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Now What, Lexington? We'll find out on April 17

Want to explore the latest ideas for making cities successful? Plan to attend the Creative Cities Summit in Lexington, April 7 to 9.

Want to discuss how those ideas could be applied to Lexington? Mark April 17 on your calendar.

That's when a companion session called Now What, Lexington? will be held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

Unlike the Creative Cities Summit, there are no big-name speakers and no admission charge. Everyone is welcome to attend — or to lead a session, if they wish, on any topic that interests others enough to participate.

Now What, Lexington? isn't a conference; it's an "un- conference," said Ben Self, a Lexington technology entrepreneur who is helping to organize the event. To sign up, go to www.nowwhatlexington.org.

"Our goal is to take the excitement, ideas and momentum from the Creative Cities Summit and spark some action from it," Self said.

There is no agenda for Now What, Lexington?, just five or six rooms available for breakout discussions during seven 45- minute blocks from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The only request of session leaders is that the groups discuss action steps, not just ideas.

For example, Self wants to lead a discussion on what citizens and neighborhoods could do to self-organize and take up some of the slack of cuts — and possible future cuts — in city government services.

Now What, Lexington? is being organized by a new group called ProgressLex, which hopes to advocate for a variety of urban Lexington issues the way The Fayette Alliance does for land-use issues, said the group's chairman, Dan Rowland, a University of Kentucky history professor.

Rowland said Lexington has many organizations that do good work, and ProgressLex hopes to bring them together to be more effective. He envisions a bipartisan online community of as many as 30,000 people focusing on issues ranging from good urban design and historic preservation to social justice and government transparency.

He said Now What, Lexington? seemed like the perfect launch event for ProgressLex because it is focused on putting new ideas into action to improve Lexington's quality of life.

Phil Holoubek, a downtown developer who is one of the main organizers of the Creative Cities Summit, said Now What, Lexington? is a perfect companion event. That's because the summit is aimed toward ideas for cities generally — and attracting attention to Lexington as a place where good ideas are discussed. Now What, Lexington? could help get some of those ideas put into action.

"We really need both types of events to move Lexington forward," Holoubek said.

This two-step approach — gathering ideas, then discussing an action plan for Lexington — offers a good model for Commerce Lexington's annual Leadership Visit.

Each May, more than 200 local business and civic leaders spend three days together in another city, networking and gathering ideas to bring home to Lexington. This year's trip, to Pittsburgh, promises to be one of the most useful of these visits because it is being taken with Greater Louisville Inc. Kentucky's two largest cities need a closer working relationship, and this is a good step in that direction.

Although past Commerce Lexington trips eventually have led to some action in Lexington, a frequent criticism is that more could be done. In a letter to the editor recently, former Urban County Council member Dick DeCamp suggested that Commerce Lexington's trips be scaled back to every two or three years, with time in between devoted to meetings focused on applying ideas already gathered.

That's a sensible approach. At the least, Commerce Lexington could take a cue from the Creative Cities Summit and Now What, Lexington? and schedule public follow-up sessions after the Pittsburgh trip. Those sessions would be good places to discuss how ideas generated in Pittsburgh — and relationships made with Louisvillians — could be put to good use.

Speaking of ideas: One of America's most successful mayors — Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C. — speaks Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Downtown Public Library. Riley, Charleston's mayor since 1975, has been a key player in growing the city's economy while preserving its historic buildings and decreasing crime. The free program is sponsored by The Fayette Alliance and UK's Gaines Center for the Humanities.

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