Jun 012013

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).

Map from http://www.townbranchcommons.com/

Map from http://www.townbranchcommons.com/

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 Continue reading »

Jun 012013

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.

From the General Dallas comic strip "The quest for the Dixie Belle" by Tim Staley.

From the General Dallas comic strip “The quest for the Dixie Belle” by Tim Staley.

Continue reading »

May 082013

By Joseph G. Anthony


“Ohio Street opened up—300 block, then the 400 block. The powers-that-be would select certain streets or certain areas where we could live.” Amanda Cooper Elliot. Photo by Danny Mayer.

“The past is a foreign country; they did things differently there,” says the narrator in the 1970 movie, The Go-Between.

I certainly hope so.

I wonder if it’s a particularly American trait that the past so quickly becomes first a rumor and then something so dead we view it with the same amazement present-day Romans must feel when they try to extend their subway only to discover yet another lost civilization. But I am not speaking of ancient cities. I’m talking of the lifetime memories of many of our fellow Kentuckians.

I say this because I’ve been researching and writing a novel—Wanted: Good Family—timed mostly in 1948 with long visits to the 1920s. It’s set in Fayette, Scott, and Estill Counties. Three of my narrators are African-American, or—as was the still-respectable and self-applied appellation—colored. My other three narrators are white. My white narrators don’t have an easy time of it: being poor and white in the first half of the century in Kentucky wasn’t, as Bette Davis said of old age, for sissies.  But being poor and colored in Kentucky…well, if they had been Hindu instead of Baptists, they might have wondered just what the hell they had done in those past lives to be faced with so many challenges: spiritual, emotional, physical. Continue reading »

Mar 062013

A Creatives for Common Sense position paper

Illustration by Christopher Epling.

Illustration by Christopher Epling.

Writing in the February 22 Lexington Herald Leader, columnist Tom Eblen called attention to the clunky Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) moniker employed since the 1970s merger of the city and county. “[D]epending on how you say it,” Tom observes of the abbreviated term, it “sounds either like alphabet soup or an obscenity…How did the government of such a beautiful place end up with such a bureaucratic name?” (What about L-Fudge, Tom? This seems a plausible rendering of the LFUCG term, one that is relatively un-bureaucratic and wonderfully tasty. But we digress…)

In the article and in another follow-up piece, Tom suggests that LFUCG  dump the the FUCG  part (the Fudge, or perhaps the FUCK-G or the Fuckage, depending on pronunciation). In its place, Tom suggests a focus on the “L”: we should refer to our home  simply as “Lexington,” or following former mayor Foster Pettit’s suggestion, the “Community of Lexington.”

As it so happens, the Creatives for Common Sense (CfCS) have been studying this very issue. Over the past two years, the group has been identifying the potential brand opportunities and pitfalls of the term “Lexington” while also seeking out new local-first brand identities. Based on our own studies, we agree with Lexington Forum president Winn Stephens, cited in Tom’s follow-up article, that “[n]obody with any marketing or public relations savvy would come up with a moniker like LFUCG.” Continue reading »

Jun 062012

Fayette Urban Countiers unite!

A Creatives for Common Sense position paper

The city now known as Lexington, KY, is built of the dust of a dead metropolis.”
—George Washington Ranck, History of Lexington Kentucky: Its early annals and recent progress (1872)

The Lexington brand is dead, its meaning long since blown on Entertainment and Bourbon districts, Rupp Arenas and Horse Parks. Lexington is the home of land barons and great compromisers, slave markets and horse markets. Its public statues enshrine regressive losers who, during a centuries-old civil war, skulked hardscrabble Bluegrass farmers out of meanness, and the preservation of slavery. Its signature sport team’s most signature sports moment (UK v. Texas Western) stands 40 years later as a defining symbol of the racist, defeated, loser all-white aspirations held by many in the country who fought viciously against the Civil Rights movement. Continue reading »