services the people needed. Again, retail follows residential.
Or, consider the beginnings of the Chevy Chase shopping area which developed well before the residential subdivision of the same name farther out Tates Creek Rd. The block bounded by Ashland, E. High and Euclid was full of the frame houses typical of the early 20th century and some of them remain though greatly altered. Just slip behind the storefronts on the south side of Euclid and check out the backsides of those places.
How about the stretch of E Main from Walton to Ashland or Mentelle? At approximately the time when the school board built the Henry Clay High School (1928) several businesses were converting houses for retail/mixed use.
These three locations are barely half a mile from each other, in easily walkable neighborhoods and on the streetcar line. They are not by any means the only examples since the commercial cluster at Sixth and N. Limestone or Third and Jefferson appear to have happened around the same period. But will the bland expanses of Lansdowne, Kirklevington or Opengate have this opportunity of variety and vibrancy?
Current suburbs are an accumulation of the past 60 years of spread-out development standards brought about primarily by the institution of a zoning code. The “evils” of urbanism creeping into a neighborhood have replaced the “fears” of communism regulating the permissible options of a landowner. Our freedom from unnecessary intrusion has led us into a self-imposed isolation of sorts over a wider and wider area of our lives. Such a freedom has exacted a high price on society.
Some parts of downtown are still pockets of isolation but truly urban neighborhoods are beginning to chip away at that.
One condition that concerns me is the prevalence, since the early '50s, of arterial and other major streets defining a neighborhood boundary. These roads are the prime candidates for widening, thereby separating some folks from others rather than aiding in the coalescing of neighborhood vitality in a sense of community. Today's neighborhoods have no identifiable center and no community asset to which they can be solely connected. It is little wonder that we have transient owners with little willingness to put down roots.
Lexington is not just our downtown for which we need to plan a future. Lexington is a series of neighborhoods and they need to be connected and planned for too. So, I ask you:
- If you could make one change in your own community what would it be?
- What’s the best way for individuals to advocate for change in their communities?
- What do you see as the future of real estate and owning residential real estate going forward?
- How do you think technological advances will contribute toward changes in suburban infrastructure?
These and other questions were put to June Williamson, author of Designing Suburban Features: New Model From Build A Better Burb, it may interest some of you to look into what she said. Other thoughts on this can be found here,
As always, you can let me know how you feel.