Monday, July 29, 2013

The Lengths That Some Will Go To...

I am again surprised that some residents of Lexington will go to great effort to complain about what they see as a waste of the taxpayers money - their money.  

Often times it will be those who live is the higher income areas who rail the loudest about this injustice and usually the funds are being expended on works which will benefit a less well of majority.  I mean, how often do we hear about the half full buses (carrying those people) running all over town?  Or the supplemental lunches for at risk children?  I certainly don't hear the low income parent or autoless employee raising a stink.

What caught my attention this time was the recent addition of a low, decorative retaining wall and planter bed immediately adjacent to the curb of Tates Creek Road just before you get to Albany.  I think that it was the "For Sale" signs, with their bright colors, that made me look, but it was the location of the wall that made me come up short.  They are placed right in the path of the soon to be started Tates Creek Sidewalk project.

The Urban County Council has been discussing this project for over 2 years now.  Federal funds have been secured.  A design has been approved.  A contract has been let.  And now someone has spent money to place an additional obstacle for the contractors.  Unbelievable.

This is not  a simple case of not knowing where the property line is or what they may do within the Highway Right of Way.  This is purely a spite installation.  It may appear to be landscaping but the grade change indicates where they should and shouldn't have done any work.

The present owner clearly wishes to prevent anyone from walking in front of his property, be they neighbors or attendees of any of the churches in the area.  Best of all there is a posted bus stop at the far end of the frontage, as seen below.

It is actions like this which reinforce the un-walkable nature of the suburbs.  This block face is certainly not that much different in length than the section of Ashland Ave between High and Main.  The uses in the area are transitioning away from strictly residential.

Change does come hard to many folks, be it the gentrifying of a downtown neighborhood or the evolution of a high volume roadway like Tates Creek Rd., but fighting the change is generally a costly, losing battle.  I would rather the City not be made to incur the sizable majority of that cost.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Two Part Contest

I did have a story ready for this week but then realized that some of the family involved were still looking in on things here and may not appreciate it.  

Yes the view is on Maxwell St and many of the structures are still around.  Congratulations to all who guessed or knew it.

 For this weeks contest I am going to take a bit of a different track.

The date is 1932 and this is a staged photo for Kelly Dairy.  The processing plant was most obviously at 511 W Maxwell. (Ten or so blocks from our last entry).

 The question this week is two-fold.  Where was the farm on which the cows were milked and identify the location of this supposed delivery.  One of these houses has recently completed a major improvement.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The British Can Admit It - Will We?

Major food price rises are all but inevitable. Philip Clarke, the chief executive of Britain's biggest supermarket chain Tesco, has admitted as much to the British press. Tesco, was heavily implicated in the recent horse-meat scandal, has said that rising global demand means the historic low prices to which British consumers have become used are now unsustainable. This is tantamount to the CEO of WalMart or Kroger admitting that they can no longer commit to keeping prices low for all Americans.

Any one who has been shopping lately can attest to the fact that the “invisible grocery shrink ray” is at work in our local markets. The packages may be rising slowly in price but the quantity in the package is smaller over all. The organics and locally grown stuff is characterized as for the elite and other who want to be upper class.

Is Kentucky (or America) that far behind this time? A recent poll, commissioned by the Prince's Countryside Fund to mark National Countryside Week, reveals that a majority of British consumers would be prepared to pay more for food if they knew the extra was going to farmers rather than to supermarket shareholders. With the recent introduction of the “Udderly Kentucky” milk program by the Secretary of Agriculture, James Comer, is he seeing the same sentiment from Kentucky shoppers?

The “Buy Local First” movement seems to be making headway and local farmers markets are establishing themselves in more locations every year. Still, the primary comments are that they are out of the reach of many residents. Sadly, such costs are reflective of the unsubsidized production costs for local entrepreneurs.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization forecast last month that global food prices could rise by as much as 40% over the next decade. Much of this as a result of a growing middle class in countries such as China and India. With the prospects of America's middle class waning and poverty moving to our once booming suburbs, this global rise will hit Americans very hard.

Usually, supermarket bosses (British and American) have proved extremely resistant to admitting economic pressures would affect the cost of groceries. WalMart has recently committed to its sourcing more locally produced fruits and vegetables without discussing whether price differences will be kept to a minimum. One way the WalMart has kept their prices low is to require the producer (or middleman) to do more preparatory work so that their “associates” don't have to.

What comes to mind next is WalMart's (and possibly the federal governments) definition of locally produced. Generally, the range of 500 miles is sufficient for most programs and for Lexington that means as far away as Central Michigan or the Gulf Coast. Local could them mean about 2/3rds of the Eastern U.S. National brands and the monoculture farming of agri-business can still dominate our food choices at that rate.

I can see that a growing number of Kentuckians (and Americans) are awakening to the reality that many of our corporations are (and have been) leading us astray with phrases like “supermarket to the world” while importing more and more under “trade” treaties. With all of our corporate farming debacles, many countries will not accept our exports for reasons like GMO's or processing concerns.

America's food system has become unsustainable and there is more than enough blame to cast in all directions. The big question is, can it be turned around in time to prevent it from crashing like a house of cards?

Larger stores and bigger selections may have helped get us to where we are but simply reversing those trends will not be a solution. Our seasonal treats of yesteryear have become the culinary mainstays of the declining middle class. Farmers who took great pride in their goods on the farm now see disease and pestilence introduced in the processing and packaging plants. Corporate marketing gurus have persuaded us that only the perfect looking fruit or vegetable is worthy of purchase. These trends also need to be altered.

The way it is major food price rises are all but inevitable, which leaves us with only one good option – to change the way it is.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Photo Winner For July 10

There was at least one sharp eyed reader this week who then gave away the answer to the Facebook crowd. Congratulations to J W Thompson and the others who agreed. 

Yes, the location is from South Broadway looking north and the building on the right is the Reynolds building built in 1917.

The best that I can tell, this was right in front of Beckham Place, which was the passageway beside and access to the Southern Railway station. It therefore makes sense that Southeastern Express would have a presence (advertisement or physical) along this road, although I believe that this is a rooming house.

The intersections off to the left are in order Magazine, Hayman and Chair which are probably fairly familiar to many readers as the neighborhood of Country Boys Brewing. The intersection behind and to the right would, of course, be Scott St (nee Scott Ave) since having its name changed from Bowyer St. This was done when the connection was made to Scott from Limestone/Upper area.

Roszell's Feed and Grain elevator did not last much past this photo and was replaced with produce stands and chicken coops by the end of the decade. The building which houses the Tolly-Ho is some years away from being built.

The street railway tracks served two functions as the streetcar tracks went to the Red Mile/Fairgrounds and the interurban cars turned down Angliana Ave on their way to Versailles or the baseball park.

Below is the way that it looked last week

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Are We Planning For Real Change

Apparently seeing one of Google’s experimental, driverless cars driving or parking itself on a San Francisco street, is not all that unusual. So, can you imagine just how the widespread use of driverless autos might affect the city of Lexington? Would you be much different than the residents here in the late 1890s had they been told that horses could soon be a rare sight in city streets? How will you react when you first encounter an example of one?

With so many people working and thinking about this technology will our planners soon have to begin incorporating provisions for it? Most of our city's plans have been prepared as looking about 20 years into the future, yet history (our history) shows that our future is moving well faster than we have ever planned for. My favorite example is the plans to expand our former streetcar system in 1930 and within the decade the whole system was gone. Life moves a bit faster these days.

A common scenario for driverless cars is one where you don’t drive in circles looking for a parking spot because your car drops you off and then parks itself to await your call. From a current local viewpoint this is desirable since it is your car and you want it available when you need it. From the view of one from a more populous area, a taxi or car service can work better, hence the rise of Zipcar and Uber. 

For many in this country, an automobile is a mobile storage devise for their belongings and which takes them places.

Next, let us imagine that we will eschew the use of “personal” autos for the ease of use of driverless car services. The then common dream is that surface parking lots will become park or recreation areas. I find wildly unlikely unless it is a city owned lot and most are not. Parks are a revenue drain and not a revenue generator, therefore the bane of private investors. 

What do you expect to see happen to this property then? Can you squeeze a modern usage building on some of these oddly shaped lots without taking a few “historic” structures?

Shifting our attention to the streets themselves, many say that we will need far fewer traffic signals when both autos and the streets are equipped with sensors and can coordinate between each other. What does that do to the walkability of an area? Can we cross the street safely with out traffic signals if the driverless cars are zipping by nose to tail with each other?

On the one hand, streets can then be narrower if there is no need for on street parking, but narrower streets are a problem to some of our massive delivery vehicles. Until they develop a self unloading delivery vehicle I doubt that we will see a driverless one. Parking lane may disappear but the loading zone will be with us a while longer.

In our suburbs we can begin to eliminate the large expanses of parking at the shopping malls and big-box stores if the trips are made in neighborhood “pool car” which will drop you off and come to get you. (Kind of sounds like a circulatory bus without a driver doesn't it?) To what use will all of that land be put then?
May we also see the loss of the attached multi-car garages with their mostly blank panels or, worse yet, a gaping maw of an opening. Among many Millennials the auto as a status symbol is a foreign concept and it is becoming harder to sell them on it.

Speaking of selling things, how will they sell driverless car and to whom. 

It's no secret that car commercials are, by and large, fiction. Shiny cars roaring along empty city streets devoid of traffic jams. Not a traffic jam (or signal) in sight, just the joy of the open road for the driver. How can you get an exhilarating feeling if you are not driving? Will car commercials disappear like the cigarette one did but for different reasons?

How soon do you think that some kind of drastic change can come about? Above are just a few of the early changes that we could see should we adopt the driverless auto as quickly as we did the “horseless carriage”. Perhaps you have thought of something I left out. Drop me a line and tell me you thoughts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Weekly Photo July 4 Answer

Being a holiday weekend, I did not expect too many guesses and I gave a fairly simple photo.  I was not disappointed since nobody gave more than a half-hearted attempt.

This location, of course is the intersection of Kentucky Ave and Central in the Woodland subdivision.  The store at left was then known as the J.E. Botkin Meats and Grocery, though when I was growing up I knew it as Everett Jennings Real Estate office.  It has since been re-clad in brick and essentially re-built from the outside in.

The subdivision was originally platted in 1884 and at one time hosted the streetcar line as part of the loop with Woodland Ave one block over.  The older photo, taken in 1935, clearly shows that the line has been removed, probably due to the Woodland Auditorium being superseded by better venues.

As you can see very little has changed in terms of buildings and traffic.

Today's offering is not so easy.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pedestrian Aides In Lexington

I am continually looking at articles about city life, both in America and abroad. Lately, I have seen an increase in items about city benches and their relationship to city street vitality and pedestrian friendliness. Seems like sometimes folks just want to “sit a spell” or converse, while others are willing to just watch the world go by.

In Lexington, outside of a handful of locations downtown, street side benches and tables with chairs are reserved for the sidewalk cafe/patios of restaurants' patrons and generally made unusable outside of their operation hours. From what I have observed over 40+ years, any street furniture, which is usually a large part of all streetscape plan considerations, is slowly removed from the plans and from the streets.

It is often claimed that these benches and seating areas are being abused or misused, simply by being used by the “wrong type” of occupant or for longer time periods than typical use entails. That's right, the vagrants and “homeless” of our fair city are not the vitality which we want to see on our streets.

At least one group is looking at encouraging seating for pedestrians in one of our larger cities. is compiling a wiki-like database of locations where simple folks can sit and rest while shopping or sight seeing. Their philosophy is summed up from their web page:
As silly as it sounds, the opportunity to sit down is one of the great joys, if not necessities of urban living. Yet cities the world over fail to provide enough places for people to rest, socialize, or simply watch the world go by. We think this needs to change,                
So far, their data seems to only include lower Manhattan and some of Brooklyn, but it could be expanded to a national network. I would like to see Lexington on this list somehow. Can you imagine a simple bench like the one outside of the fictional Floyd's barber shop in Mayberry, R.F.D.?

As long as we are speaking of additions coming to our streets, let me bring up the Bourbon Barrel Project on Town Branch set for public display in September. It appears to be a bit different from the previous Horse Mania (both herd 1 & herd 2) and Doors displays which extended outside of downtown. These will be decorated, used Town Branch bourbon barrels all along the Town Branch Trail, including the portion proposed to be resurfaced. Hopefully this event will be as successful as in the past.

The past displays have occupied location of high pedestrian traffic volume and sometimes impeded that traffic just to get noticed. The places of their final standing are well out of the usual traffic pattern. I noticed the other day that one of the 2000 herd (on West Main St) was looking a tad weather-worn and the applied jewels were flaking off as eleven years of harsh winter weather have taken a toll.

Now, what if, in the coming years we could bring these two ideas a little closer together? We have seen what art installations and transit have in common and the public's desire for additional examples. Just suppose that an arts group was to design decorative seating to be placed where they can be used to the peoples advantage. Decorated as public art, used as a benefit and maintained as a public service.

Will LexArts think about doing an installation like this? Probably not. Will Lexington consider its pedestrian needs as the city continues to grow its urban core? Only time will tell. Do these things need to be discussed? I and apparently some other urban citizens certainly think so.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Last Week's Photo

There was just one response to the location of the weekly photo question and that came from Peter Brackney, a local lawyer, historian and blogger.  Peter, of course, recognized the distinctive house behind the little gas station since he drives Nicholasville Road every day.   

The labeling on the photo references J. S. Morton who was a local real estate agent and entrepreneur, formerly associated with Warfield Gratz.  He opened his own real estate office in January of 1926 at 108 Walnut St (now N. Martin Luther King).

In July of 1927, Morton recorded a plat for what he called the Morton Subdivision #2 on the Nicholasville Pike, outside of the then city limits.  There was on simple street running uphill from Nicholasville Rd which we now know as Hiltonia Park

The City had implemented zoning and created a Planning Commission a year earlier and shortly after applied those zoning rules to property in a buffer area adjacent to the existing city limits.  The County Fiscal Court also had to weigh in on such matters, so in July of 1930 Mr. Morton appeared before them to urge action since the sale of his lots hinged on the outcome.

The plat shows the traction, or interurban line, to Nicholasville which was removed in January of 1934.  The small gas station was placed in the former right of way, approximately in front of lot #6 (the house seen to the left).  You can see that power poles were on either side of the old interurban line in 1939.

The faint driveway apron seen on the extreme right of the photo is Suburban Ct, another residential development of the late '20s.

Today, of course, the Baptist Health Care hospital occupies the entire north side of this intersection and the Nicholasville Rd is five-laned but the distinctive little house on the corner is still there and a very good clue.

Monday, July 1, 2013

When Change Comes To The Neighborhood

One of the downsides of the steady progression new business opportunities, otherwise known as re-gentrification, in presently lower income residential parts of town is the impact of parking created by non-local clientele. It is evidencing itself along Jefferson St and, to some extent, North Limestone beyond Sixth St. On site off street parking is at a premium and on street parking can create neighborliness as well as safety issues.

Though I am not a beer drinker, I have been to the West Sixth Brewing building on several occasions and some of them were real “events”. Their expanding scope and number of symbiotic tenants in addition to other outside developments point to the need for more parking in the area, hopefully without raising the ire of local residents.

Let us hope that they will not follow examples from the past.

The University Plaza shopping center was built in the early '70s, just about the time that campus and city planners were looking at ways to relieve the central campus of through traffic by building wider new streets.

Cooper Dr was being connected, the Kirwan-Blanding towers complex built and University Dr was to continue on, bisecting the Clifton Heights/Aylesford subdivisions and following a widened Woodland Avenue to Main St. The neighborhood was declining and the University had its sights set on expanding eastward.

Euclid Avenue, and it continuation The Avenue of Champions, was to connect the growing Tates Creek Pike area with the then proposed roadway through Davis Bottoms and on toward Newtown Pike at its intersection at West Main St.

The intersection of a widened Euclid and a probably four-lane Woodland Avenue appeared to be prime real estate for a commercial center which would only grow larger with the added student population. The North – South Expressway was set to slice between the campus and downtown, Urban Renewal was moving ahead along Main and Vine and the “muscle car” age of the automobile was powering along. Nobody even saw the “gas crisis” of “73 until OPEC became a household word.

The University Plaza was also the site of a small dining/disco named the Library Lounge. A sedate restaurant during the day and a tight packed, meat market, dance club at night. It was a place that you could take your parents to lunch when they were in town, then tell them that your were spending your evenings at the library – implying that you were studying.

The limited parking, which is no better today, meant that patrons would park some 1 ½ to 2 blocks away and not blocking residential driveways was not always a top priority. Towing services sometimes had get creative in order to remove vehicles. Parking problems, the perceived need to drive there and the waning of disco led to the demise of the Library, while the roadway expansions faded into just memories.

There were numerous contentious encounters between the neighbors and the University Plaza/Library owners which don't seem to be occurring as yet on the North side of town. I doubt that many residents can fully comprehend the effect that the new BCTC campus will have on the neighborhood or what increased business will do to North Limestone and I am leaving out the concept of removing the one-way status.

Today's mass transit environment is vastly different that the '70s and even the taxi service is much improved. I also believe that efforts are being made to keep all parties involved in what is happening, yet still I can see evidence that elements of neighborhood resistance are present.

When dining with the family last Friday at County Club, I again noticed that the parking lot of the Pilgrim Baptist Church was gated and locked and streams of autos cruised by looking for a space to park. It is certainly within the purview of the church to control their property but to some it looks like an opportunity for revenue enhancement. Maybe this is will sort itself out over time as it has in many other locations and become a benefit for all concerned.