The following is a guest post from Matthew Clarke, the Capital Project Manager at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. He’s from Lexington and studied architecture at the University of Kentucky from 2003 – 2007. He then studied architecture and urban policy at Princeton University from 2009 – 2012.
In 2011, I had the privilege of working in Mayor Jim Gray’s office to assist the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District’s (RAAED) Task Force on their work reimagining the Lexington Center. That fall, I developed an independent research project while at Princeton that imagines how touchstone projects like RAAED and the more recent Town Branch Commons can leverage broader institutional change around the “Town Branch.” Scholars today believe that strategic planning and physical planning should not be carried out in isolation of each other, and I took this into account when developing my research and recommendations into the book, The Town Branch Project.
The Town Branch Project is a vision for Lexington based on a unique re-imagination of the city’s linear, spatial structure. The Project first situates Lexington within the emerging discourses of urban planning around the nation, which have begun to focus on regionalism, sustainability, and infrastructure, and then describes the history of planning in Lexington itself, with its long-standing role as a leader of land-use policy. The Town Branch Project makes manifest an incipient interest to capitalize on the Bluegrass Region’s unique and treasured landscape, all-the-while reinvigorating the urban core(s) that fosters civic identity and creates space for public discourse.
The Town Branch Project serves two purposes: on the one hand, it identifies an opportunity area within Lexington, KY that borders the Town Branch. Characterized by former industrial sites, the properties contiguous with this tributary of the Elkhorn Creek is ripe for development. Secondly, the project is a metaphor for the city, its institutions, and its role in the region; a region whose values were bestowed by its landscape and history, values which remain today.
The foundation of The Town Branch Project rests upon an emerging culture of planning and development in the United States, championed by a range of institutional actors: universities, governments, and NGOs, that promote a trinity of planning principles that include, 1) regional governance, 2) sustainable infrastructure, and 3) municipal innovation. These larger themes are spelled out in terms of the very real politics of the Bluegrass Region.
The Project is framed in five discrete “initiatives” that are immanently realizable and that will have a demonstrably positive affect on the area. (1) A Food Policy Council will help create the first official agricultural and food related policies in the region; a (2) Regional Trail Consortium will help make regional trails a reality and will foster regional collaboration; (3) a Distributed Arts Infrastructure that will coordinate cultural policy by using placed-based management and development and it will foster an innovation-economy grounded in new media; (4) a Metropolitan Development Authority will connect physical and strategic planning efforts with a new county-wide development agency. Finally, this report concludes with the potential to develop a linear park (5) along the underutilized Vine Street corridor, directly above the now buried Town Branch. This “central park” will completely restructure downtown, integrate north and south Lexington, re-imagine transit infrastructure, and will provide a new cultural “hub” for the city. (This initiative is well under way thanks to the “Town Branch Commons” competition now underway).
To manage these initiatives, to provide vision for strategic plans, and to further support the ongoing downtown planning projects, I’m also suggesting that the Mayor appoint a special Town Branch Commission in place. Such a group would be comprised of diverse community members who can shepherd visionary ideas into reality.
In the coming days, ProgressLex will release two more blog posts that highlight some of the key initiatives of the project. The Town Branch Project book is now available for purchase here. More information and ongoing posts will be updated at: www.townbranchproject.com.