Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bringing Town Branch Topside

The downtown area of Lexington, Ky., population close to 300,000, is an attractive setting for the usual downtown elements these days – financial and other institutions, restaurants, bars, churches, specialty stores and government office-buildings. The area, established around 1775, was/is bisected by a small stream called the “Town Branch.” The stream perhaps was a problem for obvious reasons such as flooding and necessary bridges, so it was encapsulated in a tunnel before 1900, allowing for building and street-structure to take place on solid foundations without fear of being inundated.

There’s always a group in Lexington, apparently totally oblivious to history, which plugs for changes to make downtown “more attractive.” Last year, an architecture firm in Norway was engaged to “redo” Lexington, one of its ideas being to expose the waterway as something called a “linear park” that would openly slither its way through downtown. One can only wonder at the jack-hammering that would take place under all those buildings and streets to bring this off. You can’t make up this stuff.

One never ceases to be amazed at the irresponsibility, if not sheer stupidity, of government. The local solons have entered the city into a partnership with something called the Downtown Development Authority (sounds threatening enough) and something else called the Lexington Center Corporation in a push to get entities to submit ideas for this new “linear park,” which would, as one example among many, completely destroy the city’s widest, most easily traveled and busiest thoroughfare.

The mayor is on record as proclaiming that such a “linear park” would provide a great reason to work downtown, as if the workers had a choice in the first place. He also said this new and exciting “linear park,” of necessity being something unique – water, would bring business and residents downtown, or provide for folks to forsake the suburbs, visit and have fun.

There are already many venues, large and small, for entertainment, as well as apartment buildings, just like in every city, but this water extravaganza – at least in non-flood season – would simply enhance everything…fun, especially, as if the downtown and all the rest of the city were not already covered over with bars/joints of both high and low esteem.

After all the “ideas” are in, this partnership will then – yep, you guessed it – engage an urban-design firm. This is a quote by a mover-and-shaker in the Lexington Herald Leader of 26 September: “We are not looking for construction drawings right now but for ideas of what could be imagined, either a re-interpretation of Town Branch or a renovation of Town Branch.

How one might re-interpret a small stream into anything but a small stream seems problematic, as well as how one might renovate it. Cleaning it? Yeah…but it would still be a small stream.

One wonders about the connection between ideas and imaginations, which seem to be about the same thing. Another pooh-bah, president of something called the Fayette Alliance, according to the H-L, remarked the possibility of economic development potential “in improving the quality of life needed to attract knowledge-based professionals and retirees essential for the prosperity and growth of Lexington.

Exactly what is a knowledge-based professional as compared to a plain, ol’ professional? Maybe only the Shadow knows. Could it be that the professionals who run the government may not be (gasp) knowledge-based, operating on instinct only? That seems quite possible. One wonders how the retirees fit into the “essential” picture. Maybe by bringing their pensions downtown and fomenting prosperity thereby?

The elitists who come up with this stuff are a pain. A few years ago, the Commission actually voted once to close Vine Street, the most important street in the downtown. The second reading to make it official never took place, so loud was the outcry. That was about the time somebody (maybe the architecture department at the university) dreamed up a “linear topside park” in the middle of Vine Street amongst the 18-wheelers and city buses. Didn’t happen.

Most recently, the elitists have pushed to make the one-way streets into two-way streets, the better to absolutely guarantee traffic gridlock on narrow streets laid out in the horse-and-buggy days and consequently totally unsusceptible to reconfiguration without knocking down a bunch of multi-storied buildings and tearing up sidewalks…get the picture? The outcry over this has been long and hard, not to mention over the bother and delay connected to parking-garages and the cost of using them as well as feeding on-street meters.

There was a day when the hub of every community large and small was “downtown.” This was the case until well after WWII. Even grocery stores were downtown, as well as those offering clothing, hardware – just about everything. That time has long since passed as populations expanded communities and made it necessary for entrepreneurs to set up where the people lived, not where gridlock stared them in the face, and toting groceries to the fifth level seemed unseemly.

So…there goes another slug of tax-money that could be better used than paying someone to violate the serenity of Town Branch, a perfectly innocent and quiet body of water.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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