Saturday, December 12, 2015

If It Is Coming, We Need To Plan For It

Nearly every major car maker in America and several large technology firms are racing to develop vehicles that can operate with limited-to-no human interaction. Driver-less cars are on the horizon. Some say within 20 years.

If that is the case, then the auto industry will take a dramatic turn from selling to the individual to selling to transportation service providers. As young professionals across the Western world are discovering, it is extremely more convenient to summon a form of transportation than to concern ones self about where and how to store or maintain an expensive automobile. To Millenials, the automobile is not the freedom device it was to their parents and much more costly than their current freedom device, their smart phone/tablet.

With that in mind, I would like to know just how cities like Lexington are beginning to plan for streets full of such driverless autos. 

I can see one scenario where more and more commuters choose to use an automated form of transit (not the flying cars from the science fiction movies of the '50s) like a driverless car to carry them downtown in the morning and make a return pick up in the evening. They need not bother about a designated parking spot nor the questionable safety of the trek to the garage. How would this affect the look and feel of downtown Lexington?

Many of the comments I have received on this blog have dealt with the need for downtown residents to have their personal, and private, parking. The primary reasons stated are the need for a car to leave downtown for the weekly shopping trip or other amenities not currently found downtown. I feel that the age range for these folks will fall squarely in the Baby Boomer set, still enamored with the freedom of a set of wheels.

Too many times I have read the projections of planners who looked at past trends and fell short of the impact of a cultural or social shift, or the media pundits who forecast rosy urban developments which falter due to local/global economic situations. They are fun to read when they do both with different aspects of several connected elements of society.

I do not think that it is too soon to begin monitoring the possible shifts in parking demand in he suburbs. Reports from this past Black Friday shopping frenzy lead one to believe that the parking fields of many malls and commercial centers fell far from crowded. The use of land-use related parking minimums are being rethought by more communities than Lexington.

Those same parking shifts could tell an even better story for downtown. Without the need for one to store an automobile for up to 8 hours a day, how many of our current surface parking lots would pay for themselves in daily revenue? How many more of these lots can, and should, be put to better use?
From my memory and experience, the local community has not planned for potential uses of demolished buildings, citing the lack of jurisdiction due to it being “private property” yet requiring permission to erect anything in its place. History has shown us that the “stop gap” measure of allowing a temporary parking lot is anything but – temporary.


In the suburbs, life without an auto will present many new challenges. These same people who find commuting to work easier may also wish to use a different sized driverless vehicle to take the family to the park, pool or the movies. Weekly shopping trips may also be accomplished with similar ease. What should not be necessary, in the long run, is the large ocean of parking around even the simplest of shopping developments.

Is someone now looking at what alternative configurations may be possible for the existing commercial areas? The current B-6P zoning classification is considered a “Planned Shopping Center” zone, with its own set of minimum parking requirements. Widespread use of driverless vehicles, increased online shopping (with drone delivery) or even major enhancements to the existing mass transit system can render those requirements obsolete in just a few years. A forward looking community should have a concept of what an alternative could look like.

Staging Areas 
At the point that driverless cars become as prevalent as as anticipated above, the sheer number of such vehicles would mean a systematic and strategic set of maintenance and staging facilities. Today's family car gets a somewhat limited amount of daily use, roughly 1-3 hours out of 24. A fleet of driverless vehicles could go from one assignment to another almost 24/7, much like the fire and emergency fleet does currently. They will need the typical refueling and maintenance but at a higher frequency interval. 
Does this bode well for the once ubiquitous service stations, now convenience stores? Which zone would be best for such a facility? Following in the footsteps of VHS vs Beta, Apple vs Microsoft and Uber vs Lyft, will there be competing versions of driverless systems out there?

Auto dealers
Then there is the whole question of dealing with the usually unsavory task of shopping for a car. Will it be a new car or a used car, will you go for all of the bells and whistles as add-ons, 2-door or four,and will you take the luxury car path? All of these questions may become moot save for the hold outs of the 1% who already have drivers employed. An interesting story from the Tech Insider on the shift in car ownership may be found here.
It may not be right around the corner and it may take a while to fully get here, but the whole concept of planning is to look to the future and its possibilities. From what I read, of the 50 largest US cities only 6% of cities’ transportation plans consider the potential effect of driverless technology. Their land-use plans are probably also lagging as far behind as well.

I, and many other Baby Boomers, may not ever buy one or even use one very often but the say that they are coming. Our technology developers are planning for and I don't think that our urban planners are.

I am open for any comments.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Alternate Downtown Nightlife?

Saturday night, Mrs Sweeper and I took our 23rd anniversary dinner at Shakespeare & Co's downtown location. Good food, a few drinks and a comfortable atmosphere in a downtown that we love. I hope for at least 23 more years with her.

As part of our dinner conversation, a question arose as to what someone new to Lexington, say a visitor who had arrived just past 6 p.m. or so, would look to do as an after dinner activity. We decided to try and see just what was happening in downtown at about 8:30 on December 5th.

We walked East on Short Street past several storefronts and other closed doorways. Past some surface parking, two other eateries with TVs on and an office or two (closed). East of Mill, saw more closed offices, two restaurants, a pub with TVs (and bar food), a well lit up Pavilion (mostly unused) and more surface parking. Some more shuttered offices and a former court house patiently awaiting some tender loving care took us to Upper St. Shorty's taproom and a calm Upstart Crow were all that were open on the next block and we took a turn toward Main. Two bars with lots of TVs, a quiet court house plaza and a closed hot dog place and we rounded the corner and headed back to Broadway.

Main St was very quiet with Thai food and many closed storefronts, some silent cranes keeping watch, a bar waiting the evening crowd and a 21c hotel rounding into shape. From Upper to Cheapside looked dead as a doormouse on Christmas. Forward to Mill and we passed a quiet office building and a basement bar (with TVs). From here to Broadway, we saw two people dining and little else. The Square was fairly active (I actually saw a few shoppers in the Urban Outfitters), lots of diners and a busy set of valet parking drivers.

We then looped back by crossing the street after walking to the Roastery (closed) and walked through Triangle Park noting that the skaters only had about a month left to be on ice. Once winter really set in the rink will be long gone. Crossing Broadway at Vine, we strolled up to Main and saw a bar with many TVs and a quiet hotel restaurant. Again very quiet on Main to Mill, but walking up Mill gave us nearly 50% storefront activity.

After about an hour I think we had our answer; dining and drinking and after you have done the first, you can only do the other. And watch TV.

I know what I would be doing if I were in my 20s and unmarried but we all cannot stay that way. I will take suggestions on things to do over the next few months.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Does The Future Hold For Phoenix Park?

As of the end of November, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government now owns all of Phoenix Park.

What? Did you just ask me to explain myself?

Phoenix Park is a park which has been there since 1985, first as a temporary park of landscaping and walkways wandering through the back-filled corner property, and then made permanent. The downtown park where we chose to locate our VietNam War memorial alongside a representation of an urban stream. The park where we have placed eternal flame monuments for our fallen peace officers and firefighters. How could we do all of that if we did not own it?

Well, we did own some of it, just not all of it. Now we own all of it.

On April 5, 1985, the State of Kentucky sold the front portion of the area we now know as Phoenix Park to the City. This sale came with a restrictive covenant wherein the LFUCG could only use the property as a public park. The City had for months before been working to make this property presentable for the NCAA Final Four at Rupp Arena that year. Such work had been done on a perpetual easement granted by the State on the remaining property.

So, great, as long as we have an easement things are smooth sailing, right?

Smooth, until the State decides to consider the property surplus. KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes) 45A.045(4) grants the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet the authority to determine that the property is more suitable to the public's interest if utilized in another manner. If so, then the property may be sold.

Utilized in another manner? It has been a cherished park for 30 years now, what other use would part of it be put to? A chain sandwich shop just spent a lot of money opening a storefront onto this park, now what?

Official Order 15-134 from the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet has declared the property surplus and directed disposition toward the LFUCG. Great, now it can stay as a park for all of the city to enjoy.

Wait a minute, what is this in the paperwork? Whereas the LFUCG proposes to “utilize the property for a public purpose only, to wit, for the purpose of creating vehicular parking...” Wait a minute, vehicular parking? In Phoenix Park? Where? How?

Remember, this is only the part that the State retained with the easement for the park purposes. But, does the downtown, walkable park really need vehicular parking to operate and maintain it? After 30 years?

Also, the State, in disposing of this property to the LFUCG, included the prior property transferred some 30 years previous “only for the purpose of releasing the restrictive covenant requiring Parcel 14 to be utilized as a public park”. A replacement restrictive covenant requiring Parcel 14 for a public purpose only, including but not limited to vehicular parking. Again with the vehicular parking. Now allowed on all of the Phoenix Park property.

This parking shall be available at all times for use by the general public. Well at least it did not say that it was free parking, just general parking.

Okay, so there is going to be public parking on the Phoenix Park property. How would you arrange it? Will they place some back-in angled spaces along the north side of Water St so that the Panera delivery folks do not have so far to walk to their vehicles? Will it be angled pull-in parking instead? How will this aid the purpose of operating or maintaining the existing park?

There must be more to come.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lexington Looks To Improve Their Public Spaces --- Again

I cannot hide the fact that I want more walkable spaces in Lexington, even in the area considered the most walkable – downtown. Therefore, I participated in the Gehl Studios Public Space Public Life study done for the Lexington DDA this past summer. I took part in the two initial session where the questions about where the places of most interest are and what Lexingonians want in their public spaces. I not only gave my opinions but also watched as others worked to give theirs and to appropriately show locations on an aerial photo. More than a few had some trouble.

I also attended two similar versions of a presentation on the results of the study and was quite surprised by the way the data was depicted. It took me a few additional days to finally see the final study maps for a detailed perusal.

Favorite places

The initial step in the study was to gather base data and basically confirm some apparently global social desires for public spaces.

The first set of points mapped was to show where the respondents go today and for which of 4 reasons they go. This to highlight the current hot spots of urban activity as it relates to public space. The obvious and usual places jump right out at you: Jefferson Street, Triangle Park, Cheapside Pavilion, Gratz Park and the Court House Plaza. These are what I consider our current “pockets” of urban vitality.

Some others are not so logical either from their location or for the listed reason for going there. The cluster of 11 or so dots in the center of the CentrePointe “hole” indicates that some want to spend more time there – today-. An additional 8 or so indicate that they go to socialize on that block of Vine St without any public attraction apparent there. Similar groupings of markers in the Cox St parking lot for Rupp Arena or the rock strewn lot across from the Thoroughbred Park on Main St raise major question about the usefulness of this as “baseline”data. The points concerning Thoroughbred Park itself could be a whole question to be answered later.

From the responses of what Lexingtonians like to see in public spaces (here and elsewhere) and the mapped “hot-spots” of their favorites, ten key focus areas were identified. Again the obvious ones predominate. Jefferson St, Gratz Park, Short St, Cheapside Pavilion, North Lime (up to 3rd St) and Thoroughbred Park on the north side of Main St. Triangle Park, Phoenix Park, South Limestone (at campus) and the Transit Center on the south side. As an aside, only three people indicated the Transit Center structure as a “favorite” place and they may have been misplaced.

Movement between our favorite places

The next step was to measure when and how we move between these hot-spot or “pockets” on a typical day. Using volunteers to count solely the pedestrians as they took to the streets on their daily routines, maps were generated showing hourly levels of foot traffic.

The weekday locations of maximum traffic did not surprise me, nor should it anyone else. The Short/Limestone intersection and the Transit Center /Ayres Al connection (or lack thereof) dominated the morning and evening commute time frames. Main and Short Streets from Limestone to beyond Broadway held the top area during the lunchtime hours followed by the university heavy dining choices of South Limestone restaurants. The happy hour foot traffic centered on South Lime, Main/Broadway and Jefferson St in that order.

Pedestrian traffic between any identified “pockets” is minimal to non-existent. Knowing this and seeing that the data confirm it may lead to another study, but that is what I thought would be covered in this one.

The weekend locations again surprise no one. In fact their beginning time frame is the “morning market” when the primary traffic of any kind will be focused on the weekly Lexington Farmers Market event which has held dominance in downtown for many years. The numbers for Thoroughbred Park look to be at their highest at this time and despite the claims of desires to spend more time there, they. barely make the chart. Lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon should typically find most of the activity around the dining places on the west side of Limestone and the campus hangouts of South Lime and the realization that Jefferson St barely moves the needle until after 5pm is interesting.

Again the pedestrian movement between these “pockets” is lacking.

To compare Lexington to other US cities might seem a bit presumptuous but, at its peak even Short ST is on par with other business districts. That it cannot hold that pedestrian count for any sustained amount of time tells a different story. This study does freely admit that we have definite peaks and lulls but says nothing about the relative distances of the compared districts.

Pedestrian conclusions

Some of the most notable conclusion which were drawn from the collected data are:
  • 1) that very few people downtown are willing to walk to work.
  • 2) that the greatest downtown pedestrian volume is at lunchtime.
  • 3) that the pedestrian activity comes in bursts (usually accompanied with sponsored events).
  • 4) that without the events, the pedestrians go away.
  • 5)that families do not spend non-event time strolling through the downtown.
But the top conclusion was:
that people will stay downtown after work and party, get this, around the Pavilion and usually with an event. 

What is missing from any conclusion is the recognition that pedestrian traffic on Vine Street, other than at the Transit Center is minimal at best. Yet is where the City has spent a lot of money in the recent past

Anybody even remotely cognizant of downtown could come up with this conclusion without hiring a consultant.

Passive public recreation figures.

In terms of what a typical downtown visitor does when one gets to a public space, Gehl Studios measured the ratio of those who lingered to those who passed by. This was labeled as “stickiness” and looks at where they did linger but not totally identifies the why of the lingering.

On a typical weekday one out of every two pedestrians took time to linger in both Gratz and Phoenix parks followed by Thoroughbred Park with one out of three, but the pedestrian numbers for Phoenix dwarfed the other two. Of the 3 sites, I can find little reason to stay at any of them.

North Limestone at 1 out of 4, South Limestone with 1 out of 7 and Jefferson St showing 1 out of 15 all share the same characteristic, the public realm in each is the sidewalk which connects drinking/dining establishments there. I think that the Jefferson St ratio is skewed due to the number of elderly from Connie Griffith Manor out for a walk around the block.

Triangle Park holds one out of every 38 passers by on a typical weekday and one out of 19 on the weekends. Unless there is an event in the park, there is little reason to pause for any length of time. The park neither engages the street nor fully isolates the seeker of passive free time from the sounds of major city traffic. One cannot find respite from the hot summer sun nor the brisk spring and autumn breezes and while the soothing sounds of the tumbling water may bring comfort to the mind it does not mask reality. What becomes quite evident from the numbers is that despite the claims of being “favorite” places, Thoroughbred and Triangle Parks are not very popular. Symbolic and visually striking, but not gathering spots for Lexington.

Four guiding strategies

After the collection of numbers, the visualizations of the actions of our pedestrians versus the expressed desires of interested parties and the discovery of the lack of retention elements of our public saces, the Gehl Studios group put out 4 strategies to guide further work.

To begin with, we need a “people first” urban core. With that I agree. That is not to say we need to remove automobile traffic altogether, but to limit its domination of all forms of urban traffic. Pedestrians should get priority at major intersections and through town vehicular traffic should be discouraged.

Then a bridging of our north-south divide by not just strengthening our Limestone and Jefferson corridors, but Martin Luther King and Rose/Elm Tree Lane as well. Our focus need not be just on the west side of Limestone. The report says to 'prioritize sidewalk improvements' and that should not be limited to additional paving but more and better retail engagement to whatever pavement that currently exists.

We must also begin to use what we have, our existing resources. It was acknowledged that all of our “great” destination style public spaces are not well connected. That these spaces need to be easily accessible and imbued with something to invite and hold a visitors interest. Attempts at better way-finding signage are being made but we must do more. It is suggested that an increase in diverse and more dramatic programming, with extended hours could be the answer, but there is an expense to that.

Filling in the gaps, those basically dead pedestrian segments, seems to roll all of the other strategies into a culminating objective for downtown. Many of these gaps are extended lengths of monochromatic wall or surface parking lots where retail formerly stood. Main St and Vine St are of particular note in having more of this dead space, even where the former retail spaces remain but the engagement with the sidewalk/pedestrian is missing. No amount of streetscape redesign or rain gardens will solve this.

Next, I think will look at the several “pilot” projects which have been proposed. Until then, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Raising Of "Chicago Bottoms" - Or So We Hope

I have been watching the area along Corral Street for several years, basically since they tore down the old City Hall and the Clark Street jail. With all the barren surface parking and treeless streetscape, there is little reason for many people to go there. I guess that much of the property on the south side of Corral is just waiting for the Central Christian Church to expand their religious campus.

This part of downtown used to be a hive of activity with the daily hum of city officials , court attendees and the bill payers going to the offices of the local telephone and gas companies on nearby corners. Pedestrian traffic was so heavy that there was a stoplight required at the intersection of Walnut (now MLK) and Barr. Thirty years later, this volume of activity is merely a memory to some of us.

Back when the Council was discussing the food truck issue, many of the “bricks and mortar” restaurants were pushing strongly for Corral St to be a primary location in which to place these trucks. It made no sense to me, as this is such a distant walk from anywhere people downtown currently frequent. What the street needs is something to draw activity to the area other than the regular movement of street people from Phoenix Park to the Lighthouse Ministries or the Catholic Action Center.

One good thing to happen in the area was the recent Louis Armstrong mural, with its bright, vibrant colors. It does strike me that he is looking back over his shoulder toward a section of town hich was called “Chicago Bottoms”. The housing is long gone now but the streets used to be lined with small shotgun shacks and a few rough and tumble bars. Spruce and Second Sts had some particularly deadly bars, about 80 years ago.

Neglect and the addition of downtown support businesses may have cleared the area but it sure wasn't gentrification and displacement by the trendy spots as we have seen elsewhere. Lexington's young professionals tend to shy away from here, but that is about to change.

Over the last five years or so, an LLC by the name of Lexington MLK (since changed to Urban 221 LLC) has bought up a little over 1.6 acres on N Martin Luther King, between Corral and Wickliffe, and looked to be repairing the old Columbia Gas Office. A Robert McMeekin designed structure from the early '30s, it is still in fairly good shape and solidly built. Alas, it appears that they could find no new use for the beautiful corner building.

Plans I saw today show a five story apartment building, with ground floor structured parking and providing 150 residential units. The building envelope sets right on the existing property and right-of-way lines to the extent that it will crowd the street a little more than probably necessary. Though its access is from Corral, I believe that it will front primarily on Martin Luther King but could certainly command the full corner beautifully.

I hear that these unit will be targeted toward the young urban professionals that we call the Millenials. Quite different from the single room occupancy units on the other end of Corral. One good point is the ground floor space available for amenities, but I understand that it may extend only to exercise rooms and a “dog spa”. Hardly something which can bring street front activity during the day when the residents are away working or sustain it into the evening.

All in all, I find the proposal encouraging for the area. Will Sayre School follow along with something on their parking lot? Or will the Central Christian Church fill out the other corner with an urban use which is compatible? I hate to lose a dignified building that we have, but there is much to gain and this area can use it. We have a chance to begin something nice on MLK (there is another LLC acquiring land up the block) so lets start out correctly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What Is A Serious Cyclist?

I had a friend use the term “serious cyclist” in relation the the author of an cycling based op-ed piece in the Herald Leader this morning. Telling me that he has ridden hundreds, if not thousands, of miles with her over the years, I would guess that many of these rides were for pleasure and mainly on rural back roads. Her premise is that the City has done much for expanding the number and quality of bike lanes in Lexington and the cyclists have responded well.

Primary in her thoughts seems to be this paragraph.
“There are many reasons to promote increasing bike use. We all have experienced the inconvenience of having a road widened, only to find that once opened there seems to be more traffic and longer delays than ever. One bike means one less car. Ten people commuting to work or going shopping by bike translates to 10 fewer cars in front of you at the traffic light and 10 more parking spaces. Having more bike lanes makes it easier to reach bus stops, resulting in more bus riders, further reducing congestion.”
Each of these reasons is straight from the motorist wish list of wider and more convenient roads or the hope of less demand, as long as that reduction of attributed to someone else removing themselves. Apparently, the addition of more cycling facilities will driving so much easier for the the “serious” motorist.

I, of course, did not see any mention of additional bike parking, whether it be covered or not, at the many new entertainment and dining facilities which we have opened and planned. It does not speak to the lack of enforcement of the numerous traffic violations committed by cyclists in this and many other cities. Limited by space, it could not detail cycling instruction in the proper use of sharrows and bike lanes by parents or others.

I bring this up because I was a serious cyclist in some decades past. I was not he type that bought the special shoes or the Lycra shorts and shirts to zip through the countryside. I commuted to work every day, rain or shine, at a job with this City. First from a little over a mile and a half each way and extending to over three before dropping back to right about 1. My rule of thumb was, +15 degrees F and cleared streets meant a good ride into work and back. Several thousand miles a year and little of it on back roads and countryside.

I, maybe, did not consider myself a “serious” cyclist but a non-driver. An unlicensed adult who chose not to join the ranks of the baby-boom brigade of sprawl settlers charging out into the suburbs. I was a Pre-Millenial who chose to live as close to downtown as possible and in the walkable / bikeable streetcar suburbs of old.

To friends and co-workers, I was the oddball who didn't drive and may need a ride once in a while. Cycling was, to me, not only a form of commuting but a way to get a sense of the community somewhat different from my colleagues. I did bring a fresh view to some of the neighborhood discussions.

For over 20 years, as one who's responsibility is was to maintain Lexington's maps, I not only added new streets and parcels but cycled about 95% of them in doing so. Some folk could call that being serious about it.

Now I wonder, what constitutes a “serious” motorist?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Is Low Power Community Radio In The Future?

I am not always in favor of a lot of the ideas floated by the established movers and shakers of Lexington.  Some of the latest could include the re-branding of Rupp Arena or the day-lighting of Town Branch.  These are fairly expensive undertakings and funded by the typical taxpayer.

Tonight, Mrs Sweeper and I attended a work session on training radio producers and developers of programing for WLXL and/or WLXU.  These are Lexington's new low-power community radio stations due to go on the air this fall.  Their whole non-profit concept is to be as different from "commercial" radio as my blog  is to actual news reporting and their programing aims to reflect that.

They are looking for ideas from folks that you just don't see on radio today.  Say that you knew how to explain something in such a way that one didn't need to visually see you do it to understand exactly how it is done.  That could be interesting, not to a commercial audience, but someone could be listening.  Maybe a call in show about a topic which you may be knowledgeable of.  It could be interesting.

Almost 8 years ago, when I began toying with the idea of collecting my thoughts on paper, or in digital bits, I was of the impression that few would ever see any merit in reading them.  My banter with others on some of the local online forums quickly became confrontational and antagonistic on some of the most trivial issues.  If I stuck to subjects to which I had good knowledge and experience, or if I presented just my observations, those problems went away.  Today, I continue to meet people who say that they read this blog on a regular basis and I still wonder why.

This blog began as a way to relate my observations about local happenings, sometimes with a little lesser known background that was not fully reported in the regular media.  Newspaper articles and columns do tend to gloss over (or omit) relevant details and connections to similar or past events.  Reporter turnover amid the ongoing downsizing of main stream media really hurts institutional memory.  I sought to correct that.

By not remembering or reporting what had happened and how it related to events popping up as breaking news, quite a number of our young professionals (who were taking much interest in our downtown) did not get the complete story.  I wanted to connect the dots.

I still wish to engage in some sort of dialogue about these observations, but the blog seems to discourage that.  Facebook enables and facilitates more of a running conversation that the comments section of a  blog, so lately I have spent a lot of time there.  Unfortunately, the corporate face of Facebook hates the use of nom de plumes on their accounts, therefore even those conversational adventures are less exciting than they were.

I have also diversified some of the subject matter and educated myself on topics other than development and history, the current status of rail transportation, food sovereignty and relocalized sustainability of living.  Most of today's observations have many more dots to connect.  So many dots, so little time.

This evening, I have begun to ponder- Can a blog such as this translate to a community radio segment?  Can it be more?   

Maybe time will tell.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lexington To Fully Enbrace Community Supported Agriculture?

I am a big fan of CSAs, as in Community Supported Agriculture.  We have looked at joining a CSA for several years but most have required a substantial payment before the growing season begins and it just wasn't in the budget at the time.  This year things were different.

We have joined an alternative style of CSA called the New Roots Fresh Stop.  It is designed for those of more limited means and works more like a subscription farmers market.  Our farmer knows that a certain number of members will be arriving on the delivery days and buying the bi-weekly agreed upon quantity of what they need. Each family will be getting a different variety of produce. 

This CSA plus whatever we can harvest from our own garden and our work with Seedleaf will be worth whatever we have put into it.

On the other hand, I believe that there is another aspect of community supported agriculture and that pertains to the encouragement of neighborhood community gardens and the ability of a neighborhood to feed itself.  Every family in Lexington needs to realize food security through local food access.

Lexington has worked with Seedleaf, a local non-profit, which teaches about and operates small plots of neighborhood gardens, especially in our local food deserts.  It now appears that Lexington is creating an ordinance to promote and regulate not only community gardens but also what they are calling "market gardens".  The stated primary purpose of private, community and market gardens is to promote sustainable and affordable local food production for local consumption.

Market gardens would be defined as "an area of lane less than five (5) continuous acres in size for the cultivation of food and/or non-food crops by an individual or a group of individuals to be sold on-site or off-site for profit.  Think about that for just a minute.  A neighborhood could develop a parcel or group of parcels, not just as a garden to feed themselves but a way to raise funds to make the garden sustainable over the long haul. This will change the concept of local foods for many people.

While the market gardens are allowed on-site sale facilities the community gardens are not.  I see no reason that some sort of cooperative agreement could not be reached where the market garden sales site may sell produce from one or more community gardens.  

Provisions are also made for up to 15% of a community garden site to be covered with accessory structures  Accessory structures are identified as storage sheds, hoop houses, trellises for shade, picnic tables and benches.  Add the possibility of a fire pit or a grill and we could realize the truth of "farm to table" right in the community garden with your neighbors.

I also like the inclusion of permitting such gardens within a FEMA floodplain as long as one meets all the regulations on slope and existing vegetation retention.  There are several locations which are currently quite underutilized and their neighborhoods could benefit from a community garden or two.

The information I have referenced here is only in draft form but I think that it is far enough along to bring to you.  I am happy that we are actually moving toward a reasonable food policy which allows a sense of food access and food security.  If you feel as I do, please let your Council representative know that we need this to come to pass.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Thinking About Lexington's Urban Public Spaces

I spent some time this morning participating in an exercise identifying elements of downtown living for the Gehl Studio and DDA.

About 30 of us first discussed what we thought were distinctive parts of images from around the world. Photos of all types, taken of generally urban scenes, can give subtle clues to what people like (or dislike) about public spaces. By identifying which of these desirable parts we like, they can then be compared to those sites in Lexington which have them or really need them.

It did not strike me as odd that the common activity areas were delineated, nor that these will probably be surveyed further for more detailed responses. What was missing was the failure to question why other parts of our city may lack what we apparently desire. In other words, how do we direct street activity, both retail and pedestrian, to the “dead zones” of urbanity.

In my mind, such urban dead zones can be the usual surface parking which has commonly replaced the former fabric of downtown structures lost to neglect. They may also be the missing civic elements of neighborhoods where vast swaths of nearly identical housing limit the availability of many desirable elements identified above. If desirable elements attract activity, how can the encourage them where they are lacking?

I hope that much more can come out of this and that there is more community involvement in the coming months. I will be keeping an eye on the progress.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Can We Get A Farming Community Subdivision?

Anybody know what an “agrihood” is?

If you do, would you expect to see on in Lexington any time soon?

It has long been known that the best place to build a subdivision is also the best location for farming but seldom have the two uses successfully coexisted, much less symbiotically, in American cities. In Central Kentucky, the historical trend has been to clear an agricultural property of all vestiges of its previous use, then name the development for what used to be there. To do otherwise goes against all rules of subdivision design and development. Agrihoods bend those rules into the symbiotic relationship of pioneer days.

They seem to be a growing item in other parts of the country. One of the latest agrihoods, Willowsford, is being planned in northern Virginia and will include about 2,130 units plus 2,000 acres of open space. 300 of those open space acres will be reserved for the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, chickens, and goats.

You could look at this as similar to a subdivision built around a golf course. Think Andover or Griffin Gate, where the links were built first and the prime housing units looked out onto the fairway or the 18th green. In this case, the view over the back fence is of a tilled field in the community farm. Instead of golf, the amenity which draws these homeowners is the benefit of fresh food within walking distance. Their own CSA or farmers market in the backyard where they can participate or not.

Developers are counting on fresh veggies to tempt retired baby boomers looking to eat local and parents intent on nurturing children on organic meals. DMB has integrated produce fields and edible gardens into their projects in Arizona, California, and Hawaii. I cannot see Ball Homes doing such a concept here, but why not build our community one farm at a time?

Agrihoods have been around since the 1980s with the 359-home Prairie Crossing development being a widely acclaimed conservation community in Grayslake, Illinois outside Chicago. The Prairie Crossing Farm with its working organic farm, was one of the first parts of the community to be established and remains at its heart. 

Will agrihoods be affordable housing for the Millennial who is looking for the walkable, vibrant city life that we generally of as downtown? Maybe not. Willowsford’s farm, in northern Virginia, runs at a deficit for now but is expected to break even by about 2018 as more residents, local restaurants, and markets purchase its food. Housing units are running about $6K+ at this time and only about 500 are built. This can still be considered sprawl despite having two community centers with demonstration kitchens for wine tastings, culinary classes or pop-up restaurants.

Do you ever wonder just how many of the residents actually join to play golf at those country club type communities? My personal feeling is that the number is not that high. I find the thought of living adjacent to a working farm, with its aromas and activities, far more alluring than being on a golf course with its errant projectiles and chemical grooming methods. Establishing and maintaining a community farm can run about 20% as much as doing the same with a golf course.

The key to correctly maintaining a good golf community is finding and retaining a qualified golf professional. Likewise, having a knowledgeable farmer, willing to assist the community's residents and follow sustainable farming practices, will go a long away toward success. I suppose that an agrihood could be branded as a ”Kentucky Proud” community just as well as a golf course community on a PGA Tour.