Join us in objectifying Lexington by helping to pick 50 things that define city

ctruman@herald-leader.comSeptember 9, 2012 

A ticket to a University of Kentucky basketball game might be considered by some as an object that defines Lexington. James Collins of Erlanger held several for the game against St. John's in December.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — © 011

List-making compels us. Last week, The New York Times published a history of its eponymous city in 50 objects and asked for reader feedback. The newspaper admits the project was inspired by the British Museum's BBC radio series and book and a New York radio station's similar project.

You can read the Times' story at Nyti.ms/PVKw9A.

So tell us:

What are the 50 objects that define Lexington?

Send your suggestions to me at ctruman@herald-leader.com. Tell me your object, a brief explanation of why you chose it, your name, age, where you live and a daytime contact number. If your object is very specific and not easily found, please attach a photo of it to your email.

The deadline to receive suggestions is Sept. 14.

Your suggestions might appear in an installment of UnCommonwealth later this month.

Keep in mind a few basic ideas:

We are focusing on objects, not locations. The Kentucky Theatre and Calumet Farm might remind you of Lexington, but we are homing in on artifacts. For instance, The Times included stuff such as a coffee cup, lox and cream cheese on a bagel, a patent for the Otis elevator brake, a 1923 program from Yankee Stadium, a subway throttle, and dust from the 9/11 terrorist attack to convey its point: big city, defining foods, tall buildings, devotion to public transportation, sports history and the catastrophe that will not be forgotten.

The defining objects of Lexington could be reminders of big events, such as the latest University of Kentucky NCAA men's basketball championship. They also could include a Toyota Camry, conveying the vast effect the Georgetown plant, where that popular car is made, has had on all of Central Kentucky since its opening in 1988.

It's about what the object says about the history of Lexington, in addition to what the object is.

For Lexington, a hunk of coal could signify the lasting effect the coal industry has on the region, UK and the substantial population of Eastern Kentuckians who have moved to or commute to the city. A tobacco plant could symbolize a onetime economic engine that has withered. A few years ago, some friends used the last tobacco plant grown on their farm as a front-door wreath.

Many have forgotten its impact now, but without IBM and its Selectric typewriter, Lexington never would have had the influx of middle-income families that allowed the city's north side to be developed and turned Lexington into a city more than an education- and hospital-centric town.

The 50 objects that define Lexington also may be ideas linked with the objects, such as uninspired sprawl developments. The Southland Drive corridor might suggest how a street of small businesses that thrived in the pre-mall era reinvented itself for succeeding decades.

Persistent problems in Lexington also may be suggested by objects. Your neighborhood drainage problem can be symbolized by an overflowing bucket. Lexington's bizarre traffic-signal system? Try a picture of a single car sitting at a traffic light.

Trying to convey the daily irritation of driving on Nicholasville Road might be more difficult. I'm not sure and am awaiting your ideas.

And is the 30-story Lexington Financial Center, aka the big blue building, an architectural definition of Lexington or merely a beacon of the way to get downtown for those of us who are directionally challenged?

Pleasant developments also may be conveyed by objects. If you can define the comeback of some downtown neighborhoods by a single object, please do. I would suggest the always- photogenic Third Street Stuff, but you might have a better candidate — perhaps the redevelopment on outbound North Limestone.

I'm looking forward to the imaginative objects and ideas you have.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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