Do Lexington's leaders understand the value of good city neighborhoods?
If reading the local paper lately is any indication, it's not clear that they do.
I've read opinion pieces by neighborhood residents complaining about the lax enforcement of parking regulations and building codes. I've read news stories about how developers illegally built condos in federally protected wetlands with city knowledge. About traffic engineers who forgot to paint-in planned bike lanes. About how city agencies easily grant variances for new constructions and repairs that clearly violate official policy. About how the Urban County Council—and a silent mayor—killed recommended historic zoning for a neighborhood that's struggling to maintain its character and distinctiveness.
I'm concerned that these are signs that Lexington's leaders don't know what's needed to preserve or improve good, livable neighborhoods. I'm worried that the quality-of-life in my neighborhood will get worse, and I'm worried that my property value will take a hit, too. I'm worried enough about all this that I'm willing to open my wallet and pay money to help defend Lexington's neighborhoods—and to push our leaders to do the same.
I'd like to be able to write a $250 check every year to become a member of a group—call it the Good Neighborhoods Group (GNG)—that would do the following for me and other similarly worried Lexington residents:
1. Craft a detailed, workable agenda to make all neighborhoods more livable. Because neighborhoods are both the body and soul of a city, GNG would develop an agenda aimed at creating and maintaining livable, distinctive neighborhoods throughout Lexington. The agenda would set out general aims as well as specific plans to:
--Create pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods;
--Improve code enforcement and planning efforts;
--Preserve and celebrate local history and architectural distinction; and
--Maintain emphasis on infill development.
2. Sell its vision with wit and passion to city leaders and residents. The agenda is just a starting point. Persuading people that a Lexington built on a foundation of livable neighborhoods is desirable and achievable—that's where GNG's energy would go. While a booklet describing the agenda might be published, there'd definitely be a professional video produced for use at neighborhood association meetings, at churches. There'd door-to-door campaigns, media stunts and a constant stream of commentary on blogs, TV, radio and in newspapers.
3. Watch, lobby and rate elected officials. Whenever elected officials take action on neighborhood issues, GNG's lobbyists will be there. And they'll be ready with information, questions, policy alternatives and a gentle reminder that developers and absentee property owners aren't the only interest groups in town. Every election, GNG would offer rankings of candidates and would not be shy about endorsing or opposing candidates or making big campaign contributions.
4. Trouble-shoot neighborhood problems for members. Want to slow traffic on a residential street? Get a neglectful absentee landlord to repair an eyesore? Check on the permits for a new construction project? Give the staff at GNG a call. Lexington residents who are paying members of GNG will be able to call and get prompt, battle-tested help from GNG staff about how to deal with neighborhood problems and government red tape.
5. Partner with existing advocacy groups. While GNG would focus on its "livable city neighborhoods" agenda, it would ally with existing groups—such as Fayette Alliance and Bluegrass Tomorrow—to preserve the character of the surrounding Bluegrass region. It would also partner with existing neighborhood associations to work on projects with a citywide impact.
Such a group would need more than my $250 a year to finance its activities—lots more. Even if 1,000 Lexingtonians gave $250 annually that still probably wouldn't be enough. Maybe the group could attract funding from a national donor—some group or person—interested in actually transforming ideas about livable neighborhoods into practice at a significant scale in a real city?
In any case, if a group like the Good Neighborhoods Group existed here, I'd feel a lot better. With a smart champion of livable neighborhoods and an aggressive opponent of developer-pushed sprawl on my side, I'd be more optimistic about the chances that my neighborhood will remain a good, pleasant place to live.