Monday, July 25, 2011

Are We Really No. 6

So, Kiplinger's has sent a reporter to Lexington - or better yet, a Senior Associate Editor -  and soaked up the essence that makes Lexington a No. 6 city for best value as a place to live. I am glad that they focus their magazine on finances because they missed it on geography.  Lexington is NOT a Northern Kentucky city.  We, and our metro area are very definitely Central Kentucky, North Central, but very Central Ky.

I don't know how long this editor stayed in town but I will wager that she was escorted around by a member of Commerce Lexington.  She has the wording of the advertising brochures down pat.  The part about keeping the small-town feel while believing that we are the center of the horse farm world, the basketball world, the Southern charm world and just about any other world that you could think of.  Don't get me wrong, we have an impact in all of them but we do not drive what happens in those worlds, we just go with the flow.

Healthcare and the new expanded hospital is a good thing and the University is the largest employer, but the divide between the professionals and the rest of our "diversified" work force is very stark.  A few haves and many have-nots exist side by side here in Lexington, and a few more have-nots every day.  Lexmark, though a major company, is not a huge local employer.

Her comments on physical growth and the self imposed limitations on Fayette County's rural lots sizes do not reflect the thoughts of home buyers, as the cost of real estate here is higher but when averaged with the rest of the metro area will become affordable.  Such affordable housing is much harder to find in Lexington proper.

She also implies that the city is buying pastureland, but the PDR is only buying the development right of said pastureland ( from the folks who would not be allowed to develop it in the first place).

She describes downtown fairly accurately and notes some of the successes and hopes for the future, although her characterizations of the events at Cheapside only point out how few and seldom that they occur.  I still feel that any private group should be able to rent the facility for a fund raiser or get together along the same lines as renting a park shelter in some of the parks.  We should not believe that all functions are to supplied by the city.

Her housing costs appear to be solely for Lexington and not for the rest of the metro area and as someone who has looked for a place with FOUR bedrooms and a family of 4-5, such places are very hard to find in that limited range.  Not all households are young professionals or retired couples but the small family types who WANT to live downtown are priced out of the market.

"Why its fun"  We have Keeneland and the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball to cheer for.  Keeneland for six weeks a year and basketball for 3 months (if you can get a ticket) and each event totals about 23,000 souls at a time.  UK football boasts nearly 2.5 times that number but only 8 times a year. From there, when you take away the dining and drinking around town, most folks find that there is precious little that is affordable to hold their interest.

Lastly, to the mayors comment "wears itself like a loose jacket, it’s not so sophisticated that it’s predictable. We’re not pretending to be something we’re not.”.  We may not be sophisticated but we are predictable and we are ALL pretending to be that which we are not.  Some pretending downward and some pretending upward, but pretending just the same.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Property That Southland Didn't Take

I heard today of another investigation into the possible uses of the old Todd's Trace Apartments, or what is now known as the Pennington Place dump.  This would make about the fifth time that someone has asked about the property and what could be done to redevelop it.

Since it has been basically abandoned for several years now, all the apartments have been broken into and at least two complete buildings destroyed by fire, there is no way that it could be rehabbed and the only solution is to start with a clean slate.

I have given my thoughts on how the area should have been redeveloped when I wrote this back in January.  Unfortunately the church is proceeding with its plan and there is not another large religious entity set to do something similar.  I also do not want another large piece of tax revenue generating property to be designated as tax-free as long as our city needs the funds as the do.  No, somebody rally has to make this a viable development for both the city's and their sake.

What makes this so tough to work with is the lack of easy access to the major roadways.  I still think that, at some point, the dependance on the personal automobile will be removed and since this location is at the intersection of two main roads and it is a straight shot to downtown, some sort of mass transit will suffice for most new urbanists who may live that far out.

Still, today's urban developers are not that forward looking and a quicker access is desired in order to work a deal. The property is hemmed in by two, less than stellar areas, the business along Woodhill and the declining neighborhood of duplexes and townhomes with a growing reputation for crime, and a successful shopping area on Richmond Rd. Residential, and especially up-scale residential, without a different orientation and access would be a hard sell in this location.

So many of late seem to think that the current design process for the CentrePointe block will bring about a winning solution and a certain Herald-Leader columnist and blogger believes that we should apply a similar  one to the Lexington Center redesign, so should we get the mayor involved and do something here?  How about some suggestions from you, my readers. 

What would you place in this difficult redevelopment area?  Remember, the church took a similar sized chunk of apparently unneeded commercial land so a shopping center may not be viewed as possible.  The French Quarter hotel works, but do we need another series of lodging units, either extended stay or otherwise?  Give me your ideas and I will post them and send them on to the mayor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First The Trains, Then The Planes, Then The Roads?

Back in August of 2009, I wrote a piece about a little known Federal program called the Essential Air Service in which the government reimburses major airlines to serve smaller rural communities.  This year it runs to the tune of nearly $200 million and still our air carriers claim that they cannot make any money.  Today, Delta Air Lines announced that it “can no longer afford” to serve 24 of the rural airports that they picked up in the merger with Northwest Airlines.

From what I can gather, it is not all about the corporate decisions to leave folks high and dry but the "style" in which these passengers desire plays a factor.  Everybody, I guess, wishes that their airport be a modern and useful airfield, with the latest in air comfort and speed, but when you cannot fill the existing seats of the propeller type planes - then you will not fill a larger regional JET.  Nor can you fly to the 29 major hubs from just Anyplace, USA and expect to get good slots in the landing pattern.

The Essential Air Service subsidies are slated to expire in 2013 unless Congress decides to extend them but in this current fiscal state I would not hold my breath on that. The current Republican strategy is to cut out anything that does not help corporations but may do some good for the common man.  The highways that we cannot maintain will have to do for these 24 cities and probably a similar number next year - and the year after.

This is also just one decision made by one airline, how many more will be coming in the days ahead?  Deregulation was supposed to free up the airline industry to be responsive to the market demands and to foster more competitive scheduling and pricing.  The Essential Air Service subsidies were to equalize the opportunities for the rural cities which could not run with the big dogs, but also could not stay on the porch.  If things continue as they have in the past five years, even the big dogs may not be running like they have been.

Many of these small cities got a big boost from the railroad systems and some of them owe it all to the railroads. These railroads brought life into a lot of places in the expanding western territories.  For years they were THE way for people to come and go for long distance travel..  The automobile and the airplane helped bring those days to an end, so what is expected when these modes are no longer economically viable?  When the rural areas no longer have air service and the states and federal government can no longer build and maintain the roads.  What will we have then?

Other countries are considering (and building) systems of high speed rail with feeder routes of more moderate speed which connect to the more rural communities there.  Somehow, that doesn't fit in with our concept of a modern world...    yet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Cowshare- Business As Usual?

The cowshare program to which I belong is having a bit of difficulty lately.

The whole thing dates back to when the health authorities in Ohio and Kentucky along with their Federal counterparts began harassing the farmer for delivering what the cow owners were expecting, just plain, raw milk.  

Cowshares work a little differently from a normal dairy whereas the farmer sells shares of his cows to a group of people.  Very much like a syndicate would own a race horse or other property.  They then pay for the maintenance and care of the property and receive a dividend of the product which results.  For a racehorse that would be a share of the purses won but in dairy cows it would be the milk produced.  That is produced daily.  For me, my two shares result in two gallons every week  Sometimes it is sufficient, sometimes it is too much.

Our farmer is an Anabaptist from Mississippi who raises cow and other farm animals for the simple joy of producing the highest and best quality food that people can buy.  To him, farming is not a business where the bottom line is profit or loss, it is a living where he can work hard, provide for his family and others and do what the Creator put us here to do.

This mindset and philosophy runs contrary to the general direction of the world today and that is where the cowshare program begins to have difficulty.  Several years ago, when they were located in Northern Kentucky and the harassment took place, our local agencies sought to remove this type of program and/or force it to be like all the other agri-businesses.  Despite all the talk of the movement toward locally grown food or the organic foods movement, the state and federal governments only want them to conform to the big business model.  Our farmer was forced to sell the existing farm(at a loss), file bankruptcy, move the herd and establish themselves on a leased farm.  In effect, to start over.

Again, our farmer (and we of the cowshare program by extension) are being forced to look for a new location.  A location where the farmer can put down roots and continue to provide the nutritious food that we members want and expect.  This is whee it becomes real difficult.  Because of the current financial situation, banks are not willing to lend to farmers who are not really operating as a business, the ones just getting by but still paying the bills.  Trying to operate within such a narrow, confining box is proving very difficult for us all.

Our farmer reminds me of a Mennonite, although I guess that he could be called a "Mennonite Lite" as he drives a truck and they do use the Internet, and the way they approach farming is somewhat reminiscent of the Amish.

I actually learned today that the Amish population in America is growing (10%) and growing even better in Kentucky (15%) in the last two years.  Studies reveal that new Amish settlements are established about once every three weeks.  The states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware which are usually known for their Amish communities are actually losing out to states like Kentucky and New York.  The truly unfortunate part of the foregoing information is that roughly only 10% of the Amish today receive their primary income from farming.

Might they be another example of how our big business before farming attitude is eroding the country?