Herald-Leader Editorial

Capilouto listening to neighborhoods as UK updates master plan

Openness leads to better planning

September 20, 2012 

UK president Eli Capilouto, during his weekly meeting with UK Provost Kumble R. Subbaswamy, in the Main Building on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, February 09, 2012. Eli Capilouto became the 12th President of the University of Kentucky on July 1, 2011. Charles Bertram | Staff

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President Eli Capilouto's eagerness to engage with the University of Kentucky's neighbors — even up to revisiting UK's alcohol policy — is refreshing.

It's too soon to know what will come of Capilouto's talks with neighbors and other stakeholders as UK begins work on a new master plan.

But listening is always a good place to start.

Capilouto and the planning firm that UK has hired, Boston-based Sasaki Associates, have promised to hear and respond to all the many stakeholders throughout the eight-month process.

The public's expectations are higher than usual because of ideas generated by former University of Pennsylvania vice president Omar Blaik, who led the rebirth of rundown Philadelphia neighborhoods around that Ivy League school.

Mayor Jim Gray recruited Blaik to come up with ideas for how Lexington and its three higher education campuses can make the most of each other.

The study was funded by UK, Transylvania University, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, several individuals, Commerce Lexington, the Blue Grass Trust, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, Fayette Alliance, the Downtown Development Authority and the city.

So a lot of people will be disappointed if Blaik's ideas and expertise are wasted.

The need for smart planning is especially urgent as UK launches an ambitious project to replace most of its student housing with new dormitories, enabling many more students to live on campus, something that's been shown to increase their chances of succeeding.

UK has already picked the sites for the new dorms, curiously, without advice from its planner Sasaki or Blaik.

The additional campus housing should relieve some of the pressure on nearby neighborhoods, raising hopes that they can once again become places where faculty and UK staff will want to live.

After UK banned alcohol consumption by students on campus in 1998, nearby neighborhoods were overrun by barn-sized home additions housing student renters and days-long drunken parties.

Capilouto has been walking some of these neighborhoods, which shows an admirable degree of curiosity on his part.

Helping students learn to behave and drink responsibly is an appropriate role for a university, and we're glad to hear that Capilouto wants to explore ways to do that.

UK has a long history of giving only lip service to cooperative planning with the city and its neighbors.

With a new president — and models of successful collaborations around the country — this time should be different.

After all, to compete for today's best and brightest, UK needs to be part of a lively, inviting and prosperous cityscape.

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