On the Sunday before last, the Herald-Leader published letters to the editor from two local men deriding those of us who are less cynical about Lexington than they are.
"This vanilla white-bread snobbish city has never been, and will never be, creative," one wrote. Said the other: "Lexington is not, and probably never will be, a great city. It is, however, the most pompous, insecure and deluded town I've ever seen."
I waited to see whether anyone would respond, and I was pleased Sunday to see letters from three resident taking them to task.
Ask any coach or entrepreneur and they will tell you that two of the most important ingredients to success are attitude and timing. It's as true for cities as it is for individuals.
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Lexington needs an attitude adjustment, and there's no better time than now. Some people will continue to carp, of course, but beginning this year, the rest of us should just ignore them.
This city has always had a lot going for it, including a beautiful landscape, good people and a stable economy. But those advantages often have bred complacency — a willingness to accept "good enough" rather than to strive for "better." There's a can't-do attitude among many Lexingtonians that I've never understood.
We often approach local problems in one of two ways: We complain loudly and blame others. Or — polite folks that many of us are — we avoid debate and constructive conflict and simply ignore the problems.
Fortunately, I've noticed a shift in just the past few years. Some business leaders are more progressive and inclusive than in the past. Some elected officials are more willing to embrace new ideas and tackle tough issues.
Most encouraging of all, I have noticed an increasingly young and diverse group of residents and entrepreneurs who are not beholden to traditional structures and stigmas. Empowered by technology, they are getting involved and creating a broader community conversation.
This year could be a turning point, if we seize the moment. That's mainly because of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will focus international attention on Lexington from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.
Cynics are quick to dismiss the Equestrian Games as an elitist party for rich horse snobs. That attitude misses the transformative effect that major international events have had on cities that embraced them and used them as catalysts.
I lived in Knoxville before and during the 1982 World's Fair. Knoxville had plenty of naysayers and a huge civic inferiority complex. But when a Wall Street Journal reporter described Knoxville as a "scruffy little city," angry locals became determined to make the most of their energy-themed exposition.
The World's Fair wasn't perfect, but it got Knoxville's highways fixed, jump-started a downtown renaissance and did wonders for the municipal ego. On the fair's closing day, many people wore buttons proclaiming, "The scruffy little city did it!"
I also lived in Atlanta before and during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta's Olympic bid was a long shot, and there were many skeptics. In the end, though, the Games helped transform a dowdy downtown and secured Atlanta's place among international cities.
Much of the skepticism in Knoxville and Atlanta focused on whether they could pull off the events. I have little doubt about Lexington's ability to do that. The Equestrian Games are run by experienced horse people, and the Kentucky Horse Park might be the world's finest equestrian complex.
My concern is whether Lexingtonians will embrace and take advantage of the Equestrian Games in ways that will have a lasting impact on community development, economic growth and Kentucky's international image.
When the spotlight shines on Lexington, what will the world see? When Lexington looks back on the Equestrian Games years from now, what will the legacy be?
April will be another big month. Lexington will host the Creative Cities Summit, where about 600 people will gather April 7 to 9 to discuss ideas and strategies for making cities more successful.
Also in April, several groups are organizing events to promote Lexington as a place for emerging technology companies, especially those related to health care. Speakers include the former president of India, Abdul Kalam, a scientist and engineer. It's a perfect opportunity to bring the city and its universities together to focus on economic development.
Despite a tough economy, 2010 presents unique opportunities for Lexington to shape a better future. Do we have the right attitude to take advantage of them?