Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More On Our Connections

There have been some comments from other communities about the Knight Foundation study "The Soul of the Community" and on the overall results from 26 nationwide cities. There may be a new formula emerging from this research.

L + P = $

L come from loyalty. The loyalty that comes from living in a community that make you feel comfortable and welcome. But that feeling on comfort exists on a two way street. Just like that bar "where everybody knows your name", you have to extend yourself to become one that everyone wants to know. You can't be a wallflower and be accepted into the "family", nor can you be the one who contests, vocally, what the majority tend to agree with.

P come from passion. Passion for your community shows in many ways and can be very confusing. Some may show their passion by going along with everything that is proposed, no matter what the outcome. Others may show their passion by holding firmly to the old tried and true ways of past generations until they are simply outnumbered. Those with true passion for their community will take the best of their past and the most viable option for their future and forge new pathways boldly into breech.

L + P = $ means that communities able to inspire loyalty and passion among residents are also likely to see a swell in their financial outlook. I think that we can see evidence of this in our own community, or at least in our sports community. Our University of Kentucky sports community, both local, statewide and nationwide, are some of the most passionate fans alive. The loyalty that the show for home games and away games has made sports fans and media very aware of the level of passion and loyalty and how it relates to the financial success of having those fans attend or watch the games. Simply put, UK athletics means $BIG BUCKS$.

So, how can we, as a community, inspire the loyalty and passion needed to bring a swelling of our financial future?
“There's more to folks coming and staying in communities than just jobs – especially for that highly mobile, talented population sought after by many communities,” said Katherine Loflin, lead consultant on the project. “If they feel like their community is on the rise ... they have more of a tendency to feeling more attached to where they are,” she said, adding that people who feel satisfied in their jobs also tend to have more feelings of attachment to the place they call home.
That high touted "creative class" is once again in the spotlight. Those who can do their jobs from just about anywhere and unfortunately, are loyal more to the money than to the job location. To a larger and larger proportion of them it is more about "Who will pay me more for what I do?" than "Who will benefit the most out of what I do?".
Across the board, the relatively young and highest educated respondents rated themselves the least attached to their current communities.

Those are often people who are able to create the conditions they want or need in any environment they find themselves
How do we instill loyalty and passion for Lexington in these people?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our Lexington Connections

Today, both the Herald-Leader and Business Lexington, presented articles on a study funded by the John S. & James L.Knight Foundation(Wow, that sounds impressive).

Their report on year two of the three year study is characterized as showing that
Lexington residents rank "social offerings" (fun places to gather) as one of the most important factors in connecting them to their hometown.
the other important factors were Education and Aesthetics.

These factors are called by the articles(if not specifically by the report), the top reasons that Lexington residents remain connected with our city.

Out here in the blogosphere, I hear many of our young people bemoaning the lack of good, inexpensive "fun places to gather" and that Lexington should have a lot more "like Louisville or Cincinnati". These are our representatives of the "creative class", the ones that we are trying to retain and increase. So, where is the disconnect?

These "social offerings" are an important factor, yet a lacking commodity in the minds of a growing number of the principle group of our residents that we are most worried about. And then there is that troubling last word in the above quote, hometown. Hometown, to a large majority of people that I've spoken to, on-line and off, means somewhere other than Lexington. Mrs. Sweeper has lived in Lexington for 20 years or so and does not consider it to be her hometown. Of the folks that I work with, only a handful think of Lexington as a hometown. And most places that I go, people are amazed to find that I am a native, one of the few that they know of.

This is not the first time that "social offerings" have been listed as an important factor. Earlier studies and polls have
cited a need for more entertainment options — more cultural programs, live music and festivals — a more robust and welcoming downtown area, more affordable downtown housing and better sources of information about places to dine and enjoy music and the arts.
Alright, now it is out there. The creative class has recognized and documented a need. Now this young, very creative bunch of young professionals should be going about the process of making a solution to this need. Honestly, I don't think that this is something that the government should be doing anything about other that regulating the operations of all businesses. Government should not be in the business of defining or managing recreational social offerings. With well over
50% of this creative class being in the legal, accounting or education fields ther should be more than enough skill-sets to generate the desired level of these social offerings.

There is also in the Business Lexington another article pertaining to a residential development's assistance in connecting it's young professionals to the social scene of Lexington. This assistance comes in the form of cheerleading a group of residents to become involved in their community, a group who has chosen to live a certain lifestyle and a certain location of their choosing. This lifestyle community must now entice the residents to connect to the overall community through its management company's social director. A management company that is a blend of apartment complex/HOA managers, as they cover the apartments and the condos (these guys rank just higher than used car or insurance salesmen in my book).

If our young professionals need to be led to interact with the greater part of the local community and they have to have their social gathering places created for them, what exactly does that say about them?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Case Of Student Housing

After a week of rain it has finally cleared up, so the guys and I went out for a bike ride around the neighborhood. Well I went for the ride and they grumbled quietly while an old man led them through the maze of Chevy Chase/Hollywood Terrace.

As such, we were on the edge of the ever expanding off campus student housing. This is an area that I remember well from my youth, an area of small neat houses occupied by families of the kids I went to school with. Houses, or should I say, homes of the people who worked in the stores downtown, or the local neighborhood shops and more than a few of them were the homes of the teachers in the local schools. But even then it was beginning to change.

By the time I got to high school the kids I had grown up with were moving on to newer suburbs and later, to other colleges. The area of Aylesford(Linden Walk, Aylesford Pl., Transylvania Pk) had been a student magnet for a few years, as the aging widows took in roomers to make ends meet and some just sold out to absentee landlords who broke up the larger houses into apartments. The houses on the south side of Euclid Ave were not immune to the onslaught from the University or the students/landlords and fell to the wrecking ball despite being less than 80 years old.

What this shows, is that from the Aylesford area, to Clifton Heights, to Columbia Heights, to Hollywood Terrace, (not to mention the Elizabeth St/Floral Park area) students living off campus have desired to live in a more homelike setting. I watched some of the LFUCG work session last week where students stood up and objected to labeled as undesirable neighbors, but the facts are, that since I was college student age until today, most of the students DO NOT treat their student residences as they should. The protesting students rightly claim that they have jobs and pay taxes as if that should allow them to behave differently than an average wage earner/taxpayer. I would bet that the homes where they grew up, or where their parents live do not look like what is remaining at the end of spring semester.

Some savvy developers have built some recent student housing with some of the more homelike amenities, but even Newtown Crossing or The Lex appear more as institutional or apartment complex like. I recently saw that a few smaller colleges have built dorms that look as though they were Victorian houses or the like. Maybe this is something that UK should do.

The University has, in its continued growth, devoured several residential subdivisions in the last 100 years. Usually by students finding housing in off campus location but still close enough to quickly get to class. The ones that come to mind range from Adamstown and the Gladstone & Washington Ave areas to Clifton Heights and the Herr Park area. I have looked at some of these in more depth and hope to post on them in the near future.

For now, I just wish that the students living off campus AND the UK administration should both become more responsible about how they interact with the year-round property owners, to the point that the City should not have to play peacemaker AND enforcer to people who should already know how to act responsibly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Recovery

We have just passed the one year mark of our latest recession and by most accounts are on the road to recovery, but what is recovery? Where will we be when we have recovered? People have accidents and medical procedures every day from which they then have a recovery period, but just where are they when to recovery is complete?

Some people are returned to health, but not always to "perfect" health. They usually carry scars and other reminders of the ordeal. Some come back stronger but most do not, some regain full mobility while others need occasional assistance and some regain just enough to press on with life. Some can get back to doing what the did before and others have to make radical changes in their routines in order to survive. Had they made those changes earlier in their life, they may not have been faced with their need to change now.

Lexington, and America in general, has for the last year been feeling poorly. Our economy has been waylaid by a malaise of our own doing, though actually we have been treating ourselves with "home remedies" and "tonics " usually hawked by snake oil salesmen. We, like the majority of the health care and insurance providers of today, have been relieving the symptoms and letting the disease continue unabated. To be sure there are some good doctors out there, just as there are those who realize where and how we went astray-and what we should do to adjust our lifestyles to prevent major surgery or even a terminal illness. I believe that James Howard Kunstler is one of the better ones.

Kunstler's blog piece of the other day gives good focus on the very symptoms of urban life that I wish to deal with on a daily basis. Living in an urban area, be it a densely populated city or a mid-western farm town, has its good and bad points. Nowhere is ideal for every occasion, there are always trade-offs or a price to pay to balance the scales.

History tells us that Americans have been enticed to reach for that "something better" either by those telling tall tales or those wishing to get rich by selling the dream to unsuspecting souls. Kunstler looks at the post World War II era as it pertains to the immediate recession, but these things have been going on since before the discovery of "The New World". What we did not learn from the Depression of 1893, we foolishly repeated right up to the Crash of 1928. Then following some painful withdrawal work and a surgical reconstruction of our manufacturing sector(WWII), we took off again with our intoxicants and cavorted like giddy schoolboys and girls. This time even radical surgery(the big reset) may not be enough to stem the cancer that is now raging through America, and chemo(quick-fix engineering solutions) will only mask that a problem still exists.

I, in my younger years, bought in to this "go out to where the air is cleaner" attitude until it was time to buy a house. Then, what I saw being built for "the masses" was not what I wanted to live like. I did not learn to drive(or own a car) until I was in my 40's and Mrs. Sweeper was with child. I wanted to be able to walk most places, or bike. It was for pleasure that I rode long distances into the surrounding subdivisions and suburbs. If I went out for a dinner and drinks, then I could walk home. Being a life long Lexingtonian, I still live within 3 miles of where I grew up and within walking distance of downtown. It is only now that, with grey hair and experience , I see some of the folly in pursuing the now entrenched "suburban model" of development. We should be planning for communities that allow for all age ranges to live in comfort and that includes sending "little Johnny" to the corner store for a loaf of bread, or the park, or to school.

As it is now, society says that Mom and Dad cannot stay in the house that they worked so hard to afford. They saved and did without so that the kids had something better. Now the kids have to have the better things and Mom and Dad may have to go somewhere where they can be looked after, all because of our "better stuff". Retirement homes and nursing homes are not the natural way nor are they the better way(just look at the lawyers advertising about how you may qualify for judgements).

The snake oil salesmen are still out there but we cannot go back to the same place that we were and call it recovery. It would be like giving an alcoholic free rein in a liquor store or a meth-head the run of a pharmacy. The free rush of getting there is just not worth the pain of coming all the way back down.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Really Think of The Future

The Saturday Wall Street Journal had a great article about retrofitting our sprawling suburbs, or in Lexington's case, our recent subdivisions. It is nice to see that I am not the only one thinking about these things or writing about them.
The nation's sprawling suburbs—home to as much as half of the U.S. population and more than 30 million people age 55-plus—may have been a good place to grow up. But the suburbs are proving a tough place to grow old.
The above quote seems to sum up the feeling I have about the newer subdivisions of Lexington and the Central Kentucky region. Homes that are placed farther and farther from schools, shopping, jobs and life's other essentials. But while this article is aimed at the aging population, some in the younger generations are being limited also(see this piece from the New York Times). Kids are living in neighborhoods where engaging in any activity outside the home requires an automobile trip. New schools supplies? A trip to the mega-center. Go to school? Ride the bus or the parents drop them off(causing a traffic tie up). After school get-togethers? The parents have to drive. Can the kids find their way there? Not without the Google maps app on their cell phones. This is not a good way to grow up.
Maintaining yards and homes requires more effort; driving everywhere, and for everything, becomes expensive and, eventually, impossible.
With or without children, newly married or empty-nesters, both parents working and no day-care living in these subdivisions tend to cause not relieve stress in a family's life. Driving to, or for, everything that a family does gets expensive and will get very much more so in the years ahead. This article assumes the aging adult as not being able to drive and does not factor in the rising price of fuel or its relative availability. Even the cost of getting services delivered to your door will become prohibitive.
Even something as simple as the absence of sidewalks can discourage older adults from walking through their neighborhoods and seeing other people.
The requirement for sidewalks along public streets has been in effect for some time in Lexington
and has been a bone of contention in developments with private streets and accessways. How strange it is to see that some of the more recent retirement/active adult gated communities have not provided for these sidewalks and force the older residents to drive or walk in the street. Lower speed limits will do little to restrict the damage done by an impaired driver to their pedestrian neighbor.

And speaking of the retirement/active adult facilities, there are going to be many more of our population that will need such living arrangements in the near future. Being shipped off to a facility is not what your parents(or you) should desire. I should think that the style of housing found in the early Ashland Park/Chevy Chase sections would be applicable to many of our recent subdivisions and quite a few of the ones of the '50s-'60s. Multi-generational subdivisions and housing types should not be a taboo subject.
"Planning has been based on wealth. We would build six lanes just to go to Starbucks; we would throw infrastructure and services after people, which was incredibly inefficient. This recession has given us a chance to think. It's a wonderful opportunity to get things done that you couldn't get done just two or three years ago."

Andres Duany

This recession and the eventual economic reset should make us think(and change) how we have dealt with development and our aging population and so keep our active and diverse community appealing to everyone.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hamburg: More Forward Thinking Than Some Believe

One of the comments that I received from my last post was about how crappy the Hamburg commercial area is concerning walkability. I may confuse some of you with my next idea. I find that the Hamburg shopping center is laid out very well. It was conceived in an economic period when we thought that globalization would cure all the worlds ills.

The Hamburg development was originally planned as a mall concept, back when malls were a big thing. A major mall developer, Faison Associates of Charlotte N.C. was contracted to build the mall, then named Hamburg Pavilion, in the summer of 1988. A little more than two years later they had signed their first anchor tenant for a 1993 opening. Then, 18 months after that the concept changed to the current mix of highway commercial and big box retailers.

It was about this same time that Man o'War Blvd was built with its interchange to I-75 and a large residential development nearby. Both the developers and the initial tenant had pull out and the Madden family decided to go it alone. In February of 1995, nearly 9 years after the first announcement, the first real business Meijer corpacquired 55 acres of land for a 200,000 sq ft store called a hypermarket. Meijer is a chain based in Michigan and Lexington was the farthest south of their locations as it remains today.

Big box stores, as these hypemarkets became known, was an idea that was sweeping the nation along with the idea of a globalized economy. The summer of 1996 brought a 20 screen cinema and a Target and the race was on to build as much parking as the shoppers could fill. Goody's and Officemax followed and then Kohl's and Garden Ridge. 1998 ended with a rousing holiday season and some full parking lots.

Around this same time the residential section of Hamburg began to develop and some folks started to talk of getting from the houses to the retail by means other than walking. Sir Barton Way, the main drag through the subdivision, was and is just too wide and traffic signals are for auto in the minds of most residents. You have to remember that most of these folks drive the fancier and larger SUV's and live on narrower streets than normal. At one point I heard from a friend of mine, a retired Lextran driver, the they had proposed a tram system to circulate through the parking lots and neighborhoods to transport shoppers and residents from the stores to their cars and houses. This was shot down because it did not fit with the high end feel of the neighborhood that the developers were going for.

Every bit of this clearly does show that the Hamburg area fails the walkability test and to a lot of people it fails the driving accessibility test also. I still find it preferable to the Fayette Mall trips that I have to make every so often. I also find it more salvageable in terms of future redevelopment, should conditions warrant. Take what they have planned for the Tysons Corner section of Northern Virginia.

Tysons Corner today

Proposed Tysons Corner

Now consider what the Hamburg area could look like if the sizable parking lots along Pavilion Way were to be redeveloped into multi-story mixed use residential over retail. And, if there is really an economic reset coming as some are predicting, a necessary downsizing of the existing big box stores would allow for more of the local flavor shopping than there is right now. This area is much more adaptable than any other shopping center built in the last two decades.

What it does need right away is a better connectivity to the adjacent neighborhoods to make this the Ashland Park/Chevy Chase of the future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Death of Walkable Retail

This evening, as I came home, I altered my normal route and passed through the Chevy Chase shopping area. In doing so I was reminded of the comments of a former councilmember about the conditions facing the folks of the Chevy Chase community. Mr Farmer addressed the Council work session yesterday and again reminded them of the, should we say, less than enthusiastic welcome that they have given to the new parking arrangements for the shopping area.

Earlier this year I wrote about this and still I have no clue as to what they are thinking.

The Chevy Chase area and its surrounding neighborhoods are imminently walkable. Everybody from young school children to the senior living nearby can walk to the shops and entertainment facilities located along Euclid and E High St. The hills are not too steep and the block faces are not too long. One can usually see UK students riding or walking back the their dorms or apartments with bags of groceries from Kroger and other shops. Many people do walk in this area.

I was reminded this evening of a time nearly half a century ago, when the Chevy Chase commercial area was not so large or as dense as it is today, yet there was a greater presence of service for the automobile than there is today. At that time the storefronts along High from Ashland to Euclid were all right on the sidewalk(all parking was to the rear). Gas stations seemed to dominate just about every corner. From the corner of Marquis(formerly Lafayette Ave) and Euclid, with an Exxon station, to Clay, with a Speedway, to Ashland Ave, with a Sinclair(Hancock's video), to the intersection of E. High, with an Ashland and a Texaco. There was a Gulf station at the corner of High and Ashland(approx Starbucks location) and a Chevron at the corner of Park. A Ball Dairy store with drive up at Cochran but this does pre-date the gas station which eventually became Billy's Bar-b-que.

This appears to be a lopsided proportion of service stations in a very pedestrian area. Add to that the drive thru windows for the liquor stores and the dry cleaners and the auto centric nature of the area begins to come clear. The very strange fact is that none of them remain today. NONE. But there is much more surface parking available than there was and still the problems remain. People used to walk from blocks away, and a lot of local residents still do, but those who just have to drive from a longer distance cannot walk for half of a very shot block.

The shopping area along E. Main, from Walton to Ashland, was smaller but similar. Five gas stations and a drive thru restaurant in a block and a half, and the remaining Chevron was not there then. And this just a little over a quarter of a mile from Chevy Chase.

I could go on and equate how Idle Hour, Meadowthorpe, Romany Road and even Georgetown St.'s Westside Plaza have changed over the years. Walkable retail used to be available in the first-ring suburbs and still have accommodations for the auto but now the auto does not want to make accommodations for the pedestrians. Have you watched any of the old movie from the turn of the last century, the carriages and horse drawn wagons, the streetcars gliding down the street, and pedestrians EVERYWHERE? People crossing the street in mid block, walking along with the traffic and cyclists weaving through them all? How about the western movies with the dirt main street, horses and people, carts and wagons, the stagecoach all mixing in the street( and scattering when the gunfight broke out)? That can't happen today, with or without the gunfight.

Walkable retail seems to have died when we took zoning to its extremes and started trying to serve more with less. More customers with less employees, more variety with less stores, more shopping with less real service.

More isolation in our homes and less interaction with a larger cross-section of our neighbors, but that is the way I think most people like it. I don't.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Let Us Get On The Path To Recovery

There has been much said and written about the country's stimulus package and its recovery, but just where is the point to which we wish to recover. This is a question that has been on my mind a great deal lately. Will we return to the point that the financial institutions began to go under, or the point at which we realized that massive foreclosures were imminent, or maybe we will get to the point that we discover that life, as we currently are living it, is basically unsustainable.

That last point, for some of us, was a few years back and for a far larger number of us is still in the future. I would like to go back to the days before we began our headlong rush at the rapidly approaching drop-off of total un-sustainability. The hard part about that is understanding just when that was.

Wendell Berry's latest article in The Progressive magazine (Subscription req.) speaks of our inverted economic order where the non-necessary desires of the masses outweigh the basic necessities of life itself. A system where resources that took lifetimes to develop are used/abused and discarded in an instant, on a whim, simply because we believe that they are so abundant. To paraphrase a recent advertising slogan, "Use all you want, We'll make more". Our problem now is that our use of a resource usually leads to the abuse of or world either by acquiring, processing or disposing of the "used" resource.

For many years , man has used the resources of this earth and nature has always found a way to recycle the elements of our resources into something that is also usable. It has taken man just a few short centuries to turn our economies through complete somersaults, and all because of wanting unnecessary desires, just because we can. Along the way we have also discovered that we have limited natures ability to renew itself and that we now have to "assist" nature with very unnatural means, thereby exacerbating the downward spiral all the more.

We(Mrs Sweeper, my son and I) watched the movie Food Inc. the other evening and I came away both sad and angry at the state of American, and even worldwide, food production. There seems to be little that an ordinary citizen can do to correct the situation and it all stems from our economic decisions, which right now reflect jobs, jobs, jobs. The jobs most at stake are not the farmers or the processing plant workers, nor the fast food, drive in workers or the grocery stock guys, you can replace them any day. The jobs at the top are most at stake, those that run in the six figures(lots of 000's). These are the folks who figure out how to get the resources to the processor, to market and then discarded sooner and then move on to the next big idea.

These people are those which make up the "creative class", the thinkers and manipulators of ideas, those who will lead the world.
Above is a chart showing the five sub-groups of the "creative class". You will notice that nearly half of the class is comprised of lawyers, accountants and top level managers, those who want to get things done and those who can devise a way to do it. Aided by the 18% who can manipulate the education and training of our youth and where and how we store our information, we are now nearly three quarters to the goal of convincing the masses that this is how the economy is supposed to work. So why is the precipice of collapse always directly in front of us.

If these creative people, the lawyers and accountants, our CEO's and financiers, are the ones who got us into this mess then why are we to rely on them to get us out? What we NEED is to return to the systems that we had before the creative financing schemes and scientific advances of crop production, before stock derivatives and gene splicing of seeds. Maybe everyone does not need to own a home, since our family sizes are dropping and our house sizes are rising. An average family member does not need to have nearly 1000 sq. ft. to himself.

If we are to have a real recovery, then we will have to go back to when we taught our children that just to want something does not equate to the need for something. We will have to believe our warnings on drinking and playing the lottery, to live responsibly and sustainably.

Maybe a great fall is what will do it for us.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Begun, It Has, Building To Fail

The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!

As I told you last week the full employment of Europeans by the stimulus package is creeping ever closer. Today I received confirmation of that fact, the State of California( as broke as they are) contracted with the Deutsche Bahn – German Railways for technology to build and run their High Speed Rail initiative.

We already have their railcar technology in our subways and regional rail systems and now this. When will the light bulb go off and we realize that we are able to do this ourselves?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lexington's "Spatial Fix"

I finally got to read the article by Richard Florida that I printed out from the March issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine. His idea is about how the crash will reshape America. I feel that this "crash" is but a minor fender bender in what is really heading our way.

The first parts dealt with the financial markets and a brief history of earlier recessions/depressions and the shifting landscapes that their major centers endured. It is what he says about the rest of the country which concerns me. His comments on the resiliency of New York City are based on the diversity AND density of its population and he cites the argument of Jane Jacobs that jostling of many different professions and different types of people, all in a dense environment, is an essential spur to innovation—to the creation of things that are truly new. So, could that mean that for our innovative, creative young people to be sucessful, we need to increase the density of our downtown population? Just how well will that mesh with our preservation of the historic properties and districts?

He goes on to explain what will happen to the cities that used to be the manufacturing centers, how with the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. or even the relocation to the southern states, our aging "Rust Belt" cities are trying, unsuccessfully, to reinvent themselves. Then there are the "Sun Belt" cities that had little going for them save their cheap land, easy credit and service sector jobs which got caught in the housing bubble and sub-prime loan fiasco. I am not sure Lexington has dodged this bullet completely yet.

His solution for cities, is for a new "spatial fix" for after the crash. His definition of spatial fix is:
The physical character of the economy—the way land is used, the location of homes and businesses, the physical infrastructure that ties everything together—shapes consumption, production, and innovation.
And he states the suburbanization was the fix for the industrial age. Industrialization brought on mass production, which brought on prosperity and mass consumption. Prosperity and Federal policies brought on more home ownership, which when subsidized by the highway construction and Interstates, led to a suburban lifestyle. No more depression era penny pinching, this was the era of expanding credit and an ever increasing need for home ownership. With that need came the newer, riskier financing strategies and an ever expanding supply of housing choices, it was just that these choices were standardized and farther away from the city centers.

Housing and transportation costs now make up a substantial portion of all household budgets. Local governments are obligated to provide services to the farther flung residences without an adequate return in tax revenue (i.e. these places don't pay for themselves) and as people in the areas of highest foreclosure rates have found out, home ownership is not all it is cracked up to be.

Home ownership, lately has also made our populace just a little less mobile than it was. There was a day when, if the job opportunity presented itself, Dad could pack up the family and go. Now they will have to sell the house, worry about Mom finding a job, will the kids fit in to the new schools and will the new house cost more than it does here. Now that opportunity must a substantial one.

There are several things that Lexington can do and Florida has laid them out in his concluding paragraphs.
In part, we need to ensure that key cities and regions continue to circulate people, goods, and ideas quickly and efficiently.
Today, we need to begin making smarter use of both our urban spaces and the suburban rings that surround them—packing in more people, more affordably, while at the same time improving their quality of life. That means liberal zoning and building codes within cities to allow more residential development, more mixed-use development in suburbs and cities alike, the in-filling of suburban cores near rail links, new investment in rail, and congestion pricing for travel on our roads. Not everyone wants to live in city centers, and the suburbs are not about to disappear. But we can do a much better job of connecting suburbs to cities and to each other, and allowing regions to grow bigger and denser without losing their velocity.
A denser, more diverse, more mobile Lexington will invite more ideas and allow for more innovation through more interaction with a greater cross-section of our population in closer quarters than we now see. We will also need a greater effort to re-localize our manufacturing and food production because this is just the beginning.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

So, Why Won't People Live Downtown?

I keep hearing the mantras "When there is a grocery store downtown, I will move back downtown" and "There is no grocery down there" but I don't understand the logic.

Lexington's original city limit was a circle of 1 mile in radius and centered on the Courthouse(now the Lexington History Museum). Traces of that limit are still visible today, if you know what you are looking for. One mile, straight up Upper St, will take you to Loudon Ave. And right out E. Main St. will get you to just about Walton Ave. Go along E. High St. and just past the tennis courts there is a small, white stone planted in the right of way that is just like the one on W. Main St. opposite the entry to the Catholic Cemetery. Other spots are a little harder to identify, like the point on Rose St near Washington, in front of the quadrangle or on S. Broadway at Pyke Rd. where the raised median starts( put in when the State widened the road in the '50s for the County). West High St, Newtown/Georgetown, Third St./Winchester Rd. and others have had all vestiges of the city limits removed some years ago.

This area held almost all of the population of Lexington until the early 20th century and had numerous groceries right up to the last quarter of that century. These groceries were not huge and the served the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods. The small corner stores are still there, but they are not what people call a grocery store these days. People could walk to the store (and did) for their fresh produce and goods. That appears to be what they want in a downtown of today and won't move until they get it.

But they don't have it where they live today. They seem to be perfectly happy to live better than 2 miles from a grocery and endure the weekly shopping trip for an entire weeks worth of supplies. At that point they have to drive. No one can carry that much on a bike or walking for that distance.

Today, there is not a full service grocery inside the old city limit line.

Now, take any house in the Masterson Station area, draw your 1 mile radius and show me the full service grocery there. Do likewise in the Polo Club/Blackford Pkwy subdivision or the Chilesburg area. Shoot, come all the way into the Andover area and find me a grocery of just about any kind. The lack of a grocery is not the real reason.

Nor do I think that it housing affordability, renter/owner mix or crime rates. I think that these people just don't want to have relationships with as many people as would be necessary in a real urban environment. Most people want to go home after a days work, pull their SUV into the garage and hide in their backyards or air conditioned television rooms. I am not sure that they could interact with as many people in halls or on the streets of a bustling downtown. They do that vicariously through their TV shows.

So, just what are your thoughts on why people don't want to live downtown.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Failing To Build Is Building To Fail

We in America are poised, again, to fail.

The opportunity is rearing its head and I wonder if we can jump at the chance to show our collective stupidity, again. The current rage in Washington, if not in parts of the rest of the country, is the stimulus money designated for High Speed Rail(HSR). $ 8 Billion for HSR and that is promised to be the starting level. Even more stimulus money is planned for rebuilding our other rail facilities. Yet nobody is talking about revamping our automobile industry to include the HSR vehicles. And somebody else is watching.

German engineering giant Siemens and their national railway operator Deutsche Bahn, already well ahead of America's companies, are hungrily watching to see how much they can profit from our stimulus package. Will our tax money pay for returning their workers to full employment? Both GM and Chrysler are being bailed out by the US taxpayers yet the only transportation modes being considered for these companies is automobiles and trucks. Where is the evidence of American ingenuity and expertise in the rail industry, why firmly planted in the dismantling of the passenger rail system back in the '60s.

This past month the "Cash for Clunkers" program boosted auto sales for Ford, Toyota and Honda yet did little for GM and Chrysler (see link here). And just who are the majority owners of these fine losers? The American people, of course. We need to pay ourselves first and invest in an American controlled transportation manufacturer. That will take a change in just what we manufacture.

We are going to need a quantity of light-rail vehicles, as well as a larger quantity of heavier rail vehicles and a good number of High Speed Rail trainsets. I see no reason that these vehicles cannot be produced right here in the good old USA. By the folks that built the trains that connected the East coast with the West. We can employ our own engineers to design our rail facilities(NASA probably has a few dozen capable of the job). We have people who can design and build the tracks, as well as maintain them, right in our back yard. So, how long are we going to stand in our own way of getting the job done?

There is currently only ONE producer of streetcars in America, The Oregon Iron Works, and they aren't even in the transportation business. They do dams and bridges and things. Shouldn't we have our transportation people designing these things?

The "Cash for Clunkers" program was to designed to make the individual auto more efficient, a streetcar system can make our entire city more efficient and a High Speed Rail system can make the whole country more efficient.

One last question. Does anyone know the total value of the aircraft owned by the aviation industry, both in service and those mothballed out in the desert? I would love to know the answer.