A call to commoners
NoC editor Danny Mayer is sponsoring a Town Branch Commons design challenge. He’s calling on area commoners to come up with a functional design to redevelop a portion of 151 East Vine Street, a .62 acre publicly owned surface parking lot that runs downtown between Vine and Water Street. He will present the winning idea to a meeting of the city council, where he will formally request public funding for the project.
The idea for Mayer’s challenge began after the NoC editor read about the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government’s recent admission that closing down surface parking lots on Vine Street is “clearly implementable” and “within the realm of do-ability.” The observation came in response to the recent selection of Scape Landscape Architecture’s proposal for a linear downtown park named the Town Branch Commons.
“I think it’s great,” Mayer said, “that city leaders are finally acknowledging the benefits of transforming under-used government property into human-scaled places of interaction and mobility. I want to do my part to encourage more of that thinking.”
But what really stirred this Mayer to action was a deep conviction that local FUCers should take the lead in developing any areas the city deems a “commons.”
“How can a commons be world-class?” Mayer asked last week outside his downtown home during the press conference to announce the design challenge. “That sounds like nonsense. Aren’t commons supposed to just be common, to humbly serve our needs, their aesthetic charms growing from time lapsed and the close, personalized care we give them? I say, let us county folk and friends design our own commons. We now have the Scape blueprint to help guide us, but we can take things from here.”
Mayer’s local-first conviction is rooted in several economic realities. Public budgets are tight. World-class labor costs way more than locally engaged labor. In a world of competing desirable locations, authentic things produced from a studio in New York tend to be considered less authentic than authentic things made in the source location. Beyond the commercially dulling authenticity problem, though, the very complexity of world class designs also tends to increase costs, not to mention what complexity does to completion times (and repairs).
Tapping the unknown, often unrealized, multiple knowledges and skills of our community is a way more efficient process when it comes to building a public park. It is also, according to this Mayer, a way to keep inflated costs and projects in check.
“Do you think a commoner would propose a hundred million dollar park, or write a design plan with no thought given to the price tag? That’s just more nonsense to me. Commoners by definition are frugal, in part because their lives are here and they are bound to the wise collective use of city capital. This Mayer’s challenge wants to leverage that common tendency.”
The challenge location is a uniquely positioned surface parking lot located along Vine Street and overtop historically authentic Town Branch, our city’s first highway. The site touches a number of today’s transportation systems, too. Upwards of 15,000 automobiles travel Vine Street daily. The Lexington Transit Center, the hub of the city’s bus system, stands across from it on Vine. Behind it, the city is completing renovations on a public parking structure. Above, it is bisected by the Martin Luther King viaduct. Culturally, the location is situated within a block from city hall, the Kentucky Theater and the Public Library.
Successful submissions should include a developed design plan that covers one-fourth of the parking lot area; the design must incorporate the area covered by the Martin Luther King viaduct. Commoners must submit a cost proposal for the project that does not exceed $70,000. We expect attention to be given to how the design integrates and enhances the local environment, the potential for any non-monetary capital (donated skills, time, etc.), programming, and anything else we missed.
Submissions will be judged by Mayer’s five-person design team. The team specializes in generating low-cost, high-value re-developments of public space. This Mayer is an urban walker, a mover and a shimmie-shaker. And so is his team.
Mayer will present the winning submission at a meeting of the City Council. He will request that money for the project comes out of the $250,000 publicly-funded salary paid out to twice-retired Frank Butler for overseeing the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District plans. Project work can expect to commence January 2014. Sketch renderings may be hand-drawn, CAD-certified, or of any other medium, but all written text should be printed. Deadline: May 28. Submit submissions to 430 N. MLK, Lexington, KY 40508, or electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to drop off submissions personally, discuss an idea, or otherwise meet with the authentic Mayer, he will be holding open office hours through May at Al’s Bar on Wednesday nights from 5:30-6:30 pm.