PITTSBURGH — Unlike previous Commerce Lexington trips, this one had a purpose beyond simply networking and gathering ideas from another city that might be used to improve Lexington.
The 200 Lexingtonians who made the trip joined 100 Louisvillians who are members of that city's chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc. It was an effort to build relationships and foster cooperation between Kentucky's two largest cities.
As part of that mission, attendees got together Wednesday, the last day of the three-day trip, and brainstormed ideas for how Lexington and Louisville could work together to improve Kentucky's economy and quality of life.
Once the ideas were collected and posted on the meeting room walls, each person had six stick-on dots to choose their favorites. The top vote-getter was something I often hear discussed: Creation of a light rail line connecting Lexington and Louisville and, eventually, the Cincinnati suburbs of Northern Kentucky.
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Other popular ideas included:
■ Joint lobbying of the General Assembly on issues important to both cities. One such issue is authority to ask city voters to approve a local-option sales tax to help address local needs.
■ Promoting and preserving the horse industry.
■ A joint economic development council, and a closer working relationship between Commerce Lexington and GLI.
■ Creation of organizations in both cities modeled after Pittsburgh's Manchester Bidwell Corp. The Kentuckians this week heard a presentation from Manchester Bidwell founder Bill Strickland about the effectiveness of his after-school arts program to engage at-risk youth and business-specific job-training programs for unemployed people.
Efforts already are under way to create one in Lexington, and Fayette Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman is a strong supporter.
While those ideas got the most votes, there were some other good ones, too, including:
■ A closer working relationship between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Specific suggestions ranged from elimination of duplicative programs and services so limited state resources could be focused to an outright merger of the institutions to accomplish that goal.
■ A series of quarterly meetings and events to keep dialogue going between members of Commerce Lexington and GLI.
■ A regional job bank.
One of Wednesday's speakers was Tom Sokolow ski, the irreverent director of the Andy Warhol Museum, which the Kentucky group visited Monday evening. It is dedicated to the Pittsburgh-born artist who celebrated late 20th century popular culture by creating art from iconic visual images, including Campbell's Soup cans and news photographs.
Sokolowski said cities need more risk management, but he didn't mean the traditional definition of avoiding risk. "I mean putting risk into what we do," he said, because outstanding results usually involve taking risks.
For example, Sokolowski said, his museum's decision to present a show of old postcard images of lynchings in 2001 was controversial, but it led to a productive discussion about race relations in Pittsburgh.
Art, he said, can create civic engagement by giving people a way to discuss touchy issues that can lead to solving problems. "The arts are a barometer of our communities, and the arts are a leveler," he said.
Leaders trying to create great cities should pay attention to art's transformative effects. One example is Pittsburgh's effort to salvage a downtown neighborhood that had become a red-light district by turning it into a Cultural District. It now houses art galleries, arts organizations and two restored old theaters and two new ones.