Talking with the City

Talking with the City

by Andrew Wyllie

The Lexington Downtown Development Authority’s (LDDA) Streetscape Master Plan is well worth reading if you get a chance. The ninety-one page document lays out the plans for many areas in downtown Lexington and includes lots of cool drawings of places in Lexington that you know and love but might not recognize right away. There are lots of good ideas and recommendations, many of them you may have already read about, like converting one way streets back to two ways and this idea about making Vine St. into a big park. There are also a number of items that have not really been mentioned much in the press like creating two roundabouts at either end of downtown on Main Street. After reading the plan though, I found the process to leave feedback somewhat lacking. I’m a full time student at UK and a stay at home dad, so my time to attend public meetings is fairly limited. The LDDA website is very informative, and they seem to be doing a great job getting the word out, but it’s one directional, there’s no way to get the word in.

My first experience with the web was back in 1993 when I was working as a network administrator for the Physics department at the University of Toronto. One day, one of the high energy physics profs (you know the type, Einsteinian hair and somehow lacking in social skills) came into my office with a request (demand?) that I install this software on the main server called Mosaic. I had never heard of it and I tried to blow him off with my polite, professional brush off – “yeah, ok, sounds great, I’ll get right on it”, which basically, for all you non-geek non-systems people out there translates to “fat chance”. Maybe sensing my haughtiness he said “No, seriously, we need this installed so that we can collaborate with our colleagues in Switzerland at CERN”. Not having, much of a life at the time, I figured I could stay late and install the software. If you haven’t guessed already, Mosaic was one of the first web browsers, and once I got done in the the wee hours of the morning, I was looking at pictures on my computer from half way around the world. The point though is that the original technology for the web was meant for collaboration (multi directional) and not just for publishing (one way).

That’s why websites like Facebook (and more recently Twitter) are so popular. The idea that I can share photos and notes with people that live hundreds of miles from me, instantaneously, is almost as good as seeing them in person. Once I post this blog article, people can immediately leave feedback like – “wow, that paragraph about your old job was a bit long and maybe not really that relevant to the conversation at hand”. Go ahead, click on the comments link below, I’m a big boy, I can take it. This is what makes the Internet such a powerful tool, to be involved, to leave feedback, and have a conversation with the guy that wrote that long winded tripe at your convenience.

Which brings me back around to the Lexington Downtown Development Authority’s website. I’ve read the documents, and I have some ideas but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to be heard. What can I do to have an intelligent conversation on some of the issues with other people, not just planners, that want to see Lexington reach its full potential. Obviously one way is to write about it here, but then how do I know if the people that are making the decisions are going to read this blog post. Why can’t the LDDA have a discussion area on their website, or set up a blog on blogspot or wordpress. They do have a Facebook group but there’s nothing going on there and Facebook is probably not the appropriate place for this type of discussion. Once a good solution is found, it needs to be promoted and the high ranking members need to be visible and available to take part in the discussion.

I’m concerned that major changes to Lexington are being made without much opportunity for the general public to be a part of the process. I would be very surprised if it was due to a general lack of interest by the city’s population. We need to encourage the city government and its agencies to start taking advantage of new technologies in order to create an atmosphere for a discussion to take place. There are a lot of people here with really good ideas and Lexington certainly has the potential to be one of the top cities in the US to live. We need to harness these ideas and have an intelligent conversations if we to move closer to these goals.