Politics and Policy in the town-gown relationship
By Tommy Wilson

The year is 2010, and the place is the area surrounding the University of Kentucky. A walk around this area eight years prior would include such visual sites as old mansions containing multiple rental properties, students walking briskly despite their heavy backpacks, and an enormous number of economy cars lining the streets.

In 2010, the scene is barely recognizable as the rental properties have become the homes of middle class ex-suburbanites; the students have been replaced by families walking their purebred dogs; and the cars are European or SUVs, or both.

The area once the domain of the students has become the home of the modern bourgeois.

Can't Get There from Here?

When people look back for the catalyst for these changes, two policies will emerge.

The first: the Lexington Area Party Plan (LAPP) that targeted students by enabling police to heavily fine collegiate revellers for noise disturbances. (A three strikes, you're out policy.)

The second was the "College Town" proposal that changed the area into a mixed-use retail zone to attract local businesses, thus making the once student-dominated neighborhood too expensive for their scant budgets.

Here in the present, we find the policies in their infancy and the students of the University of Kentucky caught unaware.

Are the university and urban county council conspiring to rid the "college town" area of students to serve their own agendas?

The new policies make positive claims of "revitalizing" the area and lowering neighborhood disturbance, but the real goal of the proposal and the plan are far more complicated than their taglines allow. Examining the key players and the true motives behind the policies presents a more complex picture.

The first piece of the puzzle is second-term city urban county council member Dick DeCamp, representing the 3rd District in Lexington located between the corner of Limestone and High Street ending at Rosemont Avenue. DeCamp serves on the Planning, Services, and Intergovernmental Committees and worked as director of LFUCG's historic preservation office on housing related issues until 1994.

Recently, DeCamp has played an influential role in his neighborhood by introducing the Lexington Area Party Plan (LAPP) to supposedly keep neighborhood disturbances to a minimum.

DeCamp proposed a similar bill a few years ago that would "prevent a certain amount of non-related [family] people to live together," and was instrumental in securing historic zoning status for much of the area surrounding campus. In addition, DeCamp has also backed the "College Town" proposal that entails the retail and residential improvement of a large portion of the area he represents.

In July of this year, DeCamp hinted at his poor relations with students when he was quoted as saying, "There's been too much of an adversarial role between UK and Lexington." He added that he hoped College Town would improve relations.

This attempt at resolving past collisions with students comes one month after DeCamp told a Kentucky Kernel reporter that despite their overwhelming presence in his area of representation, "[he] didn't represent students."

Politics may have changed his tune. DeCamp is not lying when he says that he wants to work with UK. He wants to work with the university to promote "college town" because it's in his best interest to do so.

Dhiru Thadani, a consultant from architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, which UK hired to develop plans for college town, says that the proposal will increase property values.

Increased property values will force students out just like the LAPP, but the financial impact is more far-reaching.

Without students in the area, rent will drop due to lack of demand.

Neil Smith and Michele LeFaivre argue that pre-gentrification of property requires that it be physically unattractive and run down to lower the price. Students have already accomplished the "running down" of buildings in the area, and while the property in DeCamp's domain is certainly not at its lowest potential value, its value is lower than it could be if inhabited by homeowners. Landlords do not maintain property the same as homeowners because the property is maintained for cost vs. profits instead of personal aesthetics. If students were displaced and middle class homeowners flooded the area the property would become much more valuable.

If "college town" becomes reality, the value of the property will skyrocket. This neighborhood class change would do two very important things for DeCamp.

First, it would increase his potential constituency, because the non-voting students would be replaced with voting middle class people. Second, it would garner more tax revenues from his district for the city.

Dick DeCamp would be beloved by his constituency and the city elders for raking in, as filmmaker Kevin Smith once wrote, the "proverbial 'phat cash,'" or for those not versed in student speak, money.

Political Scientist Steve Voss writes that, "Nearly half of all domestic government expenditure is paid for by taxes raised by state and local governments."

This money is used to fill the city's coffers which, in turn, dole out money for services such as parks, police, fire, and sanitation. If DeCamp's district were to put more wealth into those coffers, it stands to reason that DeCamp could garner more or better services for his constituents which increase his chances for reelection.

If you've been following politics for the last 200 years, reelection has been a rather important issue for politicians. Politicians of DeCamp's age are also beginning to think of "legacy." That requires prestige within the halls of government. DeCamp being the city councilman for the "hippest" and wealthiest neighborhood in town would increase that.

DeCamp is certainly working with UK to make sure that "college town" is a success and that the LAPP stops noise disturbances. Maybe he wants what most politicians want: power. Maybe he wants what most people his age want in their neighborhoods: peace and quiet.

Politicians, while the most visible of the power hungry, are definitely not the only ones who strive to be kings of their respective hills. Heads of hospitals, universities, and other major institutions share the same inclination.

Lee Todd is the 11th president to serve the university and is, himself, no stranger to power. Since becoming the head of the university, Todd has excited professors, students, and alumni alike with his almost visionary reformist ideas that he hopes will culminate in making UK a top 20 university.

Part of his plan is to connect downtown Lexington and UK with a retail corridor stretching down Limestone Avenue. It is Todd's hope that UK students can become the consumer backbone for the new Lexington shopping area and in turn enchant and sway prospective students into a freshmen seat at the university. His views on the LAPP have been somewhat less notable as his administration has no official stance on the issue. Despite the new direction Todd gives the university, his pledge to work hand in hand with Lexington and his lack of comment on the LAPP point to a underlying theme uniting both cases.

Lee Todd may want his beloved UK student body out of the areas surrounding campus, but not for the same reasons as Dick DeCamp. He wants them on-campus.

Consultants from the architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross estimate that the University of Kentucky needs 4,000 new dorm rooms to keep up with the rest of the competitive collegiate universe. Those same consultants highlight that it's important for a university to have about 30 percent of its students living on campus, whereas UK houses an unremarkable 20 percent. The other 80 percent live off campus despite studies that show students who live on campus do better academically.

If the grades of the student body at UK go up, the university's ranking cannot be far behind.

The problem facing the university when trying to capitalize on this potential is that while the existing university housing is overflowing, it isn't overflowing enough to warrant the construction of 4,000 more rooms.

The solution? Displace nearby students directly into their housing system through the gentrification of college town and the enforcement of LAPP. Lee Todd isn't out to destroy the lives of students, but to passively force them into UK's educational web, while at the same time forming close bonds with the city through his association with the financial giant called "college town."

Politicians seeking power and educators trying to improve rankings are certainly no catalyst for revolt. There is no need for protests or the burning of buildings, but what is needed is a critical look by students at the role they play in city politics and in university goals.

The LAPP and the "college town" proposals are being used to push students away from campus to further agendas that may have little to do with student needs.

Neither of these developments are intrinsically bad, but the true intent of recent proposals and policies has not been fully disclosed or examined.

Everybody wins if students are out of the campus-adjacent neighborhoods, but "noise control" and "revitalization" are but absurd euphemisms for the ultimate goals of the people that tout them.

Contentious relationship continues
By Rhonda Reeves

Everybody wants to live in a college town-and enjoy all the cultural amenities such an environment provides- if only it weren't for those pesky students.

UK and Lexington aren't the first to experience fractious battles between students and townies.

Some communities- like North Carolina's triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (home to too many institutions of higher learning to count) - have solved some meaningful problems.

The students and the residents co-exist. The students come to think of themselves as citizens of the town (a rarity at UK) in which they live for most of the year. And the community benefits by fostering and nurturing an intellectual culture in which industry, technology, and economy thrive.

But that's Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.

It isn't Lexington. It isn't even close.

In Lexington, it's status quo: the homeowners (i.e., taxpayers) dislike the kids (and the noise and the trash and the ratty vehicles that-stereotypically-accompany them not always, but often enough to have made stereotype status), and everybody loathes the absentee slumlords.

In one ill-advised "solution" to that problem, the urban-county council passed the historic H-1 overlay that now covers much of the area surrounding campus. The concept was that subjecting the slumlords to standards of historic appropriateness and accuracy when making repairs and renovations would improve the look of the neighborhood.

Yeah. Great idea.

The slumlords stopped making repairs of any kind, ever.

One house on Woodland Park had a cascading waterfall in the kitchen ceiling for eight months because the owner refused to go to the hassle of getting a permit to get the roof fixed.

Ultimately, when the kids stopped paying the rent, the landlord eventually made a few desultory repairs around the place - without bothering to secure permission from anyone - and the result is a cheap, trashy façade that's been slapped onto a 100-year-old structure by a day-crew that looked to be straight out of Folsom Prison, as opposed to say, master craftsmen.

The place was none too sharp to start with; now it's so far beyond rehab that only a bulldozer could solve the aesthetic problems it represents.

Men with clipboards subsequently showed up and took notes. And it's possible fines and penalties were incurred - but those could never make up for what the neighbors now have to drive by every day.

Years ago, the Aylesford neighborhood- students and homeowners alike - turned to both the university and the urban county council for leadership in solving the slumlord problem, and what they got was another layer of bureaucracy that made things worse instead of better.

Now there are new plans and policies and place that will likely prove just as ineffective.

What has to change?

Well, for one thing, Wethington (Joe "if I only had a brain" Community College) has been replaced by Lee Todd. That's a start. Next up is the mayoral race this fall.

A productive town-gown relationship depends on having a visionary leader at the helm of both institutions.

So far, we're only halfway there.