Historic Town Branch reemerges as a key to city plans

December 19, 2011 

  • At issue: Dec. 1 Herald-Leader article, "Rupp consultant offers bold vision; arena just a small part of ideas for all of downtown"

It is a great pleasure to witness the creative and analytical process unfolding in Lexington around the Arts and Entertainment task force design work of Space Group and Gary Bates.

It has all the ingredients for success: collaboration, vision, deep research, and an open and transparent relationship with the public. In this effort, Lexington is calling upon local stakeholders to work with the best designers in their respective fields to provide our world-class basketball tradition with a world-class venue.

What is truly inspiring about this effort is that it has taken on a much more ambitious scope than a new or renovated Rupp Arena alone. This effort calls upon Lexington to create a conceptual framework to build upon for generations. These are big Daniel Burnham-sized plans that can have an immense and long-lasting effect on Lexington's future. Everyone who is working hard toward these goals deserves our thanks and praise.

The Space Group project is looking at the downtown as a whole and addressing multiple important layers of its physical makeup: long-term growth for the arena and convention center, expanding the city into the Distillery District, increasing the density of our urban core, connecting to the University of Kentucky campus, and every level of transportation from walking and biking to trains, buses and cars.

What ties all these layers together is one big gesture that connects all the dots and captures Lexington in its timeless essence: the reassertion of the Town Branch Creek in the urban plan.

Believe it or not, Lexington was settled in 1779 along the banks of the middle fork of Elkhorn Creek, a tributary called Town Branch that now lies buried under Vine Street and Midland Ave. It is the reason we have a very long and thin urban core five blocks wide and a mile long.

The ancient and undulating grid is oriented to the flow of Town Branch with no regard for the cardinal directions. Our town is buffalo-trace- and creek-derived. It is what makes our city charming, unique, intimate in scale, and authentic.

There is no other city in America quite like us. What Space Group is proposing reaffirms our unique character and draws a ribbon of the Bluegrass back into the city on the footprint of the buried creek.

Town Branch Trail, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit, believes like Space Group that Lexington can achieve no less than the rebirth of this forgotten creek where our city was born at the dawn of the American Revolution.

At its fullest, the Town Branch Trail forms a bond between city and country, past and future. It will be an 8-mile park-like corridor for bicycles and pedestrians that runs through downtown out to Masterson Station Park.

This narrow ribbon of public space will connect Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to the east with Masterson Station Park to the west, threading a needle through Thoroughbred and Triangle parks along the footprint of the now buried creek.

We believe that the Bluegrass landscape is our internationally recognized brand and that nothing would better reinforce this special character than a sliver of land and water at the core of our beautiful city.

Van Meter Pettit is president of Town Branch Trail, Inc.

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