Monday, December 27, 2010

Lies And Myths

I have come to see some of the almost blatant lies which have become the myths of advertising these days.

I grew up in the times of the “muscle car” and the “thrill of the open road” images in auto commercials. Ads at that time stressed getting out and driving just about everywhere one could go. I also remember that there was usually some small type at the bottom of the screen warning about a “closed course” and a “professional driver” which would indicate a less than typical driving experience. Young boys and even more “younger” thinking men fell for these clever slights of photography and images. They did so by buying cars which spent more time stuck in traffic than they ever saw on open road.

Car designs of the ‘60s and early ‘70s were moving through the aerodynamic styling of sweeping lines and “fins” to the constantly increasing size of engines and their resultant horsepower ratings. Gas was cheap (relatively) and the Interstate system was reaching a semblance of completeness, but the commercials still showed the particular model, alone on the road and usually winding through some spectacular scenery. Where do you find people in real life driving like that? Today’s commercials are still trying to sell the same thrill of whipping your new car through city streets and open country roads, free of all other traffic or impediments. Why don’t you try that some morning, on the way to work along Nicholasville Rd?

My dad would love to take the family for a ride in the country on Sunday’s. I think that I learned a lot about local geography and history while doing so. We would drive for a few hours and end up at some interesting state park or other small attraction, grab a bite to eat and then head back home. Before the Interstates, this was an all day thing but eventually it took less time although we went farther. These days it is almost a chore to head much farther out of town than 30 or 40 miles. My trips to Louisville or Cincinnati are budgeted for well in advance.

Today, I heard a radio commercial which encouraged folks to get out an drive, to see sights up and down our Interstates, to get off on our back roads and visit’s the remote locations of Kentucky. It was our Tourism industry at work. Where do you think that they will be when gas passes $5 a gallon? Oh right, I forgot. I wrote the other day about our wonderful electric vehicles which we will be driving soon. Our remote tourism locations, in the usually pristine countryside, will all be equipped with charging stations (and not more than 40-80 miles apart). I guess that I shouldn’t say anything about the massive power lines which will need to cut through the landscape to supply these charging stations. Then again, maybe not.

Have you seen the ad campaign by Kentucky-American Water about their “gift” of the property which holds Lakeside Golf Course and Jacobson Park? Next week they are claiming that they will make a New Year’s present of it to the City. What a crock.

They held the prospect of that property being developed as a threat over the citizens of Lexington during the “negotiations” of condemnation proceedings back in 2005. The “settlement”, which in my opinion was a capitulation, agreed to was for the KAWC to hand over the recreation property (that so many had grown up thinking was city property) in return for not continuing or even considering such condemnation actions in the future. They are just abiding by their agreement, but if it makes them look good, at a time that they really need to do so, then so much the better. If KAWC were really interested in doing what is best for the people of Central Kentucky, then their corporate decisions would be based on the social needs of the customers and not the capital needs of the shareholders. The myth here is that private corporate decisions are better that government mis-management, while both may be equally dangerous.

How about the idea that our “smart phones” and their “apps” are so much smarter than we are? Yet for all their smart features, they spread more personal information than a neighborhood gossip, its just that their facts are true. If you are using some of the more popular “apps” and you have entered any personal information, then it may be safe to say that several online tracking companies have a file on you(and know more about you than you think. Your location is being tracked, automatically, by most of the top “apps” used today. If you are texting, tweeting or surfing the net for extended periods of time, then there are several companies who know your daily routines, maybe better than you do.

These companies are not (currently) allowed to single out your information, but it may be aggregated into similar profiles and built into a “demographic”. A demographic is usually fairly generic, but these people know where you live, where you work, where you play, what you eat and drink, what you like to do for kicks and many other things. You can be tracked 24/7/365, and you gave somebody permission to do so whether you know it or not. You cannot turn it off even if you wanted to.

Our smart phones are creating the myth that we can get more things done quicker and therefore we are getting smarter. I feel that if we let the phones do it all for us, we will forget how to do it when we don’t have the phones for a while. It is like having that GPS with turn-by-turn or step-by-step directions and no one will remember the way to anywhere should the batteries fail. I learned to get places by trial-and-error which most young folk have no patience for these days, but I get there just the same and most times faster than the GPS.

I don’t have a cell phone, much less a “smart phone” and I don’t have OnStar in my car (that I know of). I also know that I usually will NOT be the only one on the road when I drive somewhere and someday Jacobson Park may feel like Woodland Park, just an over used area that used to be a ways out of town. And I know that I don’t buy into all the myths and lies told on television.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Milestones

This past week has been one for milestones, especially in transportation.

To begin with, there was the first delivery of a Nissan Leaf to a customer in Redwood City, California. The Leaf is the first mass produced electric car which is priced for the average person, around $33 thousand a pop but with state and federal rebates the final cost is about $20K. I have discussed electric autos before and I still believe that the controversy of “range anxiety” will still cause some folks to hesitate on such autos. Eighty miles on an 8 hour charge just doesn’t seem like a lot.

The new owner, a west coast tech guy, had a charging outlet installed in his garage last Friday after he was informed that he was chosen to be the initial owner. Not bad for a first car although he has some experience with electric bikes and his commute is only about twenty miles round trip.

Then came the delivery of the first Chevy Volt. This car is not totally electric since it has a gasoline engine to assist when the battery pack runs out. The Volt has an estimated range of 40 miles, about half that of the Leaf, on a full 8 hour charge and is best re-charged from a 220-volt outlet for that length of time. I somehow see that as slow cooking a roast in the oven EVERY night in addition to the regular cooking and HVAC usage. I am not sure that my KU budget can stand that.

The first owner here, came on the other side of the country - in New Jersey. In this case, the buyer is a retired airline pilot who traded in an older Prius for the Volt. After a career behind the controls of, what I consider a very inefficient travel mode, he appears to save the planet by driving more fuel efficient vehicles. The cost of the Volt runs a bit higher than the Leaf at approximately $41 thousand (or $34.5K after rebates) and charging from a regular household outlet will take much longer.

Our new owner of the Volt did interrupt his trip to Florida to fly back home so that he could take delivery, but then he left it at the dealer’s lot and flew back to Florida for the rest of his vacation. So much for his save the planet attitude.

Then we come to the 10th anniversary of America’s “high speed” rail, the Acela.

Amtrak’s attempt at high speed train travel is still going strong despite the efforts of previous administrations to gut both Acela and Amtrak. The Acela service has survived and even become quite popular as an alternative to both I-95 and flying in the Northeast Corridor. They have carried more than 3.2 million passengers in fiscal 2010 and rider-ship is up substantially in the past five years. It will be interesting to see what they figures do with increasing animosity toward TSA screenings at airports.

Acela’s passengers have generally welcomed the possibility of faster service with some hoping for similar service to Japan or Europe. In this business world, time is money and traveling from downtown to downtown by rail(particularly with real high speed rail) will be done nearly as fast as airport to airport is today. Amtrak has now captured 55 percent of the Boston-New York air-rail market now that the electrification, long delayed by the Reagan and Bush(I) White Houses, was completed in 1999.

Paul Krugman recently noted that it has become obvious that America, once the nation of builders, now cannot build those projects of heroic infrastructure any more. The average age of our “Capital Stock” (our structures, equipment and software) is rising, modestly in the Residential and Non-Residential elements but drastically in the Government items. Our highways and Interstates (Government) are decaying as are our railroads (Non-Residential) just not at the same rate. Our bridges and tunnels need replacing but we claim that it is too expensive.

I wonder where we will be on Acela's 20th anniversary.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More On Wayfinding Signs

I wrote about the new way-finding signs back in the middle of October. Then it was about my feelings on the arrangement of the destinations and how they differ from the standards of the Federal government. Today, I wonder about the decision to put all the locations on ONE single panel of the sign and not separate panels for each.

When these signs were first discussed, I thought that they were envisioned as standard sized, individual destination panels which could be assembled into a larger unit and displayed on some kind of a support system. This would allow new destinations to be added should they be built and changes in the naming of those which sometimes do so.

This arrangement was clearly NOT followed and now we are beginning to see the fallacy of not doing so.

These signs are designed specifically for automobile traffic, even those in the downtown area. They are only readable from the side facing the oncoming traffic. Should you be walking along the new sidewalks we just built, but going the opposite way of the autos, these signs are useless. Pedestrians can use these signs only a small portion of the time.

I have already pointed out that they lack any approximate distances or correct order of destination, but for pedestrians this is crucial information. The signs out around New Circle Rd. (definitely auto-centric) and the one right downtown (should be urban friendly) are identical.

Lexington really does want to expand its downtown destinations and points of interest, but these signs are designed to be a point in time system. Where is the flexibility to add new points, especially those which would fall in between existing ones? What would happen if one of the points were to undergo a naming change?

A name change? Well we will see about that very soon. It looks like our Lexington Legends will be renaming the old ball park next year when the agreement with Applebee’s expires. I guess that no one saw that coming.

I have also noticed a lack of any destinations other than historical or entertainment type points of interest. Do we not want anyone to find our civic or legislative buildings, specifically for those who are new in town?

I heard someone, the other day, refer to these signs as “for the WEG”. I believe that this proposal was in the Downtown Master Plan as something that should be done and not just for downtown. Most of the proposed signs were not up for the WEG, nor are they all up today. The thoughts behind this project meant well but the way that it has been implemented leaves a little to be desired. The money has been spent (and mostly out of town) but it may not be too late to salvage the entire program. Maybe some of our local sign makers can suggest a way to “not throw out the baby with the bathwater” and, using the current poles and bases, design a better solution. I don’t mean do it gratis either.

If we are going to do a way finding system, then lets do it right.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Would You Like To Be Sued For Growing Food?

I do have a great interest in urban agriculture and growing more of our food locally, but I hope that nothing like what happened in Clarkston, Ga. ever happens here.

A local landscaper bought a piece of property, upon which former owners had grown vegetables -at a profit- and set about raising a hobby garden, in the back yard. True it was a nearly two acre back yard, but it was a hobby garden. I know several folks, who if the had almost two aces, would put in a wide variety of hobby scenarios (flower gardens, outdoor model trains, etc.) and I believe that all of them would be legal. But this gentleman raised so much edible crops that he couldn't give it all away and resorted to local markets.

That is where the local zoning laws got him. His land was producing too much for the zone. His lot was apparently considered a commercial operation and therefore, not permitted in the zone. Is it possible that such a thing could happen here?

A former neighbor has a house and they own the vacant lot next door. There used to be another vacant lot on the other side, and this neighbor maintained gardens in both spaces, as well as the back half of a parcel approximately a half a block away. This fellow's passion was flowers but I remember some vegetables along the way. None of these spaces could be thought of as commercial but they could supply a good portion of the surrounding households with nutrition if it needed to. Fact is, I don't think that it went afoul of the law, either then or now.

In the case in Ga., the gentleman was eventually allowed to get a zone change, but has been saddled with the expensive fines and penalties as well as the cost of the zone change.

To those of you, who like me, wish to see more urban agriculture and more locally grown food, we must be cognizant of the laws and the possibilities under them. We must also strive to make them allow for future situations and not just restrict past abuses (real or imagined). Zoning laws, by and large, are not written with backyard food production in mind.
While many food activists cite urban agriculture as crucial to establishing locally sourced food systems, zoning laws present challenges. What distinguishes outlaw tomato plants from a legitimate commercial operation is not always clear.
Another point of contention could be the raising of chickens(see what they are doing here), which I don't think is against any local zoning laws currently, although most herd animals are prohibited. The keeping of horses, even inside the Urban Services Area limitation may be allowed.
Cluck (a Sarasota Fl. chicken advocacy group), which has been active for a year and a half and has about 300 supporters, says chickens would make Sarasota more attractive for a younger, hipper crowd. Children who think their food grows at the supermarket can see where it really comes from.
Where should we Lexingtonian's stand on this subject?

Monday, November 29, 2010

ProgressLex Is Back Blogging

Welcome back to ProgressLex.

To be honest, I have missed you and am looking forward to more spirited conversation and ideas. I may just have to slip out of character and find my way to Buster's on the 8th.

There is a full truckload of things that NEED doing here in Lexington and most of them, I fear, are subjects that most folks will not be comfortable with. As with most places, the paradigm shift in thinking is usually reserved for the other guys and Lexington, as well as ProgressLex, is not immune.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cell Phone Usage In Cars

Americans are about to extend their backlash toward the Obama administration again.

The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has recently said that driving while using a cell phone is so dangerous that technology may soon be installed in our cars that will disable said cell phones, while the car is in motion. Not just the driver’s phone but all the phones in the vehicle. Passengers too, will not be able to talk or text while the car is in motion.

I don’t really see this as a major inconvenience and for one would welcome it. I cannot count the times that I have witnessed drivers, with cell phones to their ears, navigating through parking garages or lots or busy street intersections, concentrating on driving and talking but NOT on cyclists or pedestrians. This is usually during either the morning or evening rush hour, not a great time to be driving with just one hand.

Now, here comes the backlash.

Most of the printed comments that I have read are concerned with “what happens during an emergency?”. This is a legitimate question, but what percentage of today’s normal, driving, cell phone use is during an emergency? Had you been in an accident, would you not be stopped? Had you witnessed an accident would you have stopped to render aid? No, most of our normal cell phone use is calling about useless, unnecessary rambling which could have been done prior to starting the automobile, not to mention the texting of teens who may be passengers and sometimes in the same car.

Many equate the driving and talking on our extremely rural western Interstates with the vastly different, urban expressways and intense downtown traffic of our large cities. I may lean toward the relaxing of the regulations in our western rural areas much like we do our speed limits, but care must be used in such matters.

The majority of the comments have been on the regulation of personal freedoms. People feel that they have the ability to drive and talk, or text, read books, apply makeup and a myriad of other things—all without proving that they are able to do so. The police log books (and cemeteries) are filled with examples of the inabilities of drivers to fully control their vehicles while being distracted by something else.

But let us switch for a moment to the subject of the in-car systems of OnStar and the less well known Sync technology.

OnStar, at its very base is just a cell phone built into an automobile. OnStar has been sold as a safety and emergency response system, but it is just a cell phone. Granted, it is connected to all elements of the vehicle, controlling windows, doors and even engines and does NOT have to be activated by the driver. The system may be turned on by the company at any time (and without the driver’s knowledge) for public safety or national security reasons. (Think of it, your supposedly private conversations could be heard and recorded without your cell phone even being on.)

Should your auto be stolen, the company can locate, disable and recover it but that also means that they know (and can record) EVERYWHERE you have been. How many times have you been to the fast food burger hell or the local drug store (or porno palace?), you know, places that you may not like folks to know that you frequent? And who may have access to this information without your consent?

There are even phone apps built to access certain pertinent data about your auto, although many folks will never need or understand it. How easy is it for a nefarious hacker to appropriate this data for his desires? Can he sell it to someone as information gathered by legal means? Are you willing to go along with that intrusion into your life, or do you want “some” government regulation?

I don’t see these systems being disabled by any technology which could be added to either our autos or our cell phones. Thusly, I feel that whatever is unveiled will be able to; a) be location and/or temporal aware so as to override the disabling for emergencies, b) have some sort of override code which could be triggered by the user and verified by 911 agencies, and c) allow those in extremely rural areas to use cell phones depending upon a controlled set of circumstances.

In any event, I find this to be a lesser intrusion to our personal privacy that the TSA searches.

In a quick update, a recent survey found that 63 % of American voters favored a ban on cell phones while driving. I don't think that it is only 36% of our drivers who are the problem.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking at "Fresh Start" Part 2

Continuing with my comments on Mayor-elect Jim Gray's "Fresh Start" platform and actions that he proposes to take in his new administration, today we will look at his thoughts on neighborhoods and others.
Cities thrive when neighborhoods thrive. A healthy neighborhood has churches, schools, recreational facilities, and shopping within walking or short driving distance. This affords neighbors the opportunity to “meet up” with one another as neighbors and gives them a sense of place and belonging. I grew up in a small town that had all these services, and more, close by. In Lexington we have subdivisions larger than my hometown that are isolated from these basic services. That’s got to change. As mayor I’ll work to create better neighborhoods throughout Lexington.
Is there any neighborhood in Lexington that its residents think could not get better? The eternal question has always been "Who's definition of better are we using?" I'll ask you all, "What would you change about the neighborhood where you live or work?" and "How many of your neighbors would change the same things?"

My guess is that most would not change as many elements or as drastically as you would like. I also believe that you would not go along with many of your neighbors, as most Americans will look out for themselves first. I will tell you that my ideas for "improving" many neighborhoods would not go over well with those who live there. That said, lets see what Mr. Gray thinks.
Here are some other efforts I’ll undertake as mayor to support Fayette County neighborhoods:

Do business in the open. No backroom deals with any special interests that affect neighborhoods. When we discuss issues that affect neighborhoods, people who own homes there will be at the table.
I have to assume that he is talking about established neighborhoods here. Lexington's new subdivisions generally take place where there are no existing homeowners who will remain in the area.

Most of the conflicts arise as the developer reaches the remaining acreage, or full build-out, and those who were told, probably by a well meaning but less than knowledgeable realtor, that the land use for the remaining property will be the same as their unit. Unfortunately, due to demand or market situations, that may not remain true. As I have repeated here often, the retail follows the residential and once the residential reaches a tipping point, the commercial area will begin to fill in. In the older sections of town, that meant neighborhood retail but in today's world, the retail is all concentrated of the fringes and at major intersections. Even where it has been planned for over a decade, the residents do not want neighborhood shopping.

Interspersing higher density residential in these same neighborhoods is considered an even more heinous travesty.
Direct each department – police, code enforcement, building inspection, planning, traffic, etc. – to have a designated liaison for neighborhoods. That person will be responsible for navigating the bureaucracy to get questions answered and action taken quickly. The liaison will log every question or concern, describing it, the date it came in and the action taken. Quarterly the people in those jobs will meet to review current issues, define trends and recommend additional action if appropriate. Their reports will come directly to me as mayor and be shared with council members.
Wow, with personnel and staff time at a premium during the slow economic times, can you imagine what it would be like if we really did recover quickly? After having pared the individual divisions to the barest of essentials, we now want to add liaison duties. This sounds like an additional duty for the 311 call takers or for the neighborhood liaison function which currently exists in the Mayor's office. One call to a single person who can determine which agencies/divisions are affected rather than multiple calls, asking for immediate response, to multiple offices who won't get together to compare notes for several months. This appears to a level of bureaucracy that is NOT needed.

We may need better training for 311 call takers or more folks on the mayor's staff, but this proposal is just wrong.
Activate a city land bank, an idea that’s been around but never become reality. When code enforcement and building inspection identify abandoned or chronically neglected properties that are a blight on a neighborhood, we must use the power of the city to take them over and return them to productive, responsible private ownership.
A city land bank sounds like a good idea and I do approve of it. What is proposed here sounds like it is in direct opposition to the process used by the PDR program.

Under PDR, individual property owners apply to enter the program, receive funds and not allow their property to be developed. Whether it could be developed or not is irreverent. This proposed program appears to not be a voluntary forfeiture of the land and possibly a violation of Kentucky's eminent domain law. This law and the high cost of urban land has prevented the city (and most well meaning development interests) from moving forward on repairing some of our most blighted properties.

Kentucky law does not allow the use of municipal funds to be used to acquire property for non-municipal uses. We cannot take from a private entity to sell to another private entity. I am not even sure that the Municipal Housing Corp. could do it.

In the '50s and '60s, when we saw a significant industrial boom, it was a group of local business types who bought large chunks of available land for resale to corporations wishing to build manufacturing plants here. These same types of investors are today finding spaces for businesses in the electronics or medical research fields but no one has tried this in the residential realm.

The mayor, as always, can have a huge impact on bringing folks to the table but I see an extremely limited pool of philanthropic dollars to draw on.
Plan to create neighborhoods, not just subdivisions. For existing neighborhoods, examine our zoning and planning process to make it easier for them to function as small towns not just bedroom communities.
This action would go hand-in-glove with the first item, making neighborhoods livable. To accomplish the redesign of neighborhoods/subdivisions will take nearly a paradigm shift in residential living patterns. The addition of walkable shopping areas to existing neighborhoods would mot likely involve 1 or 2 of the centrally located blocks (yes, entire blocks) in order to create the mix of retail and civic building necessary to the small town feel(or function). I don't see many of our non-downtown residents agreeing to this.

Short of gasoline prices rising above $10 a gallon and energy prices even more unaffordable, I see most Lexington residents (downtown and non) clinging to the style with which they have become really comfortable.
Recruit philanthropists for projects to grow our parks system using models like Louisivlle’s Olmsted Parks.
This is the way to go, but as I pointed out above, the pool of philanthropic donors is very, very shallow and the needs are growing.
I will work with our university leadership, students, and citizens to ensure neighborhood issues surrounding student housing are heard and addressed, and not just one-sided; everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Simply put, Lexington is dependent upon city residents as well as the students who live and study here.
The student housing situation, both near campus and in some of the outlying subdivisions, is not going to be a simple fix and the parameters are constantly in flux. I think the any solution that we implement today will need to evolve, in order to keep up with the ever moving targets of both the students and the university.
As mayor, these are some of the things I’ll do to energize economic development and create good jobs here:

Elevate economic development to a cabinet-level position within my administration to make planning for economic development front and center in all city initiatives.
Economic development, otherwise known as job creation, will now be a top priority without adding any positions to the government payroll. The planning for these new jobs may end up being the sole reason that the government pursues any new project, from street repavings to a new City Hall building.

Job creation sometimes seems to run contrary to the interests of business. Many industry models are moving toward doing more, but with fewer employees. Automation has been the mantra of manufacturers for the past 40 years, including robotics to build autos, in the large factories, down to larger delivery vehicles to do route sales like the beer trucks (and other vehicles) which clog our downtown streets on a daily basis.

Should we accomplish the goal of dispersing the neighborhood retail throughout our existing suburban areas, we may find that we need more delivery personnel (hopefully driving smaller vehicles) to negotiate the local streets and reach all locations in a timely manner. Local people delivering local products to local outlets in a walkable, shopable neighborhood, finally what Lexington really needs.
Create a one-stop shop for people who want to start, or expand, businesses in Lexington. This ‘entrepreneur’s clearinghouse’ will also keep an index of Lexington entrepreneurs to help connect them with each other and in touch with the community’s needs.
This reads like a description of an App for one of those 4G wireless devices complete with facebook and twitter
Target employers and industries that we want in Lexington, and then work relentlessly to bring them to town.

We will take any new job creation under our new cabinet-level commissioner, but we really just want certain types of employers and just the clean types of industries. If we target the high paying, clean industries our troubles will be over.
Recruit three new corporate headquarters to Lexington.
I'm betting that this cannot be done in the next four years, given the current economic times, although it does not say how large of a corporate headquarters they need to be.
Define clear goals so that we can measure our progress to report to the community and see where and when we need to make changes.

Create an assets inventory of existing businesses and a strategy to leverage and grow them.

Identify business development best practices among benchmark cities like Louisville, Madison, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to confirm how we’re doing.

Create a plan aligned with UK’s Top 20 initiative to ensure that as the University grows, Lexington is able to attract and employ the best and brightest talent.

Actively mine our university graduate lists for folks who have achieved success elsewhere, and target them to come home and launch businesses here.
All of these are just making a chalk mark on the wall in a rainstorm or measuring the snowfall in a blizzard, you don't really know how you did until it is all over.

This is enough for today. Next the plan on aging and using business practices in LFUCG.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking At Mayor-Elect Gray's "Fresh Start"

A few years ago, I looked at Mayor Newberry’s “Vision 2040” and what it really had to say. I will now try to look at our Mayor-elect’s “Fresh Start” document from his campaign and see if some of these thing are really doable. They are in no particular order but in how I see things.

One of Jim Gray’s, major themes was the “big hole” left in downtown and what should be done with downtown as a whole.
The public outcry over the destruction on the CentrePointe block in 2008 made it clear how deeply our community cares about its downtown. I led the fight to get a better project because what was proposed didn’t make economic or cultural sense. We failed, and a block that held some of our richest history and was home to a lively entertainment scene for the next generation is now a grass field. That sends the wrong message to the bright young people we need to ensure Lexington’s future.

While the CentrePointe project is stalled and the building are gone, I still feel the good that all that has happened in downtown has been because of and not in spite of the controversy of CentrePointe.
As mayor, these are some of the steps I’ll take to give Fayette County the urban center it deserves:

Carry out the Downtown Master Plan that was created with broad community input.
The Downtown Master Plan, as with all other Lexington plans, was developed by those who have direct interest in or understanding of, but that still leaves out a majority of our citizens and draws from a limited number of viewpoints. The Plan is painted with a very broad brush and citing the CentrePointe block as a problem is a small detail. Many of the public portion details of the Plan have been implemented, or begun to be implemented as funding has become available. Private property rights are NOT controlled by the recommendations of this Plan.
Create design guidelines that will give developers a framework for projects that respect our past and enrich our future.
This as another good place to move forward and it is a shame that, as Vice Mayor, Mr. Gray did not make more progress. Design guidelines have been recommended since before he was elected to Council and he has chosen not the push for any, until now. As a design professional, these types of guidelines are "right up his alley" and he has a whole staff who could assist along these lines. One of his employees even served as chairman of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission would be the body to send forward such guidelines to the Urban County Council for adoption. Chances lost or delayed maybe?
Make TIF (tax increment financing) a tool for urban stimulation and transformation. I’ll accomplish this by working with and encouraging developers who envision projects, like the Distillery District, that celebrate Lexington’s unique heritage.
Many communities already use TIF as a tool for urban stimulation. Our first was for CentrePointe and the council should have expanded the area to at least the blocks bordering the specifically affected block. As it is, the only place the TIF funds will be generated, and can only be spent, is the CentrePointe "field" and some publicly owned property which, of course, does not pay taxes to be incremented. This may be an oversight of the council but it should have been argued about when the council, not the developers, instigated the TIF. On the other hand, a TIF is also in effect for the Distillery District and until the developer follows through on his commitments, little stimulation can be realized.

It is also my hope that TIF will not be used for redeveloping JUST for unique heritage sites.
Study what works downtown – the Farmer’s Market, the 4th of July Festival, Second Sunday, Thursday Night Live, the Kentucky Theater’s summer classic series, our Roots and Heritage festival – and support private/public partnerships that create more activities to draw people downtown.
This, of course, has been going on for more than a decade. The Farmer’s Market, the 4th of July Festival, and Thursday Night Live have been progressing steadily and tweaked along the way, sometimes under duress, but almost always for the better. The others are all gaining followings and some importance of their own. I find it interesting that the Spotlight Festival, a rousing success according to most folks, is left out as something which "create more activities to draw people downtown".
Incorporate planning for parking in all downtown planning. People expect a place to park when they come downtown.
Now, this is an idea that I can disagree about quite vociferously. Parking should be a private matter. Government should NOT be in the parking business. During the nineteenth century, and before, when you rode your horse or carriage to town for the day, you left it in the care of a private businessman - at a livery stable or corral. This type of service was not supplied by the government, nor should it be today. The idea of incorporating parking in planning should be from the private side alone.

There are places farther on in the "Fresh Start" document where Gray speaks of alternate types of travel and using Lextran. We will get to them later, but if we will be using more alternate transportation then we won't need as much parking.

This leads us to urban planning in general.
We’ve settled for too much development that doesn’t respect our culture and our landscape. I’ve spent 35 years building a nationally recognized design and construction business. I’ve learned that if you’re not going in the right direction the only way to change is by creating a new approach, making a plan to get there, and working hard every day to make it happen. We need leaders who can create a plan and stick to it. We must encourage responsible growth to grow our economy but also ensure we’re doing it the right way-in a way that fits Lexington and protects this unique place for future generations.
Lexington, along with most other cities have developed in the same ways for the past 45-50 years. Many of these methods have been encouraged by the automobile and the prospect of unlimited cheap energy. Some of us can see the end of that on the horizon yet nowhere in this next section is it mentioned. I have seen at least three "new directions" for planning and they all seem to end up looking the same.
To promote a new beginning in Planning, as mayor, I will take these actions:

Create a Commissioner for Preservation, Planning, and Economic Innovation to modernize and consolidate our city’s splintered planning and development agencies. This will eliminate bureaucracy and provide a clear path for growth.
As it currently stands, both Planning and Historic Preservation are under the direction of the Commissioner of Public Works while Economic Development is under the Mayor. I would question why we need to add commissioners, when we have no funds to pay them. Planning seems to "play well" with Economic Development and I see this as one more level of bureaucracy on a path to growth.
Maintain full funding for the Purchase of Development Rights program and its urban equivalent.
Many people see this as a general waste of money, or a subsidy of our wealthiest horse people. It has helped preserve our farm land from urban development but has left in the control of those who will not use it to the best advantage of all when we need it to produce food for Lexington in a post carbon age.
Step up enforcement and develop a system of incentives to assure that abandoned and neglected buildings and land within already developed areas are used to their fullest capacity. Areas like vacant mall properties, the former Springs Inn, and others must be utilized properly to moderate demand for converting farmland to other uses.
In the past four years on the council, I think that we can all see where this has gone. An example of the Lexington Mall is that an unused mall with its sea pf parking lot will become a worship center, still with a sea of parking lot. The building will be re-purposed, yet the basic shape and activity levels will barely change. Maintaining an auto centric land use on the periphery of our neighborhoods will not add to the walkability by a simple addition on two sidewalks across barren parking, when suitable alternate transportation is available.

Many under utilized properties have been identified and yet little has been done to incentivise a majority of them in the past four years.
Support, encourage and promote homegrown projects that make use of our unique place and people, like the Distillery District, Town Branch Trail, and the Bourbon Trail, to provide services and entertainment for our citizens and to attract visitors as well.
While it is nice to see some of our homegrown projects come to fruition, we must try and see that these projects have a wider base upon with to support them. Distillery District still needs much more private money than they do public assistance and that private money is harder to come by. I still find it difficult to spend public money on an entertainment area which will benefit private investors to a higher degree than the public coffers.
Create a set of measurements to tell how well we’re doing in protecting farmland, making sustainable development a reality and creating environments for our citizens to enjoy. Using these measurements we will report every year on our successes, failures and plans for the future.
Now, this one is a really difficult one to understand. Firstly, most measurements over time have to reflect a constant set of community values and admittedly ours seem to change constantly. Also changing is our understanding of sustainability and what we can do to enhance it. I see it as similar to the CATS testing in the schools, a constant changing of how we measure our progress.
Encourage infill and redevelopment while avoiding expanding the urban services boundary. Four years ago I was the first candidate to call for a moratorium on expanding the boundary. We held the line and I will continue working vigorously to protect the rural landscape.
I think that this is just "feel good" hype. If Mr. Gray felt that the CentrePointe project was all wrong due to the economy, then any expansion of the Urban Service Area would be all wrong. Holding the line on expansion mean that we will be building up in the older neighborhoods and particularly downtown. Protecting the rural area comes with a price in the urban area and protecting the existing neighborhoods means putting extra pressure on urban expansion. This will be a very tough job. One that most all previous mayors have claimed to address and still it is a needed priority.

This brings us to something I am not sure any is willing to really solve. It will take just too much work.

I’ve met a lot of people in this community since I began running for public office eight years ago. Almost to a person they have two things in common: they love Lexington and they hate the traffic here. Most feel they spend too much time stuck at lights, dodging construction projects and crawling along our major arteries. Downtown, meanwhile, struggles to create a walkable, shopable environment while autos zoom by on fast-track one-way streets. It’s frustrating and wasteful for individuals. They feel powerless because it’s hard to live and work in Lexington without driving but driving itself can be so hard. It diminishes the quality of life for the entire community, decreases air quality and adds to our already big carbon footprint. We’ve gotten here because traffic engineering is in a silo, often trying to play catch-up when growth patterns have created logjams.
As mayor, these are some of the steps I’d take to do things differently and begin to unsnarl Lexington’s traffic jam:
Identify communities that have successfully addressed systemic congestion, study their approach and bring those lessons to Lexington.
It is as if Lexington had not done this repeatedly over the past 40 years. On the other hand, Lexington has been held up as an example to many other cities and has won numerous awards. Studying someone else's solutions to their problems will work if we have their problems.
Step up creation of bike lines and develop incentives for using alternative transportation, including LexTran, to get more cars off the road.
Great idea.

The Newberry administration built more bike lanes than all other mayors combined so this will be a major feat if it can be done.

LexTran made great strides in demonstrating their convenience of travel during the WEG and has already announced major upgrades to their services and equipment. All of this for getting more cars OFF the road. Should all these efforts succeed, then I ask , why do we need more parking downtown or at any of our other destinations?
Develop a process for public and stakeholder input when road construction projects are in the planning stages – not when pavement’s about to be torn up as happened with the S. Limestone project – to avoid unnecessary disruption and inconvenience.
This is a laudable goal and stakeholder involvement should probably be made mandatory.
Expand regional transportation planning beyond the current Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes only Fayette and Jessamine counties, to include all of our Central Kentucky neighbors.
The MPO should be expanded to include all of our neighbors but we have seen what has happened in the past. The BIG city wants to tell the smaller brethren what is needed without knowing what is wanted. The MPO is a clearing house for state and federal dollars and the smaller cities will see this as a siphoning off of their rightful finding. They already do not get what they deem sufficient for a project and fear that they will see less in the future. The current MPO is housed in Lexington's Planning Division and would need to be separated and enlarged to cover any extra area. Is he advocating to the ADD to take on this function?
Make the timing and coordination of stoplights a top priority for the Traffic Management center to ensure efficient traffic flow throughout Lexington.
Many communities from around the nation have looked to Lexington for guidance on traffic control. In my opinion, maybe we should take a few pages from Louisville's book. Specifically the part on inner city intersections controlled by stop lights. From my experience, many of these intersections work like usual four way stops, allowing a few autos through before switching to the cross street. Cycles are very short and no one street gets a huge volume advantage over a lesser one. No one is left sitting in a queue and everyone feels that they are getting somewhere. There are also many intersections where signals could be removed or replaced with four way stops without altering the traffic flow.
This is a big, complex problem and we’ve got to involve planning, economic development, neighborhoods and businesses in not only improving traffic flow but also attacking the actions our community took – or failed to take – that got us to this point. There is no one solution and there’s certainly no quick solution but unless we start thinking and acting differently congestion will only get worse. I can move us in a new direction.
Mr. Gray is correct that Lexington has taken - or failed to take - some very important actions. Some of the actions taken include; vast areas of subdivisions filled with cul-de-sacs, acres and acres of housing with little connectivity between them and long distances from any local shopping, schools and parks located more appropriately for driving to instead of walking, and wide arterials intersecting with wider still circumferential roads which create basically impassible situations for anyone other than drivers. Attacking these problems will mean altering many of the regular notions that folks have about our city and their neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods that they believe the new administration will be protecting. I have often toyed with the idea of showing how the streets from early last century would look if they had been allowed to be built similarly. I feel that it would be nearly impossible to go from downtown to New Circle Rd. and beyond that, simply a nightmare.

Rebuilding our suburban neighborhoods to include walkable shopping and recreation areas will necessarily mean changing what most people find desirable about where they live. Such wholesale changes will require more than incentives to get Americans to change their lifestyles. Making all of Lexington into a walkable city is more than we are willing to spend.

Coming soon, I'll look at some more of the "Fresh Start" plan.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Things That Maybe We Should Be Doing

There are some things that we should be planning for, especially during this mayoral election cycle, rather that bickering about who has or has not done enough in the past four years. We should be talking about looking to the future in concrete terms, not just rosy sounding platitudes.

This past weekend, the state of Indiana and Progress Rail Services Corp. announced the intention to reopen a long closed industrial plant in Muncie, Ind. Progress Rail Services Corp. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., a U.S. heavy equipment maker that has been moving aggressively into the rail business lately.

Why is this important to Lexington and Central Kentucky? Well, for one, it displays a coming revitalization of American industry. Something that our region desperately needs.

Caterpillar has long been known for their bright yellow construction and mining equipment, but recently they have been looking to get more into the railroad business. To that end, Caterpillar purchased Progress Rail Services in 2006 to repair and rebuild locomotives and freight cars for Class Is, passenger railroads and private owners. Although started in 1983, one reason that we may never have heard of them, is that much of their business is in other countries. They have more than 130 facilities and most are overseas. The Muncie plant will be largest project tackled by Alabama-based Progress Rail.

The situation took a sharp turn back in August when, due to an advantageous position of the autos bail-out, Progress Rail bought Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. (EMD) from General Motors Inc. Funding for the $820 million purchase came from the private equity firms Berkshire Partners LLC and Greenbriar Equity Group LLC. I see no direct connection between Berkshire Partners and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. other than they both see American railroads and their attendant corporations as good business investments.

Although EMD's headquarters, engineering facilities and parts-manufacturing operations are located in LaGrange, Illinois, just west of Chicago, they do all final assembly in London, Ontario CANADA. So much for a “buy American” plan for our American railroads. EMD has also languished a distant second to GE in the American locomotive industry. This new plant will give Progress Rail locally produced locomotives to comply with the “buy American” requirements of publicly-funded passenger rail contracts.

Reports have it that this 740,000 square-foot facility and its 75 acre property will have a test track and allow the company to pursue transit-rail business. The site originally was home to a Westinghouse transformer factory and will require minimal redevelopment as it has rail lines built-in and rail access.

Transit/rail, would that be the streetcar or regional light rail that we see spoken of by the Obama administration and so easily dismissed by the Republican leadership of Congress? Will these 650 new jobs, which should come on line sometime in 2012 or later, be ascribed to the recovery efforts of Democrats or the Republicans? Will these 650 employees and their resultant boost to the local economy be a legacy of the “disastrous auto bail-out”?

When will Lexington seek out these types of developments? When will Central Kentucky realize that we need these types of jobs, not just high-tech or medical jobs? Toyota works well for us but they are not the only transportation manufacturing game in the world. We have one of the foremost rail building companies in the central U.S. and we should be looking toward their view of the future.

According to Association of American Railroads, through 2010’s first 42 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 15.7 million carloads, up 9.8 percent, and 11.4 million containers and trailers, up 15.1 percent year over year. If the oil prices do rise steeply, as others have predicted, then the long haul trucking industry will be hit hardest first. Rail has been proven to be ten times more efficient than trucks per ton/mile traveled and we should be jumping toward this future, not shying away from it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Public Art On Display

I received a note from the "Storm Drain Girls" today and they are finally finished. Blake and Cynthia have done a beautiful job.

Below is a tally of their accomplishments and I also welcome Blake as my newest follower.
27 locations
30 finished storm drains!
1 curb painted per request by the Lexington Police Department

1. Mechanic and Limestone
2. Limestone and 6th
3. Limestone and Short (2)
drains near the Justice bldgs and Giacomo's/Mia's

4.Limestone and Church
(near George's deli
5. Short and Broadway
6. Clay and High
7. Stone and High
8. High between MLK and Hagerman
9. Main and Jefferson
10. Maxwell and Rose
11. Eastern and Main (2) one on each side
12. 3rd and Limestone
13. 3rd and Elm Tree Lane
14. Elm Tree Lane and 3rd
15. Clay and Central Avenue
16. Central and Clay
17. Old Vine and Vine
18. Vine and Old Vine
19. Euclid and High
(near Buddy's patio)

20. Double Storm Drain on Euclid and Woodland
21. Euclid before Rose Street
22. Rose and High
23. Jefferson and 3rd
(across from The Green Lantern
24. High at the YMCA
25. MLK and Main street
26. Main street ~The Kentucky Theater (2)
(this one's for you Freddie!)

27. Main and Rose
1. Curb at Main and Rose Street

I don't have a photo of all their work and I was not the first to notice or blog on their progress, but I have found that their project is one that has captivated the whole city. It has stirred up almost as much press as the HorseMania display.

Speaking of the HorseMania, I see that they have begun corralling the steeds in preparation for winter and the fund-raising auction. I saw many of them this time around and was asked the other day if it would be another decade before we see a new set of horses and artists. Don't you think that it would be a hoot if the had them all on display in the CentrePointe "pasture" and held the auction there?

I also witnessed what may be called "performance art" although it may have been a free spirited young lady just having a little fun. There she was dancing to the music on her iPod in front of the fountain in the Court House plaza.

This is something that we could stand a little more of, don't you think?

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Stand Corrected

I made a mistake in last nights post. I took Mr Gray at his word and used his math for the cost of the S. Limestone project. I should not have done that.

According to the morning Herald-Leader that claim is FALSE. It did not cost $7,000 a foot, it was more like $5,000. It also was priced for far more than paving as I said last night.

This was a project that had its beginnings in the Town-Gown meetings between the University and the City. If I recall correctly, the Vice Mayor was initially part of that committee and may have kept attending through their recommendations. The Downtown Development Authority also included it in their Downtown Master Plan, which Mr. Gray served on is some capacity. It is also unclear whether he was still attending when the final plan was passed.

One thing that is not unclear is the vote that Mr. Gray cast to NOT decrease the budgeted amount. With the economy in decline and some certainty as to funding from Stimulus money( not like the CentrePointe deal) or other Federal money, Gray and the rest of the Council went along in approving this street rebuilding. It WAS much more than your normal, seasonal repaving.

From the comments that I have read about the project, I believe that some property owners and businessmen looked at this as "just another pie-in-the-sky, city plan" and, if it gets underway, it will be like the house-flipping shows on TV. This was an "extreme makeover", not just putting lipstick on a pig.

The contractor also won the job, not on the lowest bid but on the best bid. The only other bidder could not make the original finish date, ATS not only completed on time, but under budget despite the unforeseen extras found while excavating Lexington's history.

I can only hope that the Herald-Leader has better things to say when the S. Lime/S. Upper/Scott St intersection is rebuilt in the next few years.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Worth $7,000 A Foot, I Think So

I have become a bit more disappointed with Mr. Gray and his campaign tactics. He now is attacking one of Lexington’s best accomplishments in years. It is not because of the massive acclaim about how good it looks or the increased business opportunities that it has allowed, rather it is the final cost. His claim is that it cost approximately $7,000 a linear foot and well over the estimated bid price.

Anybody in the construction business knows that there is always a chance of cost overruns in any project and the older the original construction the more chance of unexpected behind-the-scenes problems. South Limestone was full of unexpected problems and most of them were from lack of repair for many years.

The advertised claim is that a “political supporter” of Newberry’s received the contract while being the high bidder. It is made to appear that cronyism is rampant yet the work was done within the specified time despite numerous extras and a constantly hostile blogosphere/press. I would hate to see the results had someone like JPC, who had many problems with the concrete work on Vine St, done the work. The Vine St work was poured poorly, more than once being poured and taken out the next day due to mistakes, to the point that it was said that the acronym mane stood for “just playing in concrete”. Such problems along S Lime were rare.

Also alluded to, is the belief that several South Lime businesses went broke (or out of business) and more than one did leave the street. The tattoo shop from the corner of Maxwell and Lime is now at S. Broadway and Bolivar(soon to be Oliver Lewis Way) and right next door to a relocated Tolly-Ho, which should begin to anchor a revitalized business section of Broadway. The prospects of increased activity an Lime, as well as Vine and Main are beginning to show themselves.

I terms of awarding the initial contract, I believe that it was the action of the Council and not the mayor alone who okayed the price. It may have been over the protests of Mr. Gray and others but that is how our democratic process works, a majority rules. Should Mr. Gray have built his spirit of cooperativeness during the previous 3 ½ years and included more the other council members, I feel that he could have easily had more influence over the awarding of development related contracts. That is where his expertise lies, is it not?

Speaking of his expertise, development, construction and design, just where is he leading this council, as Vice Mayor, along those lines? He was on the Infill and Redevelopment committee and has not attended many meeting since it became bogged down in some of the minutia of details. He participated with the DDA on the Downtown Master Plan and yet some of the major parts like design guidelines and form based codes are lacking from being created. How is the experience of his “family’s business” being used to help the City of Lexington so far?

It is almost always said that the mayor is the leader of the city, but the charter places the policy decisions squarely in the lap of the Urban County Council. The Mayor is in charge of seeing that the policy is carried out. Just about all ordinances begin with the phrase “the council authorizes and directs to Mayor to…” and while the mayor may propose many initiatives, it is the Council who decides what the policy should be. The leading force of that council should, by right, be the at-large candidate with the most votes in the most recent election and is named the Vice Mayor. That mantle currently rests on Mr. Gray’s shoulders, yet we see none of his policy desires being brought to the fore nor enacted. Can somebody tell me why?

I am not a huge Newberry fan, nor an I encouraged by many of the other current council members, but Gray is as much an “unknown quantity” now as he was eight years ago when he first ran.

I think that I will stay with the devil I know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting Back To Normal?

The WEG is over and the city is getting back to doing (or completing) the public works items that they couldn't get to before.

Way-finding signs

One of those tasks is the installation of the way-finding signs along our major thoroughfares. Below is one that I found by the Lexington Center entrance.

On first glance it appears quite straight forward, but further study gives me pause. The normal rule of Interstate informational signs, especially those giving mileage, will list the destinations in order of distance from nearest to farthest. Even exit signs have a hierarchy based on location and distance. This set of signs has me a bit baffled.

The set on the left clearly shows that one has to turn onto Broadway in order to reach the destinations while the set on the right may be reached by going straight ahead. So far, so good. the first location reached would be the Lexington Opera House just two blocks away and it is listed at the bottom (I would have expected at the top) followed by the Thoroughbred Center. The Training Center is the farthest distant from this sign and well out of town. Whether we are working the distance from the top or the bottom, this is out of place. Transylvania University should be next with the Applebee's ballpark falling between the university and the Center.

The right side set is equally confusing. By going straight, you may reach the Cheapside Park(and Pavilion) , but not without making a turn somewhere. Likewise, a turn must be made to reach the University of Kentucky campus. Perhaps an angled arrow to the right should have been used instead. In any case, Cheapside is reached first and again it is at the bottom. I will point out here that there is NO sign indicating a turn to Cheapside, either at Mill or Limestone, nor is there a sign at Upper for the University. Our next closest location is the Visitor and Convention Bureau at Rose St. One may also turn here for the University but I have seen no sign or indication of one planned here. And, last on this straight trajectory would be Ashland, Henry Clay's Estate, some two miles out Richmond Rd.

All of the signs are not up yet and things may get better, but this sign is a head scratcher in my opinion.

Main St Developments

A while back I wrote about some happenings on Main St. It seems like we are not finished making news yet. It has come to my attention that the building housing the Sunrise Bakery and Bellini's private dining room along with the First National Building are going before the Court House Design Review Board concerning facade improvements.

That would make it just about everybody on that stretch of Main St is doing some sort of upgrade to their looks. If this side of the street had been included in the CentrePointe TIF we could soon be seeing some revenue generated from this, and all without CentrePointe breaking ground.

Love it or hate it, since CentrePointe was announced the downtown activity has intensified and focused around Cheapside and Short St, with bleed-over to Main and even Vine St. In my mind the demolition of the block has been a catalyst for downtown development. How many people would have seen how much potential this block-face had or thought of how to repair past damage? Historic downtown is now on three sides of the Lexington History Museum and appears to be as lively as any time in its past and is poised for an even better future.

Fellow Bloggers

Lastly, I am becoming concerned about some fellow bloggers, namely ProgressLex. There last post is over a month old and dared them to be great. Since then, nothing. As if they cannot find anything to be great about. I sort of miss them since they generated more discussion n my favorite topics than I've seen elsewhere. Maybe they are busy with election stuff or were tied up with WEG/Spotlight activities, but I hope that they are back in the fray soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Future Of Spotlight

The stage is down. The vendors tents are gone. The hospitality tents are being emptied. The eyes of the world are being focused elsewhere. The homeless are back in Phoenix Park and all is right with the world of Lexington, again.

We had a really exciting run of a Spotlight Festival with people downtown, milling about at all hours during the day - and night. There was a vibe in the crowd that you just don't feel during the usual Thursday Night Live performances. I don't believe that our out-of-town guests brought it with them because they were commenting on it too. This vibe came from us, the local folks, some of which have not been downtown for anything in years - except maybe a ball game.

The local restaurant and bar scene felt the vibe and went with the flow. The ones that I spoke with were extremely happy with the foot traffic and the sidewalk seating, all brought on by some marvelous weather.

One of the first comments that I heard on the street was "This is what a real city is like." and then, as the festival went on, many more along the lines of "We should do this more often." I agree, we should do this more often - starting next year. A commenter on the Herald-Leader web site complained that those considering a yearly continuation should NOT involve the "same old people" and allow those who "really know how do it" to have control. My response to that is - Where have they been and why haven't they done something before now, if they know how to do it?

This festival took a focal event to get some city leaders moving toward this and that won't be here next year. This festival utilized a space which may not be available in the future. And, this festival welcomed many from out of town whom we hope will come back, yet probably not just for a festival of our downtown. This festival needs to be a springboard to greater things, but we NEED to determine just where that is. What local event could we tie into to make this evolving festival unique to Lexington?

We now have a committee charged with the task of charting any future of the Spotlight (boy would I love to help on that) and there is a lot of work to do. There are so many questions to be answered in the coming months but I think that those who participated in and attended the Spotlight Festival have answered the first and most basic one, "do we want this?"

This answer is a resounding YES.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Do You Like The Spotlight So Far?

Now that the Spotlight Festival has had a few days, I have some observations and some kudos.

I did notice that the food booths have put down some type of matting as flooring, especially the ones that use a cooking oil. Still, the Kettle Korn tent on the corner of Lime and Main will have a stain about three feet out on all sides from the customers spilling some of what they buy. The roving staff are very good about picking up the stray litter and cigarette butts and the recycle bins are being well used.

The traffic situation was expected to be much worse than it seems to have turned out. Limestone, from Vine to Main, has been closed most of the daytime hours but the crowd has been sparse along there even at noon when the tents do good business but the Games are between sessions. Most of us downtown workers were told to expect parking problems and delays, yet I have had no such problems.

The music this past weekend and evenings has been superb. The crowd has been orderly and the "homeless" have been very low key. I did hear one comment during an evening session which went like this, "Now, this is what a downtown should be. Why can't we have a festival like this every year?" These types of comments usually come from those who don't realize just how much work goes into a festival of this size.

This festival is ancillary to the WEG and, if made an annual event, would have to be conjoined with something. I doubt that it could be a 2 week festival if done annually. Spotlight is also taking advantage of situations that may never align the same way again; the streetscape, CentrePointe block and WEG. It may spur interest in more and larger down festivals, but let us just enjoy this one for the time being.

I am not a believer in coincidence so I was amused to see our city workers out ,with a pressure washer and soap, spraying down the block of Corral St. (where the Roots and Heritage cooking was done). If this was a scheduled cleaning, why was it done almost three weeks after the event?

Do you have any thoughts on Spotlight or the WEG?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A branch of our State Government is on the verge of a systematic harassment of local farmers. Specifically, the dairy farmers whose sole purpose it is to supply healthy dairy products to their friends. These farmers are ones who do NOT supply “dead” milk that has to be artificially supplemented with vitamins and nutrients which have been removed by pasteurization. The farmers I am speaking of supply raw milk, the REAL milk.

I am reminded of the commercials of Meijer and Hardee’s, wherein they have actors posing as competitors explaining how their products, either mass processed or frozen and shipped many miles, are better for the end consumer. Meijer says that their daily butchered meat is fresher than the packaged brands which have unpronounceable ingredients on the label, while Hardee’s claims that frozen is NOT “fresher than fresh”.

We can all see through these advertising ploys and realize that, yes, they are right, the freshness is lacking in mass processed foods but the convenience/price factor is just something that we have to live with. I and my family don’t feel that way. We desire to have the best available and the cost is justified. With the rise of “farmer’s markets” around the country and a growing “locavore” movement, we realize that we are not alone.

Just like Hardee’s customers, I wish to eat freshly made biscuits with my breakfast and, as well as the Meijer folks, the freshly cut beef and lamb out taste the “shipped in” products (although we get ours from Whole Foods). Our milk is even more important. We choose not to have the whole product stripped of all bacteria, just to have some “possible” strains of harmful bacteria “cleansed”, then replaced with (artificially created) “good” bacteria and vitamins/minerals. Our grandparents did not have this travesty thrust upon them when they were young and the pioneers did not suddenly keel over from bad farm food.

This form of food adulteration has come about by the rise in mass produced foods and the “factory farms” now being seen as a plague on America. >The massive recall of eggs that has recently been in the news did not come from the small farmers of Central Kentucky, nor did the spinach recalls of a few years ago, nor do the many meat recalls that happen several times a year. They all are centered on huge agri-processing plants which have touted their “economies of scale” for keeping prices low but have nothing to do with food safety. Factory farms and food adulteration may be killing America in the guise of saving it.

Real milk, the raw milk I spoke of earlier is not allowed to be sold in stores in Kentucky. It is not allowed to be sold in any way in Kentucky. These are the rules of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. You may get milk from your own cow for your personal use, and that is why we and some friends share the ownership of a cow. Now, I am a city boy and I don’t know how to deal with cows so we have a farmer take care of the animal (for a fee, of course). He has the land and the know-how, and particularly, the time. Once a week we have to go get our milk and some of the other things like eggs or produce that he may have available.

Our farmer is not the only one who operates this way. It is a also a growing movement, the idea of owning shares of an animal for the good of many (think of it as the original Stock Market shares. Lately, the Milk Safety Branch (a department within the Department of Health and Human Services) has started to feel the pressure from the factory dairies and will begin “on-farm inspections”, although they have no jurisdiction or authority to do so. These cowshare dairies are being harassed as a service of our government for doing more than the agri-business factory farm dairies care to. Product recalls at these cowshare places are unheard of. Health scare publicity for them is non-existent, so why the sudden need to do inspections while offenders and repeat offenders grab headlines and court cases wind slowly through the system?

Those of you who choose to go with the local foods and healthy living may wish to contact your local representatives and try to nip this in the bud, because from here it may only get worse.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More To See On Main St

If most of you come downtown for the Spotlight Festival, and I hope that you do, I want you to pay particular attention to the new developments on the north side of Main St, opposite the Centrepointe "field". For so long, probably 30 years or more, two of the three buildings in the photo above have placed on the ugly downtown list and now they are being renovated.

The dark gray building on the left has had its false front torn off, a temporary wall built just inside and then painted a light blue. Saturday, during the downtown celebration, they were putting the finishing touches on a new brick face by installing new windows and doors. It looks great.

The building on the right has has its upper story false front removed. I think that what they found behind there is beautiful and a tragedy.

It may be hard to tell, but the capitals of all the columns have been destroyed and the other original cornice work is missing. I hope that enough of the stone work is in good enough shape and/or the existing historical photos can give sufficient detail to recreate the capitals and approximate the missing cornice.

Below is a view of how Asa Chinn saw it in the early '20s. It won't look like that again but some of the elements could be used to make a fine looking building. The folks doing the construction are the same as did the Dudley's redo on Short St. so we know that they will do it right.

I'll keep my eye on this one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ready, Set, -----> Go!

I am appreciative of the spaces around town that are used for our public gatherings and festivals as we are set to begin our boldest and longest effort in my memory. Eighteen days of the Spotlight Festival using three outdoor entertainment venues and much of the newly renovated streetscape will tax both the infrastructure and the maintenance personnel to their utmost. I just hope that our foreign guests don't abuse these spaces as much as we do and maybe we can learn something from them about gathering in public spaces.

Last week's "Festiva Latino" and the earlier "Roots and Heritage Festival" have served as a warm-up for the city's crews and help point out what I think are some failings. Failings of both the organizers and the participants.

First, let me say that the spaces are supposed to be designed for these types of events, but a little extra effort and preparation would go a long way. The food vendors are generally relegated to setting up in the streets and I would guess that it is due to the cooking splatter and mess that just seems to occur in kitchens and other food prep places. The segment of Corral Street used during the "Roots and Heritage" still gives off the odor of cooking oil some 2 weeks after the event. To be fair, it has been hot and dry, and not rained any to help clean off the pavement and the City has not made any effort to clean it. Similar vendors for the "Festiva Latino" used the curb lane of Limestone but it does not show the same level of grime. Why can't we require some sort of portable flooring for events like this? Restaurants require a grease trap from kitchens but this flows right into the storm drains - no treatment. Hello, EPA?

The remnants of the evidence of participants is another story altogether. I don't think that it matters how many trash or recycling recepticles there may be, a large amount of food and drink debris can still be seen tracked across the pavers of the Courthouse Plaza or the sidewalks around the blocks. I just don't believe that most people would treat their backyards and patios like that when they throw a party. Once the party is over then the clean-up has to begin. If you want to get an idea how bad it could be, drive by Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday after a home football game and watch the crew methodically go through the stands, then multiply by 18 and realize that there is practically no week's interval allowed in there.

We Lexingtonian's have spent the last 4 years preparing and decorating for this one event. We have spruced up our streets and parks, our new and old spaces and even found a place to disguise our less than immaculate street occupants. We have issued an open invitation to the world to come and visit, to partake of our city's good things and to take home more than just memories. The one memory that I don't want them to take is an image of our downtown in a state similar to one out of "Animal House". We may not have everything in top shape, but can we not make it worse? Can we try to clean up after ourselves and not leave it to the City crews?

I decided a while back, not to get too excited about this next two weeks. No great expectations, just do the best we can to prepare and let it flow. Que sera, sera. No great disappointments. No regrets. I have heard all the horror stories about the volunteers and the debates about the high ticket prices (including the Ticketmaster fees) which have turned a lot of people off concerning the whole idea of the Games. Well, with one day to go until they start, we will just have to let them proceed and hope for the best.

I will be here, watching. If I see something I don't like, you will hear from me. I will also comment on the good things I see and hear.

Let the Games begin!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lyle Lovett Coming To The WEG, Maybe?

"Good fences make for good neighbors" or so the proverb goes can also be applied to some of the fence-rows here in Central Kentucky. Our famous rolling countryside is laced with them, but somewhere, out by the Horse Park, there are two neighbors who are at odds with each other or so it seems.

This past few weeks have seen the quiet clearing of rural fence-row along the Iron Works Pike which now reveals a previously hidden campground. A campground ready for the WEG and extremely close. More than a couple of properties have desired such a money-maker and one went as far as the Board of Adjustment requesting one of over 300 spaces, only to be denied with under 6 months to prepare.

Now, with horses and riders set to arrive this week and the opening ceremonies set for Saturday night, this seemingly illegal campground is out in the open and should, by all rights, be prevented from accepting any campers. The owners of the property should not be allowed to profit from this hoodwinking of the people.

Rumor has it that one(or more) of the spaces has been reserved for the singer and horseman Lyle Lovett. Lovett is a owner and sometime rider of reining horses and recently bested William Shatner in celebrity competition. He was also hopeful to bring his best horse to be shown by USEF reining team member Tim McQuay during the WEG. I'll bet that Lovett knows how to travel "in style" and now he may not be able to hide it.

If anybody knows any more about this, drop me a line.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why Valet Parking?

The City has just recently finished the re-do of the Main St sidewalks and parking spaces. This is no surprise. Connie Jo Miller has been telling us for the past few months that "the world is coming" and that Lexpark has worked hard to free up the parking spaces in downtown, making them available to all. One of the best parts is the statement about "all parking spaces are FREE after 5:00P.M.

This evening, while walking to my car, I watched the valet parking guys from Bellini's setting up for the supper hour. Waitresses were setting the outside tables and the ladies from Taste of Thai were sweeping and preparing. An auto, bearing Florida plates, pulled into a space on the CentrePointe side of the street, the driver sat idling and the valet raced across the street (No, he did not use the crosswalk or wait for the light) and approached the drivers side.

It seems that Bellini's has an agreement with the City to appropriate three of these "free" parking spaces for their "valet service". It was not yet 5:00 and so the spaces still were on the clock - so to speak.

The valet's supervisor also approached the car and explained that the sign had not been put in place yet, but the spaces were "reserved". (He also did not use the crosswalk.) I guess that the driver was waiting for someone but he did not want to eat at Bellini's or give his car to a stranger. If it was me, I would have asked for the paperwork to prove that it "was" valet parking spaces.

I really do want all the downtown restaurants to do well, but we have just invested a boatload of cash to make our downtown streets extremely inviting and walkable. We have previously invested even more money to build several parking structures, within easy walking distance, and now our downtown diners don't want to use them? I am not even talking about the foreign visitors, they are not here yet, these are our home-grown taxpayers who won't use what they paid for and complain that they are over taxed.

I truly believe that the government should not be in the parking business. Leave that to private enterprise like the livery stables of old, back when we did not have cars and rode carriages and buggies. I also believe that private enterprise should not "freely appropriate" a portion of something that we all have paid for. I hope that there is a yearly fee for the use of these parking spaces. If there is, it should be set by Lexpark but approved by the Council, so that we all know what it is.

Over the last year, the city has given Bellini's and the other downtown establishments some beautiful new dining and relaxing spaces, and I hope that there are more to come. The Mill St proposal comes to mind and the Esplanade. The walkable downtown streets should encourage our patrons to linger a while and walk off a bit of dinner, not hop out of the car - eat - hop in the car and go. That is what drive-ins and drive-thrus are for. You do notice that we don't have any of those downtown, don't you?

In the next few weeks, crowds will throng around downtown(or so we are told) and the CentrePointe block and some will remember what Connie Jo told them about free parking spaces and most of them will be using the sidewalks for their intended purpose, walking. At some point(hopefully in the not to distant future) some sort of construction WILL occur on the block and the curb lane parking spaces WILL disappear (temporarily?) Will Bellini's cry foul them, or not?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Legacy Trail: Bike Events For Everyone

I did not hear the Mayor's speech at the opening of the Legacy Trail but I saw the YouTube video. He says the the new trail puts Lexington "on the map" and makes us a cycling "destination". I have to wonder after all the other grandiose projections about Lexington's "so-called" accomplishments.

I have enjoyed cycling here in Fayette County since the late '50s and have always found town very easy to get around by bike. The masses are just now coming to realize what I have known all along. I ride for enjoyment and don't get into racing or bike polo, nor do I go for high-speed jaunts through the countryside. I just plod along and enjoy myself.

But, now that we have arrived (in the Mayor's thoughts) I wonder when we will get all the other stuff that goes along with cycling and the young activists that we have in Central Kentucky. Lexington has lagged behind the rest of the country, or so the pundits say, and we get our ideas from the big cities of the east. I have been re-reading "The History of Pioneer Lexington; 1781-1806" by Charles Staples, who was a neighbor when I was growing up, and much of the merchandise that local shopkeepers brought to sell - came from Philadelphia. Not Boston, not New York, but Philadelphia. Just last week, Philadelphia held their latest rendition of a local "Naked Bike Ride", you know, the protest bike ride where you wear the least that you feel comfortable with and advocate such things as global warming and Peak Oil and traffic congestion.

Most of the world's "NBR" events (some call them "Bare as you Dare" rides) are along city streets and through parks. Some at night but most are now in broad daylight. Now that we have a premier facility for cycling, how far off can a Lexington "Naked Bike Ride" be?

Mrs. Sweeper thinks that I would be "front and center" for one, riding proudly and slowly, but I am not so sure. I saw all the different varieties of age and body shape last Sunday, it could be a scary thing.