Friday, November 28, 2008

Walking the Virtual Streets

I spent this morning walking the "virtual" streets of Lexington by way of other Lexington based blogs. There is one that has caught my attention, Transform Lexington, and while he has many things to say most do not make a lot of sense to me.

Take his foundational thought,
Our Lexington, Kentucky USA is at an historical crossroads, and is now choosing its future. Our Lexington must evolve, and wholly transform. We must retake the lead in today's global, creative, Knowledge Age. We are meant to be a flagship city, for the world to emulate!
Lexington is always choosing its future, in everything that we do. As for evolving and transforming, what does that mean? To evolve means to change over time and we certainly have done that, but to transform implies that we rapidly become something that we currently are not. We cannot do both at the same time. Then there is the part about retaking the lead in a global Knowledge Age, when did we ever lead in anything close to a global knowledge-based term. Kentucky, of which Lexington is only a small part, does lead the world in race horse production, Bourbon whiskey, and some other agricultural products but not a top educational system. I don't think that you will find any "world class city" that believes Lexington is meant to be a "flagship city". If everything that follows on this blog is based on this, can any of it be believed?

That leads me to a post of the other day wherein he starts to give some concrete suggestions for improvements for Lexington.
Cultivate and incent world-leading, innovative, R & D jobs downtown, attracting the thought-leaders of the city, state and globe to Main Street, Vine Street, Upper, Lime, and others. Right now, the main jobs downtown are governmental, or in banks or law firms. These are not "leading-edge" professsions, compared to the next Alltech, Google or Tesla. (I suggest stimulating the Clean Energy Economy with Lexington, Kentucky being Ground Zero, the next Silicon Valley of biofuels, etc... synergizing UK with Alltech and KSTC) Create a great work environment downtown, and young brainiacs will flock downtown.
Downtown Lexington is the center of government for Fayette County, the financial hub for Central Kentucky and the locus for the judicial system. R&D jobs have been recruited and planned for the research park which UK has been trying to establish at Coldstream for the last 10-15 years, with little if any success. Lexmark has a whole campus of R&D and little manufacturing at their location. And what of Belcan, with their 300 or so engineers and thrie support staff housed in the Vine Center building, or Archvision now on Main St but formerly on the CentrePointe block. These are some of the leading edge professions. If Alltech is the type of company that we want, then why can we not entice them to move from Nicholasville. We have a "state of the art" robotics program at UK, why not build on that? Or the biomedical research buildings, that Homeland Security controls a large portion of, lets build on that.

And, by the way, nobody wants to party where they work.
Incent cool, affordable housing downtown, within walking distance of these innovative, world-leading jobs and businesses.

Incent a grocery store, a drugstore or two, a Joseph-Beth bookstore (or similar) and other liveable, cool retail outlets, also within walking distance of the jobs and residences.
These two are a little harder to pull off. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, preventing those working downtown from living there except that the area is not "family friendly". None of the recent condos are of the 3-4 room design that a young family would need. Everything has been built for the student population or the "empty nester"

If Cincinnatti cannot get their hometown mega-retailer Kroger to open a downtown grocery, what is Lexington to do? What kind of incentives sould we try?
Green it up - Phoenix Park should be a mini Millenium Park. Cheapside Park should be pristine, and then home to the Farmers' Market (this seems likely, actually). Make the corridor from Thoroughbred Park to the new Distillery District full of grass, trees, flowers, pretty sidewalks, etc... (LFUCG's new Streetscape plan is doing this, so this is already on the table.)
Lastly, we have this suggestion. Phoenix Park along with the Court House Plaza would make a micro Millenium Park. I wonder which of the definitions of pristine is being used here.
1.a. Remaining in a pure state; uncorrupted by civilization.
b. Remaining free from dirt or decay; clean: pristine mountain snow.
2. Of, relating to, or typical of the earliest time or condition; primitive or original.
If it is 1.a. then the Farmers Market could not be built there as a permanent location, if 1.b., the Market would have to clean up after themselves everyday (not very likely). If 2, then a grassy unpaved market area would not be a conducive nor attractive amenity. I like the corridor idea, but in order to install all that grass, we will have to remove all the auto traffic and the major highways that lead to downtown. That, of course, goes against all those who criticize Lexington for having the Interstates way outside the core area.

Transforming may think that these are great starting points, but he gives no way of reaching them save the government paying for the incentives. That means that all the good taxpaying folk outside of downtown will have to pay for the incentives and than travel to, pay for parking, enjoy, and then travel back home at their expense. It doesn't happen now and won't happen then. The "less than minimum wage jobs" of more dining establishments, music venues and festivals, that steal from the local money supply, will not make up for the hotel/housekeeping jobs that are paid for by outside (global) funds.

In regards to his comments on the "Athens of the West" roots, what few local folk realize is that the phrase arises from the preponderance of "eastern lawyers" and the culture they brought with them. The reason that they were here was to settle the overlapping land claims granted by the various jurisdictions, sight unseen. One of the most prominent lawyers was Henry Clay, and by the time of the Civil War, the title "Athens of the West" was fading into legend and dreams of what once was.

I do see Lexington as a mecca of sorts, a place where people travel to make their annual pilgrimage of their favorite pastime.
Mecca started as a holy site for Islam, and only now serves as a focal point of their faith.
The Meccan economy has been heavily dependent on the annual pilgrimage. As one scholar put it, "[Meccans] have no means of earning a living but by serving the hajjis." Wikipedia

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanksgiving is over, the food is eaten and the leftovers are all packed away for the rest of the month, and once again I ate more than I should have.

Mrs Sweeper feels like she has cooked all day and I feel like I have washed dishes all day. We dirtied almost every dish in the house, or it seem like that. The little(?) guys, to their credit, helped with the kitchen chores and are turning into very good sous chefs. With all four of us in the kitchen at once it can get a little crowded and we may have to take turns doing things.

I have so many things to be thankful for that it would be almost impossible to list them all. We have a good roof over our heads and the table has never been empty, thin sometimes, but never empty. The guys are getting good grades even though they could try harder (I never did so who am I to talk). Mrs. Sweeper keeps a clean house, takes care of the bills and keep us all healthy as best she can, us being male and all.

I have my interests and desires, my wishes and hopes, things that I follow and those that I let pass me by and I have my opinions and biases. And I am also gaining a fairly regular following of this blog. For that I am grateful and hope to hear from any of you who wish to comment on an entry or just say hello. I wish each and every one of you a happy Thanksgiving and the best that this season can bring.

See you on the streets.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Downtown proponents want "Vibrant"

Main Entry: vi·brant
Pronunciation: \-brənt\
Function: adjective
Date: 1616
1 a (1): oscillating or pulsating rapidly (2): pulsating with life, vigor, or activity

The Urban County Council was told today that the people want downtown to be "vibrant" in order to retain the "young professionals" that we have leaving the city in droves. Or at least that is what I got from the article in the Herald Leader, written by our own "Rita Skeeter" Beverly Fortune. Lexington needs to do more to bring in
a wide array of cultural activities, which are characterized by festivals (more disorganized uses in the public spaces), bar, restaurants and other unnamed activities designed to separate you from your money. The proponents seem to require the governments help in generating the activity in the downtown area that they cannot create, even though they have spent $200 million of their own money trying.

Downtown does need to have more activity at night than it does now, but adding large numbers of music clubs and nothing else in a certain area for night time vigor will only create a dead zone during the day. We saw that with the CentrePointe block for the past few years. Another way of getting night time activity is downtown residential and we have built a substantial number of new condos in the last few years, but they are not affordable, nor are they sized for the urban family (three bedrooms or more).

Lexington does need to have more use of its public open space, but that does not mean structured activities each and every weekend with a festival or parade of some sort, just allow the people to assemble to do what the wish (within reason) and give the citizens back the streets. When the crowds attain critical mass the retail will follow.

The article did have some suggestions for bringing "vibrancy" to downtown. One of those was revamping the sign ordinance and allowing overhanging signs again. Maybe the flashing, pulsating kind that characterized the '30's -'50's . Or maybe, a sign review committee to permit signage. One supporter suggested "taking our foot off the brake", but from my reading the ordinance for downtown zones, they pretty much allow for most of these uses already.

The chairman of the Downtown Entertainment Task Force said, people want to see aggressive recruiting of "entrepreneurial activities downtown.", yet such aggressive action takes time and money, and as we saw over the weekend the Airport has come under scrutiny for their "aggressive recruiting" by their manager. Lexington would have to hire a recruiter, give them a budget of public funds, identify the specific needs and go after someone to fill the need. That sounds like a full staff to me. One more government department in times of shrinking revenue.

Government should do what the people cannot do for themselves, not will not do for themselves. Let the people create the vibrant downtown that the people want and let government stand back and smile and nod approvingly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Use of Government Vehicles

It has come to light that the director of the Fayette County Detention Center has been driving a government car to his home in Louisville for over four years. That is four years of around 160 miles a day in a behemoth of a gas guzzler, the spacious eight cylinder Ford Crown Victoria, alone by himself. Is it no wonder that Lexington has a huge carbon footprint with this kind of thing going on.

Lexington, at one time had the states largest fleet of hybrid vehicles for use as pool cars. This fleet has been decimated by council action after the management audit done by Management Partners Inc. and delivered in February 2008. Yet nowhere in this report does the company give their assessment of the use of a vehicle by the jailer and the excessive amount of miles driven. By a conservative guess, assuming 80 miles from Lexington to Louisville each way, five times a week and 48 weeks a year, I come up with 38,000 miles a year. Times four years and you get 152,000 miles driven at less than optimum gas mileage, approx. 21-25 mpg. So far the jailer has charged an astounding $15,000 for gas and feels that this is warranted while the rest of Public Safety is looking at layoffs and reduced staffing.

As for the rest of the city staff and their needs to get around town, in order their duties, there are not any pool cars. Hybrid pool cars that averaged somewhere near 45 mpg. Staff members that make roughly 1/3 the salary of a director must use their personal car and provide their own gas. The next thing to go will be the parking for government workers and its availability. This all came from the recommendations of Management Partners and if this is the depth of their study there is definitely something missing.

I certainly do not relieve the former administration of the responsibility of making the problem, but I do not feel the the current administration has solved the situation in the best manner.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sidewalks in the news

The latest furor in the fourth and fifth council districts, is the movement to put sidewalks along the divided four lane section of Tates Creek Rd. The State Transportation Cabinet, in their infinite wisdom, omitted them when the built the section that runs from just south of Lakewood out to New Circle. About the only thing that they did do is build the road. No landscaping, no streetlights, no sidewalks, just the road.

I traveled that road at least twice a day for about 8 years, usually by bike and sometimes by bus or on foot. The lack of a sidewalk or bike path was annoying, but do-able. It taught me to not be afraid to ride at speed with the traffic and to despise the idiot, juvenile, redneck, teenage drivers. A sidewalk an d lights would have made the trips a whole lot easier.

Now, thirty years later, the residents along Tates Creek are resisting any attempt to change the status quo, although there is clearly a need for the sidewalks. The Fifth District Councilman is all for the installation and the Fourth District Councilman sees no reason to proceed. You can see for yourself in the photo below, the path that continues from the sidewalks end.

The residents of Tates Creek Rd. are of the upper income bracket and the houses sit well back from the roadway, generally with a gentle rise of the lawn to the house. It makes no sense to me, but they claim to be concerned about storm drainage from the sidewalk getting into the basements of their houses. It's a neat trick for water to flow uphill over such a distance.

I believe that their main objection is really about the need for them to clear the sidewalk of snow in the winter. Given the number of citations written for the rest of the urban area, this fear is probably unfounded.

Lexington is not alone in it's problems with sidewalks, a fellow blogger in Charlotte N.C. has written over the last week or so about the situation there. You can read about it here, here and here.

I don't equate our Fourth District Councilman with their County Commissioner but I can see some similarities in their actions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Its a question of asthetics

Why does this look so good?

And this look so tacky?

Which of these would you like to see circulation through the downtown area? And which would bring more tourists, use less fossil fuels and be more sustainable?

With all the neat open spaces being contemplated downtown by the Downtown Master Plan, the Streetscape Master Plan, the Distillery District, CentrePointe and all the other small area plans, can't you just imagine how the top one would look in Lexington?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

High Street split?

Almost two weeks ago the local media reported on the happenings at one of Lexington's oldest churches, the First United Methodist Church on W. High St. It seems like they have released one of the city's favorite organists and the weekly attendance in dropping like a rock. Another of our fine, old, downtown churches is undergoing a shake-up.

Maybe someone can tell me why the church is now going for a zone change and an amendment to the site plan of their property to allow a large addition to the rear of their main building.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Distillery District moves forward

Barry McNeese has filed the first preliminary development plan for the Pepper Distillery property with city planning. It shows no new buildings and no buildings to be removed, but it does show a bus shelter and a revamped parking layout.

One remarkable detail about the development is that almost all of it is within the latest FEMA 100-year floodplain.

The property is everything south of Manchester St, from the Corman Railroad crossing to the Vulcan quarry entrance and a triangle of land on the north side, hemmed in by both the Corman and Norfolk Southern Railroads. Nothing new is currently shown as being built on the north side.

With the City actively looking for a location to move the recycling center on Thompson Rd., that parcel could easily be included in the Distillery District plans. I have been wondering why the parcel was left out of the TIF description as mapped below

Distillery District TIF form LFUCG Website

By rough calculation, this property could replace the area owned by the two railroads and the public rights-of-way, which cannot add to the value of the TIF because they generate no tax revenue, were it to be sold. There may be other information in play but it looks like an oversight on somebody's part.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trading a Land Rover for a Lexus

It seems funny to be writing about luxury cars since I don't own one (or can even afford one), but the developments of the last few months has brought to light an odd occurrence. We all know that the economy is in as close to a free fall as any of us have seen in the last months and the big three automakers are taking it on the chin. Foreign makers are doing better but not as well as they would like.

Plans have been kicked around for almost a year for the Lexus Store of Lexington to actually be in Lexington. Currently the are located on U.S.27 about halfway between the Fayette/Jessamine county line and downtown Nicholasville, on a road that, in any other county, would be named Lexington Road but is, curiously, here called Nicholasville Rd. This road has long been the main drag between Lexington and Nicholasville and when the commercial developments began to proliferate along it, they "borrowed" the identity of the northern end for the section in Jessamine County.

Since there were auto dealers along the Fayette County portion and all sorts of other commercial properties the advertising whizzes just let the county boundary "disappear" for those accounts in Jessamine Co.and let the confusion be cleared up when the customer came in. That is how a large number of Lexington residents drive autos registered in Jessamine Co.

A few years back the City of Nicholasville annexed almost all the properties along U.S.27 (whatever it may be named) to just shy of the Fayette Co. line, for the express purpose of tax revenue. So now we know why Lexus of Lexington is now in Nicholasville and will soon be moving to Lexington.

Demolition is now underway at the corner of Liberty Rd and E. New Circle Rd. next to the Parkette, and site preparation will soon begin for the Lexus dealership. This comes on the heels of the announcement of the closing of the Land Rover/Jaguar dealer at Todds Rd. and Man o' War Blvd.

So we are, in effect, trading a Land Rover for a Lexus, or a big three(Ford) owned auto line for a foreign (Toyota) owned auto line.

Incidentally, Land Rover was recently sold to India-based Tata Motors which also holds the license to produce an air powered auto.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vexington Mall question

from Business Lexington

In the latest Business Lexington (Nov 13 2008), their lead article is about Lexington Mall and the problems that have transpired over the last 30 years. It is a nice read and brought back many memories for me. While their explanation of the history of the owners, stores and tenants along with the conflicts between them differ from my own recollections, I feel that they have done their usual fine research and I have not.

Much has been made of the legal wrangling of the past ten or so years and the developers and the politicians have spoken (or not spoken) loudly about what will happen here. Everyone has an opinion and the ones posted on the Business Lexington site run from inane to "why would they do that?". It seems that everyone wants the politicians to do something about it. The one group not being asked are the planners.

Yes, the planners. You know that group of professionals that we pay to figure out these kind of things. The ones that you complain about, when the politicians allow or prevent your favored development to occur/from occurring. The guys that we rail against when the road is congested to the max, because the funds aren't provided to improve the road. They are the professional staff who should propose uses or concepts designed to allow the highest and best use of Lexington's limited urban area. They, have not been asked to do anything for this eyesore yet.

I am beginning to feel that the reason that the planners have not been involved, is that for the last 35-40 years, Lexington has taken a hands off approach to driving developments to completion. It may have started after the Urban Renewal phase that the country went through in the 60's. Grandiose plans were prepared, properties bought, historic buildings razed, railroad tracks removed, new roadways built and... we handed it over to the private developer. Not just downtown, everywhere in the city. This was a time of good growth, a booming economy and booming population.

The small planning staff of the day could barely keep up with the caseload and the good planners went on to bigger cities while the others used their experience to get better jobs in the private sector. A somewhat rapid turnover in staff allowed the administrations of the 70's, 80's and 90's to continue to let the developer make the proposals and the staff make their recommendations for or against. The staff still had the charge of preparing a long range plan, but there were no grand proposals or sweeping (I love that word)changes in direction for any part of town. Any major changes in the plans usually were (are) coming from some others plans.

One solution that I would like to see is Commerce Lexington and the local economic development director working with the planning staff to propose new projects and not with the political spoils to local developers/planning firms. Waiting for the owner/developer in this case and others around town has not worked to anyone's satisfaction so far. Its going on six or seven years now, how much longer can we wait.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And they think the street names confuse people

Lexington developer Phil Holoubek recently completed the conversion of the old Nunn Building to condos and by all accounts has done a fine job. The new section fits well with the renovated office building and presents a beautiful face to N Martin Luther King Blvd.

Their website has a number of photos taken before and during the construction and final landscape work. All of the exterior shots are from North M.L.K. and some almost show the entry to the basement garage with the residents only door beside it. The driveway, if you will, comes directly off M.L.K., just like the homes being built in the new subdivisions and the wall beside it has their signature metallic logo displayed.

If you have followed all this so far, it is now time to reiterate just how Lexington's addressing system is laid out. Back in 1902 the city fathers directed the office of the City Engineer to set in motion a plan to renumber all addresses in Lexington.

Starting at the intersection of Main St and Limestone, thereby declaring it to be the center of town, he made streets crossing and running parallel to Main Street, east of Limestone, prefixed with East. And conversely the other direction was prefixed with West. The addresses were set with the odd numbers to the north side and even to the south. Similarly, the streets crossing and running parallel to Limestone, north of Main St. to be prefixed with North, and the other direction South.

A simple system. Easy to understand once you get the concept. The City then made all the sign changes and required all the houses and businesses to post their new addresses. This system, with just a few modifications is still in place today.

This brings us back to the Nunn Lofts situation. The Nunn building once held the Herald newspaper and the WVLK radio station. They used the address 121 Walnut St., which the Urban County Council changed to Martin Luther King. Mr. Holoubek retained the number for historical purposes and has displayed it beside the front door as required, even though he bricked up the original entry and steps.

Mr. Holoubek placed his new, main entry on the addition where it looks more like a back door than a welcoming urban doorway. See below.

What we see here is the south side of East Short St., which, as we saw previously, is supposed to be addressed with an even number. So, if you are looking for The Nunn Lofts and you go by the system, then you would end up at the wrong door, where you couldn't get in.

And you thought the arbitrary changing of street names as you glide through intersections was confusing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Downtown circulator madness

Things are starting to bounce with the Downtown Circulator, don't call them "trolleys". The Mayor wants them called the Circulator. Their latest steering committee meeting showed some interesting direction to their thought.

First concern out of the box is -how to fund the Circulator system- not do the people want this thing as proposed. The facts are that they have already decided to move on the project, have $1,212,000.00 in cash to buy the 'I can't call them trolleys' and can't come up with any operating funds.

So, how are they funding it?

Fares? No, we want it to be free, at least initially.

Advertising? Sure, let's trash the outside with garish posters or maybe the vinyl billboards like the buses. And let's place a big TV monitor on the inside and blare ad at the riders all day.

Corporate branding? Yes, let's sell the "sponsorship" of a (cough trolley cough) to a corporation for some simple tasteful brand design.

Private sector? Well, wait a minute, all options should be explored before asking for funds from private sector. Before approaching the business community for sponsorship, every federal, state and local revenues must be explored. Companies will need to be shown the benefit of permanently exposing their name on the "trolley" and the benefit the "trolley" will bring to the downtown businesses. Is there any business that doesn't know the purpose of advertising?

Furthermore, Lextran should put out a simple budget to show the taxpayers how the money could be spent. Is that because we aren't anything more than simple.

Then hit the Bluegrass Community Foundation and other "charities" before asking the business community (who will benefit from this effort).

Now let's talk about the design. Of the routes? No, the "trolleys", what are they going to look like?

Well, from the public input meetings, the people clearly said that they liked the old fashioned trolleys. Mrs. Sweeper and I gave our input, and I believe we asked for a more "traditional style" vehicle. Not a "Disney-esque" imitation built on a school bus/truck frame. If you are going to imitate something go for the real deal. Try looking at "Traction in the Blue Grass" by local author William M.. Ambrose, especially from pages 100-127.

Hybrid or electric? Ahhh... Those are very expensive, but it could be a novelty.

Maintenance? Yes we maintain them, that's got be a priority when purchasing the trolley.

Attractive? But, also a good value that meets ADA requirements.

Color? Keeneland Green, definitely, Let's overuse that color, Lets put it on everything in sight.

A "name"? By all means, we will need that when we have to sell this to the public.

Finally, let's talk about routing, where will it go? And when?

Starting off, we will just do the downtown loop: Main, Vine and back again. Every five minutes. Round and round and round. And, let's go small, just the lunchtime folks, just give them a 2 hour window, see if the like it. Maybe we'll put the door on the left side of the vehicle, let the people out on the inside of the loop, where the businesses aren't. We will also need a North/South route, with a larger night-time window for the "creative class" at Transylvania and UK.

After an initial success, if there is any, the service can be expanded. The demand from ridership will guide the system. How can you rate demand if the service is free, people will ride anything if its free.

We should have seasoned drivers that can give a history of the city and act as a tour guide. What about the old adage about "Don't talk to the driver while the bus is in motion?"

Seriously folks, we have been down this road before. It failed the first time from lack of demand and excessive maintenance costs. A sign of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Rumor has it that KU, the power company, is willing to buy two fully electric trams(I did not say the "t" word), now that would be a novelty and a tourism attraction. Dress one out in UK blue and the other in Transy crimson.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My kind of industry

Here is an industry we need to lure to the Central Kentucky area. One that will grow in popularity over the years

Building public infrastructure -Roads-

With this summers rapid rise in gas prices, the federal highway trust fund should have taken a load of money--except that people drove less--and the total tax receipts fell. And with this decline, states cut back on the road building projects funded by such tax revenues.

Add to this situation a new twist, the lack of road-building material, asphalt. Refineries nationwide have installed new devices called "cokers" that can take the lowest grade (and least expensive) oil and produce highly profitable fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel. So, where once 40% of a barrel of oil would go to asphalt, now only 10% makes it to the road surface. To top that off, a petrochemical used to make the roads more durable has declined in production, thereby making it more expensive, to the point that some states are leaving it out of the construction contract. This makes the roads that do get built, less likely to last the designed time period.

So, is the bottom line that we settle for more expensive roads that don't last and drive cars that consume fuel that we can't afford? Neither of these two scenarios could be called sustainable.

What we need to do is start to plan for real mass transit, a streetcar system that runs on a renewable energy such as electricity, generated from water, wind, solar, and/or nuclear sources. Plan for a regional rail system so that no one needs to commute more than a few miles by auto (and preferably 1/2 mile by foot). Neighborhoods need to be walkable and street surfaces be of concrete or stone(I would love to streets of cobblestone here).

A real system of light rail from subdivisions to downtown, regional rail to the outlying suburbs and intercity rail to Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, Knoxville and beyond. Walkable neighborhoods with nodes of small retail interspersed at +/- 1/2 mile intervals, filled with shops of fresh foods and services. If all this sounds like the European model, then why not, it has worked for them for much longer than our American system.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Streetscape and music clubs

Back in the spring and early summer Lexington had a running dialogue about how the redevelopment of a downtown block would ruin the "entertainment district" that the "creative class" had begun. How the vitality of the block would be lost and the area would become boring like the rest of downtown.

I received this from DC Metrocentric by way of Greater Greater Washington. It points out how the clubs (music venues) do have a vitality at night, but can leave the area very dead in the daytime. Maybe that is why they are relegated to industrial zones in the DC area.

Downtown vitality should not be measured by just one group or one location, but for the whole area on a 24 hour clock.

Second Sundays to Sunday parkways

I wrote before on the possibilities of expanding Lexington's observance of Second Sunday in October. Now I find that Chicago held two events that month and from their website, encouraged people to call their aldermen(council members)to ask for more. They call their program Sunday Parkways, but it does the same thing, it gives the streets back to the people if only for a short while.

Again I encourage you to work to expand this worthwhile project and bring it to the neighborhoods.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Downtown art

Downtown has had some form of public art since the mid 19th century. In many cases this came in the form of monuments, commemorating the accomplishments some well known residents but mostly in the form of memorials the valiant war/public servant dead. There is one other, the one in Gratz Park, in the fountain,which memorializes a famous Lexington author. Public art, for the most part, has been an indoor exhibition and it has only been in the last several years that the city has brought them outdoors.

My memory has faded a bit, but if I recall correctly, the Festival Market had a bronze statue on Main St. It depicted a young lad sharing his ice cream cone with his sister. This was the first piece of outdoor art I had seen other than the aforementioned memorials. The statue was removed when the Marketplace failed to do what the owners expected and was sold at auction. In the 1990's the Thoroughbred Park received its horses. The ones on the hill, the ones on the track and the ones at each end of the track. Then in 2000 The Flying Horse of Gansu took its place across from City Hall. It has just been reset in place after an expensive rebuilding, following a support failure.(something about inferior Chinese workmanship or materials or the like)

For downtown, that is about it. Then there are the occasional temporary artwork displays. First, there were the decorated horses. They were not all downtown and some are still on display in their new locations. Second , were the decorated doors. Doors from the demolitions in Bluegrass-Aspendale were painted and displayed, then sold, gone from view and from most folks memory.

For the last year the local arts organizations have placed some larger 3-d pieces in various sites downtown as temporary public art. At the top of the post are two photos, one of the recent temporary art and the other an example of the older memorial art. If any of you who may read this have any opinion, drop me a line and tell me how you feel about one or the other.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Freeways and the past (planning)

Lexington's planning for a freeway through the middle of town began as part of the Urban Renewal project of the 1960's. See graphic below. It was to run from an interchange with the Louisville-Cattletsburg and Cincinnati-Tennessee highway, now known as I-64/I-75, along the old L&N railroad tracks into town, then along(or replacing) Midland Ave to Main St, swinging south of the downtown district slicing (literally) through the portion called South Hill. Continuing on to an intersection with an extended Newtown Pike, then on to the four-laned Versailles Rd.

It was going to be beautiful. A wide, sweeping gash right through the heart of historic downtown. In order to minimize the damage to the residential fabric of the city, the decision was made do depress the road starting at Main St. until the Newtown interchange. Half of the existing north-south streets would bridge the chasm, while the rest would be truncated. It would be a freeway with miles of beautiful concrete for miles, to try and paraphrase Judge Doom of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In the past, it had been the railroad that had sliced through town and with it, a station for passengers to get off, right in the middle of town. But railroads were a dying mode of transportation, a relic of the past. Private automobiles were the only way to go, having reemerged to primacy with the upcoming completion of the Interstate system. Passenger trains were too slow, the Interstate will get us there in no time, and this freeway will bring people back downtown, right to the center of town.

Boy, those must have been heady times. WWII and Korea were over, we weren't bogged down in Vietnam (yet)and everything we did was right. We were on our way to the moon. Looking back on it makes me glad that someone thought a little more about things and shot this idea down.

If this debacle had been left alone, can you imagine the relationship between the City and the University? This man-made trench would have created an inhospitable space between the dying commercial, though growing professional city and the academic ivory tower of the University campus. The experiences of other cities have shown us that such freeways have unseen costs in the form of the price paid for separating two parts of a synergistic system. The gap, though only about 150-200 feet wide to begin with, would surely be wider today, as every urban expressway that I've ever seen has had to have extra lanes added. If you build it, they will drive on it.

Add to this the idea of the North-South freeway. Essentially, this was the extension of Newtown Pike. From W. Main St past the East-West to the Southern Railway tracks and along them (or replace them), south to Nicholasville. How in the world the leaders of Lexington thought that they could persuade an active railroad to vacate property, I'll never know. It took years of work to deal with the C&O for the removal of the tracks downtown, and that was with a railroad that was abandoning a line all the way to Ashland, Ky. The Southern Ry. was in the process of expanding its traffic, in particular, their RoadRailer service as their passenger traffic had died. The ICC at the time let railroads do whatever they wanted and the courts backed them up. If this freeway had been built, basically along a drainage divide between the South Elkhorn and the East Hickman Creek basins, it could have split Lexington worse than any railroad.

These are some of the reasons that I am happy that we don't have any freeways through our downtown, and I hope to keep it that way.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Freeways and the future

I am so glad that we do not have problems such as these. I just read about the Congress for New Urbanism's list of freeways that the people think should be removed.
The closest one to me is in Louisville and I can concur wholeheartedly. The State of Kentucky will only waste money, that it does not have, if it continues on this road.

The voters of the Louisville area voted one of the major supporters of expanding the freeway out of office, partially to slow the effects of this project. Anne Northup then ran for governor, I feel, to endorse and build this project. Thankfully, she was defeated. Again she is running for the 3rd district(Louisville) representative and again one of her main goals is to expand what the people don't want, the mess of highways along the river.

What Lexington(and Louisville) needs are alternative forms of transportation from the freeways and highways that divide us from our historic roots. Lexington, in the form of its downtown area and Louisville, it riverfront.

We need to support more of this kind of thinking.

CentrePointe and Dining

I heard from a poster on a forum that I frequent, about behind the scenes conversations dealing with CentrePointe. Seems that the desires are, for a "high end" steak house to have a prime spot in the hotel/condo complex. There were some names offered of national steak houses, along the lines of Morton's, Fleming's and Capital Grille. I have heard that some local houses like Sal's and Malone's could be moving in to the downtown area, but something national is something else.

This got another forum poster involved, to question whether or not we already had too many steak houses and was not the market saturated already.
Ugh, is there anything more generic than a "steak house"?? Seriously, doesnt Lexington (and most towns) pretty much have that market licked.

I mean, its a downtown location. Put something in that isnt found on every block in the suburbs that'll actually get people down there. Doesnt have to be something totally niche & off the wall, but shouldnt be something so cliche as a steak house either.

Besides, the type of people that usually migrate to downtowns like Lexington are usually the kind who like to break from that suburban mold & aren't your average cats. Most are kinda eccentric, probably some vegetarians too.

At least this is how most cities get gentrified. The eccentrics come first, then the norms follow.


This, of course, got my blood going and I responded with things like, an upper level restaurant should not have to tempt all the suburban residents downtown every night, and restaurants in or associated with hotels are not specifically designed to draw people downtown. I think that hotel associated restaurants and even those local ones that locate near hotels are primarily interested in grabbing the traveling visitor. Hotel food is usually out of range of the typical downtown resident in this day and age.

The downtown fine dining establishments need to try to keep the day workers and business people in town rather than let them get home to the suburbs and then make their way back. The only exceptions would be for special occasions and the occasional evening event (Opera House, Rupp Arena). Hotel associated restaurants are a part of this but it is not their "bread and butter", those staying in the hotel are their main guests.

When I look at the Hyatt Regency, and their in-house dining, I don't see the local crowds that I used to. When it first opened as the the Glass Garden, it drew a good number of locals, locals who had not been to a Hyatt hotel or at least one in town. These were generally older patrons dining after church on Sunday or families going out to someplace special. This was also the mid 1970's and Lexingtonian's had a history of going to the hotel and motel restaurants on Sunday, as they were the only places open for these "after church" meals. The Campbell House and The Springs both did a great business in the Fifties and Sixties as places to go eat on Sundays.

Moving forward to the mid 1980's and the opening of the Radisson, by now many chain fast food places and local restaurants had been forced to be open on Sundays and Sunday liquor sales were not far away, but I can't recall the Cafe on the Park drawing large local crowds, ever.

Lexington has moved forward since the Seventies when it had close to 180,000 residents, it now has almost double that. The residents of Lexington have taken on a feeling similar to New Yorkers(except that we feel that we are still a small town), that downtown is where the big businessman goes to work, the rest of us work and shop in suburbia, and I only go downtown when I have too. Going downtown, to today's youngsters is the same as going on a trip to Cincinnati or Louisville to me at that age. Going to see friends on the other side of town means, going around New Circle or Man o' War, not going through downtown.

Maybe that is why the young people of college age, when they "discover" downtown, realize that it is not as bad as they feared and take ownership of what they think others have abandoned, then feel betrayed when the real owners exert their powers and change things.

I see CentrePointe changing downtown in a good way. I see CentrePointe complimenting the existing and planned condominium projects and any other new residential in the downtown area. What I would like to see is enhanced transit options, other housing options and well used(not just often used) public spaces. More good public art, not displayed piles of former scrap metal, is not too much to ask along with displaying pride of ownership of the downtown properties, not just pushing the sale or lease of them.

One more great restaurant or one more great music or art venue is not going to make downtown irresistible for the local resident but they will give us one more option for us to make a good impression on the visiting public. And another good option for a special night out.