A sensitive balance: maintaining culture, inviting change

September 1, 2013 

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Andrea James aims for the new East End Neighborhood Development Corp. to spur revitalization on Third Street.

HERALD LEADER

Several years ago while serving on Lexington's city council, I was part of one of the most transformative activities a neighborhood can undertake: creation of a small-area plan.

Neighbors, absentee landlords, private investment property holders, business owners, government offices and community organizations came together to create a working document to prescribe the neighborhood's future, while respecting its history.

The product of that intense work is the East End Small Area Plan, a document with goals that both conserve the area's rich and prideful community culture and allow for the forward thinking necessary to encourage a renaissance.

East End, not unlike many downtown areas around America, is home to some of the highest rates of unemployment and lowest rates of high school graduation and car ownership. It is barren of vibrant economic development corridors and abundant in vacant property.

Also, like many of these areas, it is home to many people who love this place. They love their neighbors, their memories and their role in their community.

It's also a place where the sensitive task of planning for its future means balancing the desire to retain aspects of its current culture with the necessity for change.

While fragments of the plan have been successfully addressed since its inclusion in the city's Comprehensive Plan in 2009, there has not been much focus on the plan in its entirety for a few years.

In January 2013, a group decided to put the focus back on the holistic East End plan. One path to that goal, we decided, was to create a community development corporation, which is mentioned in at least three of the plan's 13 goals.

We hosted a series of public meetings to bring residents up to date on what had been accomplished and what remained to do. We learned that some people knew about the plan, some didn't, some were uncertain about its validity, asserting it was government's attempt at a takeover of East End.

Within a couple of meetings we were hearing agreement and seeing heads nod. It became clear that all agreed on the need for a community development corporation. So in the spring of 2013, we created the East End Neighborhood Development Corporation.

The development corporation is excited to work toward the renaissance by connecting the entities that want to be a part of the resurgence, utilizing our connections with residents, the community at large, government and other organizations.

The corporation is building its board of directors and resident advisory board. Some of the identified priorities include business development, transportation and resident engagement and education. Currently, only a few members are active in the corporation, but we are passionate and deliberate toward our mission of implementing this precious document to restore the economic vitality of the East End.

My husband and I raised our children on the same street where he grew up, and I fell in love with East End's character, culture, history and future. As 1st District councilmember for two terms, I had an opportunity to take my love for the East End along with the help and passion of other residents to plan for East End's renaissance.

The mission of the development corporation is to implement the East End Small Area Plan, specifically to revitalize the Third Street corridor from Race to Midland. Our office is located at the Plantory on Third and Midland. For more information, email me at amjames457@gmail.com.

Andrea James is a former first district council representative.

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