by Keegan Frank, Staff FreedomWriter
Friday afternoon, I had the rare opportunity to walk through one of my favorite cities: Pittsburgh, PA. The Steel Cityâ€™s architecture is gorgeous; a blend of old-school Americana and hip, modern designs. Pittsburghers know how to maintain an attractive cityscapeâ€”they know that lumbering, unattractive office towers and strip malls are not the sorts of things that invite people to love their city. Downtown Pittsburgh is filled with thriving businesses and crowds of peopleâ€”not deserted streets.
On a section of East Carson Street on the South Side, a series of blocks exist in which the old buildings have been kept alive and now exist as local restaurants, bars, retail, and more. It reminds me of areas such as North Clark Street near Wrigley Field in Chicago and The Highlands in Louisvilleâ€”with a style that is uniquely Pittsburgh. We could have that same atmosphere in Lexington. Some are trying; the Distillery District sounds very promising and I have recently read of a group trying to close a block of Mill Street and convert it into a pedestrian mall. I recall a semi-popular bumper sticker from not long ago that read â€œBuild Up, Not Out.â€ While some have taken this very literally in recent historyâ€”promising to build WAY upâ€”most have ignored it completely and continued to spread Lexington out like so much cultural butter. What I think it means, and what the only logical inference is, is that we must â€œbuild upâ€ the existing structures and revitalize the beautiful, old buildings that once made Lexington so charming. However you choose to interpret the first half of that saying, the latter half is clear: building out does not create a united community. It creates a city that is nothing more than several suburbs that happen to be very close together. Lexington already has dozens of great local restaurants, bars, retail and more, but they are largely located several blocksâ€”and sometimes even milesâ€”apart.
But the whole premise of CentrePit is to be a big conglomeration of retail and restaurants and bars, right? Well, itâ€™s going to be expensive. The Fictitious Financier is about to dump a lot of pretend money into this nonexistent project and, to his or her dismay, the condos and hotel rooms are going to be empty. Of course they are, because thereâ€™s nothing in downtown Lexington so great that people are going to fork over a ton of cash to be near it. The only way to generate revenue, then, is by leasing to â€œexclusiveâ€ and â€œupscaleâ€ businesses. Besides, a building full of million-dollar condominiums is not going to rent space to dive bars and used bookstores. Although I may be wrong there; since all of the condos are going to be vacant, thereâ€™ll be no ownerâ€™s association to complain about it.
One thing Pittsburgh does lack, with all its infrastructure, mass transit and wide sidewalks, is a well-connected bicycle system. Numerous bike trails do exist along the waterfront and a continuous 318-mile trail between McKeesport, near Pittsburgh, and Washington DC is nearing completion, but there do not seem to be many options for bike commuters in the city. I saw very few bike racks and donâ€™t recall seeing any bike lanes. The few cyclists I did see were riding in vehicle lanes or on the sidewalks.
My Friday in Pittsburgh was made even more special by the fact that it happened to be one of my favorite impromptu holidays: game seven of a Stanley Cup Finals in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing. The streets were littered with die-hard Pens fans, some even sporting black, long-sleeve jerseys in the 80+-degree weather. If Heaven has a sport-themed section, this has to be it. TV news cameramen descended on several local nightspots to film pre-game parties, and every one of the Port Authorityâ€™s buses were alternating â€œGo Pens!â€ with the destination display. Maybe itâ€™s just been too long since UK were in a championship of any sort, but I donâ€™t feel like Iâ€™ve ever seen this atmosphere in Lexington. Monday Iâ€™ll be attending the victory parade for the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins (thatâ€™s right, they won!), and I have a feeling that itâ€™s going to be amazing.