Urban design has been described as the art of making places for people.
Art demands more than just following rules, of course. It demands inspiration and imagination.
But there are rules — concerning such things as scale, perspective, form and materials — that make a huge difference in how livable and pleasing a place will be.
In a happy bit of symbiosis, places that commit to good design have a way of inspiring imagination and excellence in other spheres.
It's been obvious — painfully obvious — for a long time that Lexington's built environment would greatly benefit from more attention to the principles of urban design.
Two grassroots groups — ProgressLex and the Fayette Alliance — have recently urged the city to enact design standards. Before that, design standards were called for in the city's Destination 2040 study, the Downtown Master Plan and the 2007 Comprehensive Plan that guides land use in Fayette County.
The council's planning committee last week approved creation of a task force to launch the process of drafting design standards for Lexington, beginning probably with downtown.
This is a long overdue move that will require support from city planning staff and outside consultants.
Ideally, the mayor would provide the leadership for this effort.
But Mayor Jim Newberry, once openly skeptical of design standards, now seems to be positioning himself squarely on the fence, while retaining the option of blaming the council, depending on how the winds blow.
"I am glad that the council is finally beginning to address design guidelines," he said in a statement. "The council had an opportunity to start work on design guidelines in 2008, when we began talking about CentrePointe, and failed to do so. I have already indicated that I am open to the idea. My support ultimately will depend upon the specific proposal."
That is a classic example of the political art of plausible deniability.