Monday, January 31, 2011

Growing Old In Lexington?

I grew up in one of Lexington’s streetcar suburbs. The old mule cars ended a route just two blocks(and a hundred years) from my front door and in their heyday the streetcars went down the middle of my street. Progress marches on and the tracks were rerouted a little farther out in the expanding subdivisions but they were never more than a block from the house. Sadly, I came along 12 years after they ended their run and I never saw them.

Many of my neighbors did see and used them to get from home to downtown and some of the other destinations at which they stopped. It was one if the reasons that they bought in the area. Houses close to shopping, entertainment and recreation. It was also a neighborhood where folks could grow old and still easily get the necessities of life. With the streetcar they could get downtown to major shopping or they could walk to the local market or pharmacy, get their hair cut or meet friends at the local eatery. It was a neighborhood designed for multiple generations to live together, a real social network.

As a young fellow, I knew all of the families on both sides of the street and the people on the other side of the block. I knew where the kids(what few there were) lived and which of the houses were home to the sweet old ladies. I watched as couples aged, the husbands retired, the widows followed their spouses and the houses sold to others or became rentals. Even lost friends as their parents moved to the suburbs, but that was the way of the world in those days.

My next-door neighbor was a retired high school teacher whose eyesight was failing her. She had taught at the high school just a half a block from our house. She rented out a room to another lady who helped care for her, but we all kept an eye on her. As I recall, she lived there until about 6 weeks of her death.

On the other side, on the corner, was a retired doctor and his socialite wife. He was friendly to us kids but she never took time to talk to us, unless it was to shoo us away from her husband while he was working in the yard. The drove their late model Cadillac to Florida every winter and back in the spring, till that one year of the accident on the way back. Their estate sold the house for apartments soon after.

These stories are repeated, house by house, as you go around the block. The retired State highway engineer (where I saw my first old drafting equipment), the retired antique dealer, the retired preacher, and so on and so on. These people bought in this neighborhood, not as an investment but, as a place to live and grow old. These folks bought for the long term.

These are also not the type of subdivisions which have been built in the past 60 years. Today’s suburbs are built for the automobile. Nothing is really as close as a few blocks, especially when those blocks feature many cul-de-sacs and winding roadways. A 5 minute walk to the store is not the same as a 5 minute auto trip when you’re up in years, just ask the lady who drove into the grocery on Romany Road a while back.

The reality of today’s suburban living is, that it is for the children of the “Baby Boomers”. Children who chose not to live like their parents, in modest sized cottages, just like their parents who chose not to live in the old Victorians I the old town sections. Status usually led us to want more land and a bigger house, which now is more than most of aging population can take care of. Then there is the mobility, the constant mobility, moving for job, for family, for downsizing. Retire to where the grandkids are, except the aren’t in just one place, they are all over the country. My grandparents houses were stable, all through my younger years. So was my parents place, right up until my dad died and my brother and I took it over. Forty-five years in one place, just like it was designed for.

These are the types of residential subdivisions we need to see more of, don’t you think?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Testing Milk

I am glad that I don’t drink milk from the typical dairy conglomerate.

I read today about frequent inspections and discovery of abnormal and illegal levels of antibiotics in older dairy cattle, on their way to the slaughterhouse. Those levels of contamination could also be in the milk on our store shelves.

What is that you say, why doesn’t somebody do something about it? Well, the F.D.A. had intended to start testing the milk from those farms found to be repeatedly marketing “tainted” cows. That is, until the dairy industry cried foul and pressured state regulators. Something about having to dump millions of gallons of milk that they could not store or sell while waiting for the testing to be completed. Hold it until it passes or recall it when it fails, either way it would be costly to the industry.

Dairy industry spokesmen will be the first to tell you that our milk supply is safe, that every truckload of milk is tested for four to six common antibiotics used on dairy farms. What they are NOT tested for are the other drugs not usually found on farms, yet found in the livestock prior to slaughter. The farms which repeatedly fail these tests are the one to be singled out for more rigorous review.

It is true that the number of “tainted” cows is a small fraction of the dairy cows making their way to slaughter, but it is a warning sign-an indication of possible future problems. By knowing my farmer personally and how he treats my animal and those of my fellow herd owners, I know that I will never receive milk from a “tainted” cow. Nor will my milk be mixed with that of a dairy with more lax standards. I like the consistency of the small, local dairy.

The F.D.A. had intended to start with the new year and test the milk from about 900 dairy farms. That’s right 900 repeat offenders. They would test for about two dozen antibiotics(not the typical six) and also for flunixin, a pain-killer and anti-inflammatory of popular usage on dairies. These are items that I don’t want(or need) to show up in my milk or my body. I don’t want to go to a doctor and have some unintended residue conflict with whatever he prescribes.

The major sticking point is that these expanded tests could take a week or more to complete. Large dairies depend on timely delivery to the processing plant and the store shelves, so any delay is seen as a bad thing and keeping the cows producing is a necessity.

Public health officials have warned us about the possibility of a proliferation of drug residue in the water systems, especially in large cities, and in the ground water from improper disposal of drugs. Do we now need to worry about our supposedly safe food supply?

Boy, am I glad that I don’t drink “store bought” milk.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get Ready For The Plan

Amazingly, it is just about time for the Urban County Planning Commission to begin preparing the next comprehensive plan. The Comprehensive Plan is the document that guides the decisions concerning land use, transportation, density, services and other elements of Lexington’s development.

The usual principal issue is whether or not to expand the Urban Services Area boundary, but this cycle - given the recent economy- it may be more secondary in the upcoming discussions. With the explosion of foreclosures and the relatively stagnant home construction situation, the home builders could be working on the built up excess for a year or two.

Now may be the time to look at how our city could plan for the possibility of much higher fuel prices, the effects of “Peak Oil”. How will people get around to shop, go to school, socialize or even make a livelihood? Will we be more dependent on mass transit or will we need more localized places of social gathering? How do we plan to grow old in neighborhoods that were designed for young families and very auto dependant street structures?

One of the points in Mayor Gray’s campaign was to make Lexington’s neighborhoods more walkable and thus more livable. The Obama administration, especially through the Secretaries for HUD and Transportation, has promoted making cities more livable and many of the recent transportation grants have been decided on a livability index.. Now it is our turn to stress to the powers that be, our desire to reside in a truly livable city.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “millennial's” or Generation Yer’s have shown a dislike for the housing choices of their parents. Many of them are shying away from the suburbs and looking for a more urban lifestyle. Many want to be in a walkable, bikeable, downtown area. Someplace that is more vibrant for more hours of the day than the cookie-cutter subdivisions where they grew up. Lexington has a limited supply of locations like that and as the demand rises, so will the prices.

Many of you who read this blog ARE interested in Lexington development and making our city better. So I ask you to gather your thoughts, send them to me, ProgressLex, North of Center and others. Let’s get something moving toward making Lexington the city that it can be, if we only try.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Regional Rail Topic Comes Up Again

I am quite unsure just why this has not made an appearance on the site yet, but the State Journal in Frankfort reported last week on a proposal for commuter service between Lexington and Louisville. Two trains, each running in three times a day, from Winchester to Louisville with stops in Lexington and Frankfort and (get this) in place by October of 2012.

Wow, with a blockbuster announcement like this one would think that the Herald-Leader would be all over this. Passenger service to the state capital and Louisville three times a day. Estimated cost to Frankfort is a low, low $8 one way. R. J. Corman and CSX would make a bundle on this and add in the stop proposed at Keeneland and there would be nothing stopping these guys.

There is nothing more that I would love to see than passenger rail to both Louisville and Cincinnati on a regular basis, but I see this path being fraught with delays and legal trouble. I think that we are too late in beginning this effort and that the advocate pushing it is dreaming about the eventual cost of start up.

To date route to be used has been known as the “Old Road” to many of Kentucky rail buffs and the majority of it is now leased and used by Corman as a freight route. From what have read of the agreement approved by the Surface Transportation Board, CSX has limited Corman to basically the weekly aluminum ingot trains and sand, cement and some general merchandise runs. The latest addendum, I believe is the ability to haul material for the repair and maintenance of the railroad so that they can facilitate their side of the federal “TIGER” grant of $17,551,028. This project is known as the Appalachian Regional Shortline Project. CSX has not allowed any revenue passenger service over this line and has shown reluctance to even talk about it.

The trackage from Winchester to Anchorage, Ky. Is outside the normally defined Appalachian Region, so I wonder if it is the focus of the grant work as the intent is to refurbish roads in Ky., Tenn. and W. Va.

The person behind this proposal, is the new industrial recruiter in Frankfort. A local position for the city, not a state position. It is noted that he has extensive background in rail planning, both stateside and in Iraq, but there seems to be major gaps in his gathering of fundamental existing conditions.

The article states that a stop is intended to be placed at Keeneland which currently has no rail spur. The closest rail line crosses the Van Meter Rd., about a mile from the back gate of Keeneland and surrounded by horse farms. This line is owned by Corman, but it is the line which goes to Versailles, not Frankfort The “Old Road” crosses S. Yarnallton Rd nearly 5 miles distant and although there used to be a flag stop there, it has long since been transferred to private ownership.

This hindrance will also plague the announced intention of the owner of Greenbrier Resort to run a special trainset from the resort to Keeneland, and back, as part of their strategic partnership to pull in the high rollers of gambling. Theirs may be larger in scope as there is no direct route from Huntington, W. VA to Lexington and they will have to route through Cincinnati. A time consuming trip, nearly 10 hours, as I have recounted here before.

The price tag and time frame are also a question in most folks mind. Those knowledgeable rail fans, from whom I have heard, all question the validity of $40 million to upgrade the track and build stations. Then there is the cost of personnel and operations. Many larger cities which have regional rail, still have to have subsidies which run into the millions, and they have much larger commuting populations. 80 to 90 mile an hour travel between Lexington and Louisville is a possible goal and one that we should have reached long before now. (Wait, we did. Back in the ‘70s when they completed the Interstate.)

80 to 90 mile an hour rail travel between Lexington and Louisville is still a ways off.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Roads Can Be Tricky And Dangerous

I took just one week to arrive at our first traffic fatality of this year and we came very near making it a full week.

Last night, in the cold and dark of a winter which is barely started, our old nemesis struck with the help of some seasonal friends. The nasty roads decided to team up with a little snow and ice to reach out an punish our hapless drivers.

I really think that something should be done to hold these cruel villains at bay. For many years now they have preyed upon our drivers, young and old alike. Maybe there should be a law to prohibit them from conspiring with each other to commit dastardly deeds like property damage, sometimes amounting to large sums of money, injury and even death.

I used to think that it was the drivers themselves, but that cannot be the case. Auto drivers have been around for just about a century and surely know how to handle their autos. They have to take tests in order to get permission to operate an automobile. I have heard that many people believe these tests are quite difficult. I didn't think that it was so bad but Mrs. Sweeper says that it was my eyes that caused the problem.

I also realize that it not just the wintertime conditions which are the culprits, these things happen all during the year. Roads are slick in warmer weather when they team up with rain and fog. Trees and fences, both wood and stone, sometimes get in the act but a road is usually not far off(probably giving encouragement). How can we get these fellow to stay away from each other? What is a safe distance to keep them apart.

Roads have been around for a long time. Just about as long as people have been moving from one place to another. Is it just in the last century that roads and their friends have become dangerous? If I remember correctly, European roads used to be friends with roaming bands of highwaymen, helping them to attack and rob unsuspecting travelers in out-of-the-way places. It seems that they have been at it for a while, but lately they have upped their game.

I have heard of some fatalities occurring when the roads are behaving themselves and the weather is calm and beautiful. At those times I feel that drivers are just hoping that the roads and their friends will come out to play. Sometimes, maybe the roads are just too tired to care. That is when the automobiles get to play their tricks on drivers

This a photo of a sleeping road just being lazy

Come to think of it, roads are designed and built by man, so could it be sometimes, just sometimes, that roads may be forced to lie in places that they just don't want to be? Places that good self-respecting roads just shouldn't be seen? Are roads predestined to go bad or are they inherently evil?

I guess that we are lucky to have a dedicated police force and an equally alert news media, so that when the extremes of weather occur they caution us about the roads (and their tricky friends). Sometime they warn us about the portions of roads which just go and hide themselves, usually under water but sometimes under entire hillsides. It takes a lot of work to get them to come back out again.

I have come to the conclusion that roads, and that includes their local cousins, the streets, can be very tricky and unpredictable. Any time that you venture out on them, you have to be very careful and vigilant, especially when there is bad weather in the neighborhood. They will conspire to get you.

There, now you know a little more about roads and their friends. Be careful when you go out on them, they will always be up to something.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Southland's Mall Error

I have often written about the former Lexington Mall property (also here) and the problems that the city has had in finding a solution. I have also written about other underutilized properties in Lexington and even mentioned one very near the mall location. I now believe that the solution which has been brought forward will not be in the best interest of our city, or even the entity purchasing the former mall.

The plans for the Lexington Mall were approved in 1969 as an answer to the Fayette Mall, which was itself an answer to Turfland Mall being constructed finally after being approved in 1961. Each of the locations was adjacent, or very near too, an intersection on New Circle Road and an entry to the center of the city.

The New Circle loop was completed in November of 1969 and hailed as the solution to the cut-through downtown traffic. It was also became the interception ring for all regional shopping trips coming from as far away Morehead, London and Liberty Ky. Shoppers could get on at any of the intersections and quickly get to many regional shopping areas. Such were the thoughts of the time cheap gas, good roads and a trip to the big city.

The era of cheap gas and multiple vehicles per family along with good roads and the Interstate completion helped to redefine how commercial interests assessed their prime locations for shopping centers. It is these same assessments that many planners and city officials are beginning to question as the environmental and traffic problems associated with parking lots (both runoff and air quality), congestion and non-vehicular access factor into a livability index.

As the downtown retail began to feel the effects of the loss of out-of-town traffic and the local first and second ring subdivisions found that they too could get to shops across town (without going through town),even the larger churches began to take notice.

Churches, like small retail, historically located in the neighborhoods where the residents could walk to services. Many street corner churches were established in the early nineteen hundreds, most sprouting up soon after there were a sufficient number of congregants in the area. Almost none of them originally had any parking lots as the expected their folks to walk to church.

People like to, or used to, identify with their particular congregation and would continue to attend even when the moved beyond a convenient walking distance or aged beyond walking ability. Churches soon had more people coming from some distance than there were from the surrounding streets and parking became a weekly problem. Add in the mid-week and other services and the “spiritual backbones” of the neighborhoods began to weaken in the neighbors eyes as the need for parking grew and the spaces started to vanish.

The downtown “legacy” churches began to creep into the adjacent neighborhoods just as the insidiously as the commercial and office buildings and their parking needs grew, but the subdivision street corner ones just packed up and moved to greener fields. Those who could do so took on the image of mega-churches with their massive acreage and parking for all. Out there was room to grow, space to build those things that large congregations need.

Churches began to take on many commercial facets and started to sell religion as a commodity and benefits, therefore they needed to locate like commercial shops. They needed to be on major roads, with a large edifice and easy access and they needed to cast as wide a net as possible. Now, churches and retail need the people to come to them rather than taking themselves to the people. Could this be why buying online and getting delivery by parcel truck is becoming so popular?

Churches will not have someone like UPS or FedEx come to their rescue, to deliver the services to their door. They, like many others who have become dependant on automobiles, will have to find ways to weave themselves into the neighborhood lives of the masses again, especially if the time of $5 gas comes as predicted. Their locating in large buildings on major roadways, though meant for ease of access, will then be more prohibitive to those who will need them most.

Southland Christian Church, in buying the old mall, may have picked the least useful underutilized property in the immediate area.

Lexington Mall in a larger map

Across New Circle Rd is the abandoned apartment complex originally built as Todd’s Trace Apartments. Sitting on nearly the same total area as the mall, these multi-family structures have been vacated for some time and are actually declared uninhabitable. They almost MUST be demolished. There is no drainage problem, nor has there been any. True, there is no direct access to either major road but the parcels are very visible from both the interchange levels. A primary factor for locating a church facility for the future should be the extreme accessibility to the neighborhood and this property fits the bill. I feel that this neighborhood does not fit the demographic which the church has in mind as its congregants or its object of major need.

Physically, the property is probably more conducive to redevelopment for a religious facility than the mall structure. I can visualize a well placed, environmentally sustainable building nestled in some of the existing trees with a calming natural meditation garden. I imagine something like a cross between the Christ the King Cathedral and the Unitarian location on Clays Mill. There could even be enough remaining space to maintain a community garden or local farmers market.

Just something to think about.