Friday, February 08, 2013

Lexington Boondoggle

The Town Branch project now has an official plan, though it’s doubtful that many think it will ever come to initiation, much less fruition. Apparent cheerleader for the effort is H-L columnist Tom Eblen, but even he, on 03 February, spoke of it as possibly symbolic, whatever that means. He also mentioned that three of the plan’s six presenters to a jury of deciders were women – perhaps making it more feasible?

Eblen said naysayers (translated as realists) would claim the endeavor to be “impractical, unaffordable, and frivolous, [but] it is none of that.” It’s all of that, of course, especially when the city can’t even straighten out its pension-problems and is always on the edge of bankruptcy. Eblen claimed the compelling argument was not esthetic but economic, thus attracting people and investment dollars. Easy access, parking and movement, aesthetic or otherwise, are what attract visitors and dollars.

As quoted in the paper of 05 February, Jeff Fugate, head of the Downtown Development Authority, said the plan was “aspirational” but doable. Aspirational? Essentially, it does away with parking lots in favor of parking garages, hated by everyone. For some strange reason, the vehicle bridge on MLK is recommended to be replaced by a pedestrian bridge. Why is foot traffic between Main and High that important and why excise a well-used street, leaving motorists to greater frustration? Why put a tree-boulevard in the middle of Vine Street, thus ruining it as a traffic facility?

Eblen mentioned in the 03 February article that Louisville and gridlock-cursed Atlanta are sinking funds into some sort of recreational areas AROUND those cities (trails and appropriate amenities), not in and through them to help their downtowns draw crowds and investments. This makes a certain sense, assuming anything needs doing in the first place, at least as far as recreation is concerned and noting that Lexington already has many parks, some of them, like Woodland, fairly large.

Urban renewal was a big thing in Lexington in the 1960s and has remained so. This is when the train tracks were removed downtown, the old depot was razed and New Circle came online. The understanding then was that downtown was set up for institutions, restaurants, specialty stores, entertainment, offices and badly needed parking-areas, while people in outlying areas (most of the population) needed easy access to all destinations, including downtown and involving some of the same entities as well as housing and office/retail outlets, for which private investors financed their own parking facilities.

With further planning such as one-way streets, the downtown was made much more accessible and attractive, though parking has always been and remains a problem. The architecture is anything but ugly. The area is supposed to be service-friendly, not a playground, though there’s plenty of green-space downtown. Trees usually become a nuisance, not least because they litter and are not well-kept.

If recreation and parks are serious considerations, Lexington, imitating Louisville and Atlanta, might consider establishing an around-the-city-trail or a large outlying park such as in using the joined areas of Jacobson Park and Lakeside Golf Course, especially since Lexington has a surfeit of golf courses and would not suffer in losing one. Jacobson Park includes 216 acres, while the golf course covers another 185 acres, a total of 401 acres, roughly the size of 400 football fields or an area roughly 180 times the size of the CentrePoint “pasture” downtown.

That area includes a sizeable body of water that’s good for both paddle-boating and fishing, whereas floating vessels would be impossible on any part of Town Branch brought to the surface. Instead, there would be a constant need for removing trash and keeping the area from becoming like Phoenix Park, an often unattractive haven for whatever or whomever.

Being a naysayer is not being against progress. There have been grandiose plans deserving of naysayers, especially those offered by the university architecture gang, for a couple decades or so to revert downtown to pre-urban renewal status (like closing Vine Street), thus heading backwards, not forward. Especially regarding the ongoing recession (still serious despite official contrariwise protestations) and constant tax increases, the city should do practical things.

The Jacobson-Lakeside thing might not be the best approach but it’s better than Town Branch and at relatively little cost. Actually, nothing needs doing.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark


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