Lexington Mayor Jim Gray on Tuesday appointed Derek Paulsen to be the city's first commissioner focused solely on planning.
"All planning should be geared toward building a more livable city," said Paul sen, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and chairman of Lexington's Planning Commission.
Paulsen, who lives in Lexington, is a nationally recognized expert on building safe communities and is the author of several books on building socially sustainable communities.
In announcing Paulsen's appointment, Gray said in a statement, "Cities all over the country have discovered that strong planning and good design are essential to economic development. They attract new companies that create new jobs essential to building a great American city."
Establishing the position of planning commissioner was a priority Gray set during his campaign for mayor.
High on Paulsen's "to do" list, Gray said, will be to focus on modernizing and consolidating the city's "splintered planning and development agencies."
Also receiving special attention will be "making the Division of Historic Preservation more business-friendly, inviting, accessible and efficient," the mayor said.
In a telephone interview as he waited for a flight out of Blue Grass Airport on Tuesday, Paulsen said his first task would be to "talk to people to get a good sense of what is going on among the different city departments that deal with planning and development."
"Instead of looking at one particular project, I'm going to have to jump in and work on several things right off the bat," he said. "There is a lot to do."
Gray wants the new commissioner to sharpen the focus on urban redevelopment, and come up with creative incentives to remove or renovate abandoned and neglected buildings.
Downtown revitalization, specifically working on the Arena, Arts and Entertainment District and the Distillery District, will receive special attention.
And Paulsen said he would work with "all parties involved with CentrePointe to turn that block into the best use possible. How can we get it going in the best way possible."
Included in the Department of Planning will be the divisions of planning, historic preservation, purchase of development rights and the new development section of engineering that reviews construction plans and inspects infrastructure. "I want to help these divisions streamline their work as much as possible," Paulsen said.
He got into planning through the criminal justice system where he studied crime-ridden neighborhoods. "My interest was how the built environment contributes to crime and how we can make neighborhoods safer by the way we design and build them in the first place," he said.
The Urban County Council included funding for a planning commissioner in the current budget. Paulsen's council confirmation hearing is set for Feb. 16.