Friday, September 28, 2012

Just Add Kids?

I heard it again today. It was during the panel discussion put on by the Downtown Lexington Corp. which was to feature the 6 finalists of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd district races. The thing is, one of them did not show up.

Most of the comments were very positive about downtown and how we needed to continue to plan for the economic development and a strong need for jobs. But I also heard the quiet cry for more family oriented facilities like restaurants and such. It was like families want to live downtown but not as it is today – or how it is being planned for by today's planners.

We can look at our successes, like Thursday Night Live, and how well they have grown in just a few short years but some families have begun avoiding the Pavilion because it has become so large. The crowd of young professionals out for an early beginning to their weekend of drinking can erode the feeling of festival that many young parents want to ingrain in their kids.

The number of new, trendy restaurants which have opened seem geared toward the single/dating young professionals or the more refined tastes of the upper echelon from the 02 zipcode or horse country. Few of them would accept the “wander around he table” child which frequents an Applebee's or Texas Roadhouse franchise. Why cannot some of those parents find a suitable dining experience in the downtown scene. (OK, I don't want to eat near this kind of action either.)

Family oriented recreation come to downtown at various times through the year, like the Ringling Brothers Circus or Disney on Ice, but the normal, run of the mill, child friendly activities are rare. The special events will draw from communities other than Lexington, but day to day stuff – not so much.

Finally, and maybe the most troubling, there are no new residential units designed for the family of four in which a couple can live with their kids. The latest units are designed with young professionals in mind but not families. The common mantra is that “families don't want to live downtown” and that is not just applicable to Lexington.

According to Brent Toderian, a Canadian planner, “The truth is that many downtowns are currently not great places to raise families, because they are not designed to be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A city gives up on kids downtown, as does the home-building industry, so no one designs and plans for them... ...Most importantly, no homes built that could actually fit a family. Perhaps a couple, but as soon as baby comes, they start planning the move. This perpetuates the theory that families would never want to live downtown.”

Do we want a vibrant, lively, complete downtown? If so, then an addition of children to the mix of seniors and young professionals(both singles and couples) will support a broader local economy and a safer community. These families will need certain support facilities in order to make it work; child-care, and nearby schools initially, then family appropriate retail and recreation and then the all-important family sized residential units.

I may be wrong, but I feel that the on-going efforts to put on event after event in an attempt to draw families to downtown would be easier if some of them lived “right around the corner”.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Second Sunday Approaches Again

Well, Park(ing) Day did appear to be a success despite the lack of local press. Several local groups participated as well as some businesses. I am still disappointed that they did not commandeer the parking spaces for the full day, as they do in most cities. I did see the Mayor out getting his “photo ops” along with several other candidates for office this fall.

Our next big community gathering looks to be the annual Second Sunday health initiative, where we close a portion of roadway to auto traffic and allow human powered activity. That is just 2 weeks away and I have heard very little about it.

The local Second Sunday group does have a new web page and a Facebook listing , but what struck me the hardest was that they are not closing a roadway to auto traffic this year. They will be using a presently dedicated pedestrian facility – The Legacy Trail. This does not call attention to the need to get out of your car nor to the restrictions of auto movements. This year's event fails to make whatever happens to be newsworthy.

Is it possible that what started four years ago, with such promise and fanfare that it spread statewide very quickly, has died a typical bureaucratic controlled death? Could that be why our friends over in Louisville are pushing for a non-government sanctioned event (cycLOUvia) to take place on one of their primary arterial streets – Bardstown Rd.?  I do wish them luck in raising the funds in the next tow weeks.

The great thing about Second Sunday this year is that it will be after a road football game ( I came close to calling it a loss) and two days after the Midnight Madness for the basketball fans. Why could Euclid Ave/Avenue of Champions not be closed and bookended by the commercial spots of South Lime and Chevy Chase for refreshments after the festivities?

I think that the citizenry of Lexington has again failed to build upon a reasonable foundation. The question is - why?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just One Day Left

Tonight is Wednesday Sept. 19, 2012 and it is two days before this years PARK(ing) day.  I reminded you of this some months ago in the hopes that someone would look into the subject a little farther and maybe organize a local effort.

Well, it may have worked - somewhat.

At first, I thought that I would keep harping on the subject but then found that very few of you will give any response.  Then I just sat back to see if any effort would come forward.  (Crickets)

It was by chance that I followed up on one of the referring links to my blog, that I saw an entry on the Bluegrass PRIDE calendar of their participation in a local (PARK(ing) day event.  That calendar links back to a post from 2011, but it is for this year's event.  I was now on the chase to see who was behind this year's effort.

A simple Google check revealed the the Fayette Alliance was also participating this year and that there was an organizing meeting held in August.  Very quietly held to be truthful.  The Kentucky Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in partnership with the University of Kentucky Landscape Architecture Program is listed as the lead organizer yet a visit to either of their websites showed no mention of this year's event or even that such an event existed until the end of August.  A co-sponsor, The Lexington Art League, also has no mention of it on their website though they are listing the Gallery Hop and pARTy which they are conducting at Cheapside on the same evening.

It is looking to be a well-kept secret here in Lexington.  Our friends over in Louisville have been tweeting about it for months.  Here, I still hear crickets.

Last year, there were 162 cities participating, many with full government support and over 900 temporary parks set up for the day - the whole day - for which the fed the meter faithfully.  Lexington's event is for the hours of 4 until 8 p.m., just four measly hours.  Many cities had several locations around town but ours will be solely along W. Short Street near Cheapside.

I sincerely hope that this event will gather some attention from the press and particularly from the City.  I would like to see the Parking Authority get behind this, even to the point of involving the design studios of both our universities as well as the landscape architects in training.  I would propose that at least one park(ing) spot be placed in each district and even local voting enabled.

What I don't understand is why we are lagging behind.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Hotel Could Lead To Transformation

I have been following the recent controversy about the proposed hotel near the corner of Southland Dr and Nicholasville Rd and have bee amused by the commentary.

It seems that the nearby residents wish to prevent what some call progress by claiming that they want to keep their backyards “private”. Folks all over town are building “privacy” fences in neighborhoods where two story homes look directly into the adjacent yard and, in some cases, those on adjacent blocks if the hillsides are steep enough. I have no idea what these people do in their backyards that they need to be so private, but it may be either risky (or risque).

The problem that I have is with the people in the neighborhood on the south side of Southland, well out of visual range and even earshot. Why is it that folks don't want to try to improve certain locations when just a little teamwork will do wonders.

My first memories of the intersection involve the building which houses the Denny's restaurant. It was an Independent Grocers Association (IGA) market when I was a small lad, the last vestige of town and the beginning of the narrow two lane road to Nicholasville. The family took trips the the locally owned “Bird & Animal Forest”, located about midway between the two communities, on summer Sundays. It was a crude attempt at a petting zoo but we enjoyed it.

My father's friend had a few acres and a roadside motel, some horses and ,I think, a pay lake. I searched for it some time back on some old aerial photos and actually found it. Today, that spot is occupied by the eastern half of the New Circle Road interchange. What a major change.

Southland Dr., as many know, was built as an alternate route to bypass the railroad crossing of Rosemont Gardens. The early drawing call it the “Southern U pass” since it incorporated a bridge to separate the auto traffic from the Southern Railroad trains. Waller Avenue had yet to be extended beyond the tracks toward Harrodsburg Rd. so the only access across the tracks was Virginia Ave., Rosemont and Stone Rd.(now Pasadena).

Commercial development exploded in this area during the '60s, thus the new residential subdivisions were required to provide sidewalks but the older “main drag”, where the shopping was designated, was exempt. Folks in those days hopped in the car just to go to the end of the block and who wants to look out for the pedestrians who should not be there. Southland Dr was not a neighborhood shopping center, it drew from all over the south end of Lexington. In many cases it still functions that way today.

Over the years this area has added some newer and larger uses and is no longer “out on the edge of town”. We should be looking to bring this intersection up to the sense of an urban retail corridor. One way to do that is to remove the types of uses which perpetuate the parking habits of the now aging “baby boomers”. Restaurants in Chevy Chase can succeed with their doors opening to the sidewalk and parking in the rear, so is Southland Dr area that much worse.

What I see, in this location, is an excellent opportunity to enhance this visual aspect of the intersection and allow the neighborhood to metamorphose into a vibrant entryway to the Southland experience. The proposed mid-rise hotel can begin to fill the space with active evening traffic but it still need desirable support uses like full-service sit-down restaurants and up-scale retail which can draw the neighborhood folks without making them get in their cars.

Gas stations are still a fact of life but some of the newer ones have found that being situated on an extremely congested corner with turn lanes presents unwanted access nightmares. At most times of the day one can only approach the existing Shell station from the southbound lanes and exit with a right turn only movement. No service work is done on site so the need for the massive paved area adds to the water runoff which the neighbors are so vocal about.
Now, visualize if you can, imagine a structure built along the lines of the former Taylor Tire station at the corner of Old East Vine and Grand Blvd. It has been re-purposed as a retail complex, but it sits so close to the street that it has that cozy feel. A new building, placed similarly and perhaps with wing along both major streets, could accommodate fuel pumps streetside and in the back, address the street with a pleasing facade and allow for plantings or the like.

Continuing the streetscape on toward the donut shop and at an equal setback, the atmosphere becomes conducive to pedestrian traffic as well as auto. At present, Lextran does not use this section of Southland Dr but this streetscape will lend itself to adding a stop in the future. Replacing the existing Denny's with a more fitting facility would also do wonders for the area.

I honestly believe that even the hotel could be placed a little bit farther off the adjacent residential if the corner was redeveloped as a whole. Even the existing car wash could be accommodated in a pleasing manner.

The neighbors probably need to step back a bit, think about how they can get something a little closer to what they desire and work with the developer to give everybody a win-win scenario to shoot for. It can be for everybody's best interest.

Let me know what you feel.