Friday, April 23, 2010

North of Center: The Right to the City -- Liberate CentrePointe

The right to the city: Liberate CentrePointe
North of Center editorial
Smirking Chimp

Note: CentrePointe is Lexington's most visible example of the fallout from the out-of-control real estate economy that flourished in cities the world over. Over a period of years, Developer Dudley Webb purchased an entire city block of dis-invested crumbling buildings at the center of downtown Lexington. The block was home to the only drugstore in downtown Lexington, a hat shop, at the time Lexington's only music venue, and some other dive bars and restaurants. A portion of the block consisted of buildings dating to the early 19th century and were part of the city's original commercial street.

In late 2008 after acquiring deed to all the buildings, Webb proclaimed the block beyond repair and suddenly razed it to nothing, despite vociferous public opposition. Webb argued that he needed to begin immediately the construction of a 35 story hotel/condo so that it would be ready to house tourists arriving for the World Equestrian Games, Lexington's version of the Olympics, which will be held here this September.

As expected, the shady financial funding fell through: a Middle-Eastern sheik funding the thing apparently died before Webb bulldozed the block, and the city later denied Webb public funds to help defray construction costs. And so Lexington is now left with a giant unused and fenced off space in the middle of downtown. This piece was written to call Lexingtonians to action and reclaim their city block.

The Right to the city:Liberate CentrePointe

Lexington is now entering its second summer growing season without breaking ground on the CentrePointe block. With the exception of some stealthy picnics, an Irish festival and a couple minutes—total—of stolen sports action on the lush grass, an entire downtown city block has been rendered off limits to an entire city for nearly one-and-a-half years, an urban dead zone with suburban lawn aesthetics.

For this pathetic state of affairs we should blame ourselves. We spent a good amount of time last summer imagining the CentrePointe of our dreams, but not so much time, as Herald Leader journalist Tom Eblen might say, doing something about it. When CentrePointe went out to pasture, so did we.

With that in mind, we call on Lexington residents to demand and claim their right to the block.

Follow the lead of those everyday artists who make the city come alive through their papered announcements stuck on wooden electric poles and abandoned magazine racks. Draw up your own plans for the CentrePointe block and staple, paste and etch them into the planks of the CentrePointe fences that keep you out. Paper the block alive once again with your poetry and prose, your cartoons and artist renderings. Record and inscribe the block’s past and its future, what it once was and what it can be.

One idea is easily discarded, torn down, forgotten. Twenty can carefully be swept under the grass clippings. But two-hundred, two-thousand ideas covering the CP fences? That is something else, something else altogether.

But we mustn’t stop with symbolic action. We must demand that the space be used productively. This year. And we should demand this in public and as loud and as often as possible.

Dudley Webb has already stated that he will not disturb the CentrePointe site until after the World Equestrian Games. The area is essentially rendered inert for the summer and part of fall. This is an unacceptable use of that central space. The best productive use of CentrePointe is not as an unusable and excessively large front lawn—its current situation. We demand more.

The rights of private property are not inviolable. They must be questioned, tested and at times even trampled upon. We–everyone but the small group of people who own the land–can no longer remain inactive on the false premise that unused Webb property is sacred.

We demand a public garden whose main purpose will be to help feed the poor, hungry and homeless–people whom many Lexingtonians finally discovered last week during the Creative Cities Summit when Bill Strickland spoke about his experiences in poor Pittsburgh. Such an idea for the block is surely something that city residents can support—at least those who have been talking in public and in print, on the campaign trail and in conference meetings, of the need to merge “creative” acts with issues of social justice. Having our community leaders support and lay the groundwork for such a venture—to demand and not just to ask for it to happen—could be quite a thing to see.

The public input of our civic, creative, agricultural and community leaders will be important as the rest of us—either with or without the support of those leaders (though hopefully with it)–begin to till the earth and plant our seeds. Our job is to do the most creative (and simple) of acts: doing. The immediate future of CentrePointe need not be decided by them. It can be decided by you.

Who will be the first to paper the fencing? Who will take the first soil sample? What farm groups will offer their time to utilize a 1-season garden in a place that is ground zero for public visibility? What politicians will offer political support? Who will transgress that most sacred of laws, private property, and demand that the city be run according to its inhabitants’ needs—and not the failed desires of its owners? What cultural centers will publicly endorse trespassing to do something they themselves know is right? What support networks–legal, social, economic–will we demand and work towards in this city, in this summer of growing?
North of Center is a free bi-weekly paper located in coal-loving Lexington, KY. We cover sports, politics, music, film, and any other things that flow through the inner-Bluegrass region. If you're interested, we've now got a website: North of Center


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