Elements of Urbanism: Lexington, KY

August 18, 2009 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores a sunbelt city with an urban development boundary: Lexington, KY

Tale of the Tape:

Lexington Pop. 2008: 282,114 (City); 447,173 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1782)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Lexington (55,534)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Lexington: +9.51%
Jacksonville: +16.97%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Lexington: 250,994 (ranked 126 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Lexington: 3,608.9
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Lexington: +21,602
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Lexington: Lexington Center (1976) - 66,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Lexington: 350-room Hyatt Regency Hotel, 23,000 seat Rupp Arena, 1,000-seat Opera House, 95,000sf shopping mall
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Lexington: Lexington Financial Center (current) - 410 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Downtown Fortune 500 companies:

Lexington: None; Lexmark International (507)
Jacksonville: One; CSX (240), Fidelity National Financial (523)

Urban infill obstacles:

Lexington: A stronger connection needs to be made between Downtown and the University of Kentucky.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Lexington: A number of bars and restaurants along Upper and Limestone Streets between UK and Downtown.
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.

Common Downtown Albatross:

Too many surface parking lots

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Lexington: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Lexington, KY keyword)
Jacksonville: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Jacksonville keyword)

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Lexington-Fayette's land area.

About Lexington

Lexington (officially Lexington-Fayette Urban County) is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 66th largest in the United States. Known as the "Horse Capital of the World," it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region. The population was estimated at 270,789 in 2006, anchoring a metropolitan area of 436,684 people and a combined statistical area of 645,006 people.

Lexington ranks 10th among US cities in college education rate, with 39.5% of residents having at least a Bachelor's Degree. It is home to the headquarters of Lexmark International, the Kentucky Horse Park, Keeneland race course, Red Mile race course, Transylvania University, and the University of Kentucky.

About Lexington's Urban Development Boundary

The urban development patterns of Lexington, Kentucky, confined within an urban growth boundary that protects its famed horse farms, include greenbelts and expanses of land between it and the surrounding towns. This has been done to preserve the heritage and land of the region's horse farms and the unique Bluegrass landscape, which brings millions of dollars to the city both in the way of the horse industry and tourism. Urban growth is also tightly restricted in the adjacent counties, with the exception of Jessamine County, with development only allowed inside existing city limits. Fayette county and all surrounding counties have minimum lot size requirements, which range from 10 acres (40,000 m2) in Jessamine to fifty in Fayette, which prevents rural subdivisions and large homes with expanse yards from consuming the Bluegrass landscape.

Most of Lexington's growth has been historically concentrated south of the downtown because the farmland there was considered "replaceable," since it consisted more of tobacco farms than pastures for raising horses. As a result, more than 70% of today's population lives south of US 60.

Victorian Square Shoppes

Victorian Square is a block of century old brick buildings that have been combined to house a vertical shopping mall.  It is directly connected to the convention center.

VICTORIAN SQUARE has been at the heart of Lexington’s downtown since the 1880’s. The block of sixteen buildings has housed, among other things, saloons, hotels, restaurants and an opera house. In 1985 a modern renovation brought them all together under one roof, creating an airy and accessible space that is best observed from the central courtyard. The decorative metal ceilings, ironwork and exterior balconies from these establishments have been preserved wherever possible. The result is a perfect blend of historical architecture and modern comfort that is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

Triangle Park

Triangle Park and its dramatic fountains are among downtown Lexington’s most beautiful sights. Originally installed in 1982, the Triangle Park fountain underwent a major refurbishment in 2005, thanks to the philanthropic contribution and leadership of The Triangle Foundation.  This signature cascade of water gives a glorious and lasting first impression of downtown Lexington for visitors and residents alike.

Triangle Center

The Triangle Center was first announced in 1984, as a "festival marketplace" that would include boutiques, shops, and food kiosks. Today, it is primarily an office complex with several restaurants at street level.

Brooklyn Park, Lexington-style: CentrePointe was supposed to be Kentucky's tallest tower, when completed in 2010. To make room for the 35-story tower, a full block of buildings dating back to the 1820's was leveled.  Unfortunately, with a crater in the heart of downtown and a weak national economy, CentrePointe may never happen.

Phoenix Park

The site of Phoenix Park was once considered to the site of the largest failed development in Lexington.

The Phoenix Hotel was demolished in 1981 by Wallace Wilkinson, who planned to use the site to construct the World Coal Center skyscraper. This was never constructed, and is considered the largest failed development in the cityscape of Lexington. In its place, the Park Plaza was opened in 1987, followed by the construction and opening of the modern-day Phoenix Park.

Two large crystal chandeliers were removed to the lobby of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.

Phoenix Park, which is located next to a public library, features a Vietnam veterans memorial, a fountain, and seating for visitors. James Holmberg, who is an author, historian, and curator for the Filson Club, participated in the dedication of a marker honoring the historical significance of the site in November 2006. The site of the former Phoenix Hotel was given a Lexington Historical Society marker, in honor of a large celebration that occurred when Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark) visited Lexington in 1806.

Downtown Lexington's major streets are lined with smart meter stations. These stations eliminate the visual clutter formed by individual meters.

The Robert F. Stephens Courthouse complex began construction in 2001.  Now complete, the Circuit, District and Federal Court buildings face Courthouse Plaza.  Restaurants, in historic buildings, face the opposite end of the public space.

Back-In angle parking.  One of the benefits of Back-In angle parking is that one can load their car from the curb as opposed to the street.

Old and New: This three story building was constructed behind a two-story historic brick facade.

Unique Lexington

  • Lexington enacted the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary in 1958.

  • Similar to Jacksonville, in 1974, the governments of the city of Lexington and Fayette County consolidated.

  • Lexington is known as the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World."

  • Lexington ranks 10th among US cities in college education rate, with 39.5% of residents having at least a Bachelor's Degree.

  • The Lexington Public Library houses the world's largest ceiling clock, a five story Foucault pendulum and a frieze depicting the history of the horse in the Bluegrass.

  • Lexington is one of the nation's largest cities with no freeway running through the city core.

Gratz Park Historic District

The Gratz Park Historic District is one of the most beautiful areas in downtown Lexington, comprised of a city park and several large residences. In the words of Kentucky architectural historian Clay Lancaster, "the park has charm, atmosphere, a sense of tranquility and of history, and it provides an oasis of planting tucked into the cityscape." Gratz Park occupies a tract of land that was established in 1781 outside of the original boundaries of Lexington when the town plat was prepared that year by order of the Virginia Assembly. In 1793 the park was purchased by the Transylvania Seminary as the site for its Lexington campus. In 1816 a large three-story structure (see historic image below) was built in the center of the park to serve as the main building for Transylvania Seminary. Designed by Matthew Kennedy, Lexington's first architect, it was erected near the center of campus. Following the destruction of that building by fire in 1829, the Transylvania campus was moved across Third Street to its present location. Only one building from this original campus remains--the Old Kitchen Building. Now, grand 19th-century townhouses built for Lexington's prominent and wealthy characterize the district.


Around The University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky, also known as UK, is a public, co-educational, university, and is also the state's land-grant university, located in Lexington, Kentucky. Founded in 1865 by John Bowman as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, the university is the largest in the Commonwealth by enrollment, with 27,209 students, and is also the highest ranked research university in the state, according to U.S. News and World Report. On August 17, 2008 The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Forbes Magazine ranked UK number 468 (out of 569 colleges surveyed) on its list of "America's Best Colleges 2008".

The university is home to 16 colleges, a graduate school, 93 undergraduate programs, 99 master programs, 66 doctoral programs, and four professional programs. The University of Kentucky has fifteen libraries on campus. The largest is William T. Young Library, a federal depository, hosting subjects related to social sciences, humanities and life sciences collections. The university currently has an endowment of $831 million.

The University Bookstore is a great example of how a use associated with a college can be designed to face the street, as opposed to the inside of an enclosed building. As FSCJ expands their downtown Jacksonville presence, well designed infill could bridge the pedestrian unfriendly gap between Springfield and Downtown.

The main campus of the University of Kentucky is about a mile south of downtown Lexington.  Straddling Main, Upper and Limestone Streets, the area between has become a popular site for off-campus housing infill, lofts and businesses catering to the student population.

Article by Ennis Davis