Fayette County

'Not inhibited with biases': Children's imagination on display during Cheapside design workshop

Lucias Ford, 9, and sister Peyton, 5, created a multi-level city center that included a rooftop garden Saturday outside the main library as children were invited to create their vision to help re-imagine the public square by the old courthouse.
Lucias Ford, 9, and sister Peyton, 5, created a multi-level city center that included a rooftop garden Saturday outside the main library as children were invited to create their vision to help re-imagine the public square by the old courthouse.

Near the downtown Lexington area called Cheapside where slaves were sold about 185 years ago, about 100 children a block or so away Saturday tried to "re-imagine" ways to make the public square by the old county courthouse a more inviting, vibrant place for all people.

Children ages 5 to 12 participated in a program held at Phoenix Park near the Lexington Public Library that featured games and hands-on activities to urge them to imagine and create a city place welcoming to everyone.

Jay Pitter, an author and teacher from Toronto, Canada, who specializes in coming up with ideas to address divides in urban areas, led the program.

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Organizer Jay Pitter, left, of Toronto chatted with DeBraun Thomas, co-founder of Take Back Cheapside, and Andrew Russell English Saturday outside the main library as children were invited to create their vision to help re-imagine the public square by the old courthouse. Matt Goins

Professional urban designers worked with the children to help them to create buildings, green spaces, walking trails, playgrounds, streets and any other structure to make a city more inclusive.

"We have various spots here like a big checkerboard, a pool, a crafts table — all called 'engagements' — to get children to think about how to create a more welcoming and inclusive city," she said.

"The engagements deal with coming up with designs, such as ramps, elevators, and social aspects, like bringing people together for an event, while working with urban architects and designers."

Lucias Ford, 9, and his sister, Peyton Ford, 6, got into the swing of the program as their mother, Megan Ford, looked on.

Lucias meticulously took two pieces of flat, letter-sized cardboard. He lay one on a table and stood empty toilet paper rolls on each corner and in the middle. He taped and glued them down and then lay the other piece of cardboard on top of the rolls. He cut holes in the middle roll on each level to represent doors of an elevator.

His sister placed a brightly decorated third piece of cardboard on top of her brother's creation to represent a sun garden.

The whole structure, said Lucias, who wants to be an architect some day, represents a cultural center on the Cheapside lot.

"It would be a place where everyone would we want to go," said the youngster. "It would have art and culture, a theatre and a studio and party room. The roof top actually would be a garden."

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Maggie Donworth's concept included green space, a slide and swings Saturday outside the main library as children were invited to create their vision to help re-imagine the public square by the old courthouse. Matt Goins

Nick Hodge, who was graduated this year from the University of Kentucky with a degree in architecture, assisted Lucias in his project.

"It's super cool," he said. "Children have so many ideas and they are not inhibited with biases. They just charge ahead and do it."

The children's mother said the program is "a great idea. They are learning something and having fun at the same time."

The program , free to the public, was a project of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, a publicly supported charity now in its 50th year to improve communities; the city of Lexington; Hensley Agency-State Farm Insurance; and Take Back Cheapside community organizers.

"We really are interested in promoting a more welcoming community and what a better way to try to do that than with children," said Lisa Adkins, president and chief executive officer of the Blue Grass Foundation.

Russell Allen and DeBraun Thomas, co-founders in 2016 of Take Back Cheapside, said they started their groups with three goals — get the Confederate statues in the Cheapside area removed; put up a historical marker about the slave auctions there; and try to make the square today as inclusive for all as possible.

Crews removed the statue of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan from the lawn of the old Fayette Co. Courthouse in Lexington. Video by Matt Goins

"We got the first two goals accomplished," said Allen. "With today's program for children, we are taking a step to make Cheapside a great place for all. It has come a long way and is used by many for many different activities but we think it can become so much more and the children are helping us do that."

The children's creations Saturday will become part of the (RE)Imagining Cheapside project for photo documentation and display in downtown store windows.

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