On Tuesday September 17, NoC editor Danny Mayer unveiled design plans for an urban commons across from LexTran. Organized under the theme #FreeLexTran, the plans represented an amalgam of ideas generated through the Mayor’s Challenge, a Lexington-based urban design challenge announced in March. Mayer was granted 5 minutes of time by his District 1 council member Chris Ford to show-and-tell the idea to city council and mayor. The following are the text and images of his power point presentation, lightly revised.
By Danny Mayer
Last month’s September publication will be North of Center’s last. Over the coming weeks, some unfinished and previously-planned articles will continue to be published to the website and Facebook page. Notwithstanding those backlog pieces, from here on out NoC will begin to fade away.
A story of the late Holocene
By Danny Mayer
“This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
July 8, 2012, the day the story broke, it was hotter than shit. 103 degrees in Lexington, 15 above the historical average, the last of an 11 day stretch of day-time highs exceeding the norm by over 10 degrees.
In late August, WLEX reporter Dave Wessex delivered a four-minute report on the North Limestone area that stirred a wide-ranging discussion on the North Limestone Neighborhood Association Facebook page. Below is a slightly revised version of NoC editor Danny Mayer’s contribution to that talk.
I. As a newer white resident with a college degree and job who bought a nice though somewhat shabby house four blocks north of Main Street on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, I am a gentrifier no matter what I do or say. My actions in the neighborhood must always take that identity into account.
On the Fayette commons, part 3
By Danny Mayer
Don’t look to me for virtue, for high-minded feats or elevated speech that flows in a stream of lustrous silver—when cutting is my nature, meandering my path. Find me instead lowdown, landscape in tow as I take the way of least resistance, draining the uplands, purging the slopes.
From “The river issues a statement regarding its watery ethos,” by Richard Taylor
The Scape/Landscape Architecture design plan entitled “Reviving Town Branch” presents a compelling vision for a linear downtown urban park. The plan divides the Lexington, Kentucky, Town Branch watershed into four design phase/areas: Reveal (Rupp Arena), Clean (Vine Street to CentrePointe), Carve (CentrePoint to Thoroughbread Park), and Connect (the lower East End to Isaac Murphy Park).
The Scape map, like all maps of the area, lends itself to a certain reading. The stream’s textual and cartographic flow, Reveal/Clean/Carve/Connect, makes movement from left to right, upstream, seem natural. Reading it, one might assume that Town Branch’s source flows from a revealed Rupp, passes through a cleansed then carved downtown, and thence arrives, trickled-down rainfall depending, to a textually disconnected Isaac Murphy park.
To get Town Branch, or at least to get a different Town Branch, one that takes hydrology and history as its compass axes, it seems one must read the map backwards: from right to left, downstream, East End headwaters to Distillery District emergence, connection to carve, and thence to clean and reveal. What follows is a stab at that downhill backwards reading, what I’ve been calling (with many thanks to High Bridge river rat Wes Houp) “Town Branch by rheotaxis.” ~ d
Town Branch by rheotaxis, part 1
By Danny Mayer
Kentucke, once bloody ground, hunting Eden for native tongues apologetically eliminating buffalo for sustenance. Not sport or profit or pleasure.
–Frank X Walker
In the spring of ‘79, a pack of colonialists led by Colonel Robert Patterson exited their fort at Harrod’s Town, a bleak wooden western outpost incised into the recently formed Fincastle County of post-colonial Virginia, with orders to establish a garrison inside the vast canelands that temptingly rolled north off the palisades that lined the far banks of the Kentucky River.
For the Pennsylvania men exiting Fort Harrod, as for the North Carolinians immigrating to Fort Boonesborough and Saint Asaphs, dominion over the rich north land lying between the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers had proven particularly difficult. Shawnee, Mingo, Miami, and a clutch of other area residents had for some time made homes along several of the south-running Ohio River tributaries that debauched into La Belle Riviere from the north. These groups still claimed the commonwealth as a commonland, a hunting and commerce grounds held in usufruct by Indian, some French, and the odd colonial shareholder. Encroachment on the commons by tree-hacking, game-destroying, compass-wielding Pennsylvanians, Virginians, and North Carolinians had met some resistance. For the half decade preceding Patterson’s historic northern incursion, a cartographic truce had emerged: to the south of the protective girdle of the Kentucky River, colonists; to the north of the Ohio, Indians; and in between, the canelands.
By Danny Mayer
In early March, members of Lexington’s city council voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of the restoration of voting rights to felons who had served their time in prison. The resolution was largely symbolic—the legal authority to re-enfranchise former felons lies in the hands of state lawmakers, not city council members. The resolution’s main purpose was to offer a demonstration of unified local political support for HB 70, a state bill sponsored by Fayette County congressman Jesse Crenshaw. His bill would allow Kentucky citizens to vote on a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore voting rights to most Kentucky felons who have completed the terms of their sentence (as happens in most other states).
In addition to the show of support, the council’s vote also sent another message to Frankfort politicians: let democracy happen. For the past seven years, the Kentucky House of Representatives has voted on and overwhelmingly passed HB 70, only to see it killed by Republicans Damon Thayer (Georgetown) and Joe Bowen (Owensboro) in the Senate’s Committee on State and Local Government. Consequently, despite the bill garnering increasingly bipartisan support among both state politicians and the general public, HB 70 has yet to leave its assigned Senate subcommittee.
On the Town Branch, part 2
By Danny Mayer
I first heard about the Town Branch in a geography class at the University of Kentucky, early in 2001. We didn’t talk much about the creek itself. It was the thing that oriented us differently on the maps: our skeletal framework, a northwesterly axis, something railroad ties covered.
It would be another six years before Town Branch appeared to me in all its cavernous damp wonder. While visiting a farm in Keene, Kentucky, I happened upon an urban caver and all-around fire-master—a man who introduced himself as “Thom-with-an-H,” the last three syllables rolling away from the lazy ‘m’ like the sharp uncoiling of a lasso (tom,with-in-atche). Over a long fire that spanned several days, Thom-with-an-H recounted to me stories of cave trips taken beneath the greater Lexington substrata. Several of these stories began or ended nearby the Town Branch Creek; a few involved walking up-creek from the edge of the Rupp Arena parking lot, into the culvert, and underneath downtown.
During that summer of 2007, I sat for hours and listened to Thom-with-an-H talk, marveling all the while at the holes his caves were poking into my Lexington maps. It was quite heady stuff to imagine one descending underground at Cardinal Valley and emerging in Southland, or disappearing into the west end of Rupp only to re-appear one block east of the East End.
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.”
The 21c public/private partnership
By Danny Mayer
In April, marital partners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, founding owners of Louisville-based boutique hotel franchise 21c, held a press conference under the pavilion at Cheapside Park to announce their $36 million purchase and renovation plans for Lexington’s 15-story First National Building, the city’s first skyscraper. Along with a pair of smaller adjoining buildings, Wilson told a crowd of local leaders gathered for the occasion, the iconic downtown structure would become the fourth 21c Museum Hotels franchise location. “This is a combination hotel and a real art museum. It is not art for decoration,” Wilson said. “The 21c Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art by living artists.”
Local talk of the renovation has tracked city leader and 21c talking points, which have focused on aesthetics and downtown revitalization. But whatever its aesthetic value or ability to inspire a new urban “confidence,” 21c’s economic foundation comes straight out of the past two decades: a public/private partnership in finance in which the public assumes collateral and risk and the private owners reap the returns. Of the $36.5 million needed to purchase, renovate and open 21c as a boutique hotel with an attached modern public art museum, over 60 percent of it ($22.5 million) will come from tapping public funds at the city, state and federal levels, much of it through programs geared toward low- and moderate-income citizens.
If you want to see the democratic/economic policies pillaging the nation and globe writ devastatingly small, look no further than 21c. Here’s three themes that should be familiar to you.