Sunday, June 16, 2013

Will "We" Do It Every Time?

“A middle-class urban planner sees a working-class neighborhood and says, 'I wouldn’t want to live there. That neighborhood must be blighted.' So the planner convinces the city to spend hundreds of millions of dollars revitalizing the neighborhood: clearing older buildings and replacing them with new high-density, mixed-use developments that the middle-class urban planner wouldn’t want to live in but thinks others should enjoy, often tying such neighborhoods together with a billion-dollar rail line.”
When is the last time that you saw that happen in Lexington?

You might say it was the Newtown Pike extension, now known as Oliver Lewis Way., which is currently grinding its way through Davistown Bottoms and aiming at the University campus area. I think that even that is wrong.

The quote above is from the Antiplanner, a blog by Randall O'Toole, looking to lay the blame for all gentrifying neighborhoods at the feet of urban planners – government urban planners. It is just these liberal government lackeys who are removing vast blocks of work-a-day resident's housing and replacing it with an unaffordable something.

Here in Lexington many of the developments which I see as displacing large blocks of blue collar families and gentrifying an area have not come from any government report or plan. The most recent government-led one which I can recall is the construction of Rupp Arena and its adjacent parking lots, nearly 40 years ago.

One current area, for which planning is ongoing, is the Distillery District and its associated TIF boundary. Within this boundary are more than a few residential units, from which the present occupants will be displaced should this project come to fruition. Since it is a portion of the increased tax base which will pay for infrastructure requested to make this project work, affordable housing for the present residents will be hard to come by.

The Distillery District idea did not spring from any government bureaucrat or official's pen, yet it has won favor from the legislative body and city planners are working to help make it happen.

Another instance of a gentrifying a neighborhood would be the renaissance of Jefferson Street on the north side. No one can deny the almost complete turn around of the neighborhood and the enthusiasm for what more may come. Again, I point out that no city funds went toward designing any of the improvements which have come about. Assistance was given in the land swap deal concerning BCTC getting a new campus. Private corporations and Transylvania University are playing the largest part in removing lower income housing here.

Will we be seeing the same thing play out with the activity on North Limestone as small entrepreneurs attempt to duplicate the Jefferson Street experience? I expect so, but it will not be the “middle-class urban planner” who will be driving the bus. That would fall to the middle-class (are there any of them left?) city residents who will frequent the gentrifying pioneers and thus making it “trendy.”

If we are looking for a local boondoggle, a la the Antiplanner, we should look no further than the up-coming TIF discussion requested by the company proposing the development at Man o' War Blvd and Nicholasville Rd. Called “The Summit,” they are proposing a near Hamburg style shopping area on what planners call a “greenfield” and asking for relief in a “blighted area,” which is the primary use of a TIF.

Blighted area? Really?

Am I blind? Where are the fingerprints of middle-class government urban planners all over these doings?

Is Lexington out of touch or just 20 years behind like Mark Twain said? We may have a real problem of realizing just what image we may be projecting to the world, but it is not coming from the government's urban planners. I can see that.

1 comment:

danny said...

I don't see the distinction between "city planner" and "private sector developer." Along with the state and federal governments, local governments do the work of middle and upper class business. That's their purpose: to make business easier for people who are doing business. And as with most things in the United States, the integration of public and private spheres in the development world has only gotten stronger over the past couple decades. How many times have you heard the "businessman" university/college president, or the "business-minded" super-rich mayor (a la Jim Gray or, the archetype, Michael Bloomberg), or of "public/private" partnerships? The integration is such that it's difficult to tell what's what, which is a big part of how private sector developments work. (In some cases, it's the only way they'll work.)

Couple of big and closely-stacked flashpoints:

(1) I think Distillery District was a government-pushed initiative. I actually remember
a city downtown planner telling me and a group of other Lexingtonians how the city approached McNeese with the idea; this was in 2010 at the first "citizen urban planning leaders" gatherings that Steve Austin organized. Whether hyperbole or not, the comments clearly showed a meshing of private and public interests. The Distillery District has resulted in a $100 million+ TIF application that will direct future state and local taxes to it; it's also the central cord of the city's authored Town Branch Trail; it's also the end-point of the Town Branch Commons urban park; and it represents a new under-populated area that city leaders have made plans to have developed by private developers.

(2) CentrePointe TIF: Again, the city's master plan calls for energizing and focusing on downtown. They're now tied to a $100-200 million tax break for private developer Dudley Webb to redo the couple acre CentrePointe block. The Town Branch Commons will go right past it, and it will sit across from the largely publicly supported 21C museum (nevertheless officially a "private" business) and the recently renovated CHeapside Park and Main Street corridor that was the beneficiary of a many-millions dollar upgrade for the public/private (Alttech) partnership known as the WEG.

(3) Rupp Arena: Forget the obvious ($5 million thus far in-state coal and local general fund money, part of a project whose costs have yet to be even determined; also the inevitable TIF proposal). There's also the use of a mayor-appointed task force that had ZERO public representatives on it--though it featured CentrePointe's Woodford Webb, Distillery District's Barry McNeese, and 21C's Hank Greenberg on it. (And, considering that UK and UKAA are quasi-private institutions now, we could also add UKAA's Mitch Barnhart and the couple of other UK reps who appeared on it.)

(4) The Town Branch Commons: Again, with zero public representation, private developers created a contest that provided a vision which the city council will endorse (as they always do, unanimously and enthusiastically). Most of the expensive portions of the "public commons" will be located on....Rupp Arena, which will have the Jefferson Street Bridge removed so you can see directly into...the Distillery District.

That's a lot of private development, relatively few private owners, and big chunks of public money and other capital involved. Hard to say what's what at this point.

Thanks for the info on the TIF proposal. I wonder if this is an outgrowth of the other "greenfield" TIF that's been approved: UK's Coldstream off Newtown Pike. I think the bill to allow UK to redefine TIF so it could apply to open farmland sitting next to the heavily invested Kentucky Horse Park passed in that special session that Beshear had to call a couple years back. One of two state bills passed in the session.