WHAT LEXINGTON NEEDS, by Chetan Talwalkar
photo by M. Watt
September 1994 Ace
Lexington needs more people who are committed to the land and to the community. Mortgage banker Roberta Wilson was quoted recently in a local newspaper saying, “The average home buyer doesn’t stay more than three to five years in Lexington.”
Physical rootlessness may be unavoidable in a mobile society, but the resulting psychological rootlessness seriously impairs people’s ability to determine what is in the long-term best interest of the community. Lacking the sense of belonging or commitment to the land or it’s people, those with a transient’s mindset, be they natives or newcomers, will make different choices than those who intend to be here long enough to face the consequences of those decisions. While the terms “transient” and “homeless” are usually associated with poverty, the poor seldom influence major community decisions. It is the short-term, “homeless” thinking of those bankers, builders, businessmen, lawyers, landowners, and politicians for whom Lexington is more a place to make a living than a place to make a life that has done irreparable harm to this community.
To Counteract these perverse influences, Lexington needs more people who believe enough in democracy to participate in it. This is hard work, the process is intentionally confusing (to keep the riffraff out), and you will be very politely ignored until you establish that you’ve done your homework and are not some kook who got “the facts” from the morning paper (notorious for its astonishingly poor, scandal-driven coverage of local government). If you feel that you don’t have time to be involved, add up the cost of not being involved.
Irresponsible storm-water management decisions dating back through Lexington’s history will require well over $90,000,000 to correct. Lexington’s southside traffic problems will probably require a similar amount, especially if new subdivisions continue to spring up there. Additional millions will be required to catch up on maintenance and upkeep to the city’s infrastructure foregone during the last twelve years. The cost to regain the one-sixth of Lake Jacobson’s capacity lost since 1979 due to erosion caused by development of the watershed is unknown but necessary, since the Lake supplies about 20% of Lexington’s drinking water. Each of these costs was shifted from those who should have borne them to future generations. Poor policy making by the government steals from the future – from our children and grandchildren – by forcing them to foot the bill for our mistakes. With the help of a few friends it is quite possible to be an effective advocate – all you really need is the determination to be involved in deciding how your money – and your children’s – is spent.
Lexington needs to asses impact fees to cover the public cost of new construction. Much has been written recently about the State’s counterproductive economic development strategy. The same is true for local development policies. The location of government-installed sewer lines determined Lexington’s growth through the 1970s. Though developers now install neighborhood sewers and roads, the government still pays for improvements needed to the to the rest of the system to accommodate new subdivisions. Would Man-O-War and Richmond Road have been possible if developers had been forced to bear more of the cost of their impacts on the community? These impacts directly or indirectly affect all parts of government operation.
According to some, privatization of government-provided services is the solution. The reasoning behind the argument ignores the record of the private sector in areas such as wastewater treatment or landfill construction, operation, and maintenance. The ability of private companies to use the courts, especially bankruptcy court, to escape liability is also worrisome. Ultimately, taxpayers are responsible, and so their representatives should be in control. Privatization may save money over the short term by allowing private companies to “use up” the existing infrastructure and cut corners. Of course, if you’re not planning to be around for the long haul, short-term savings sound pretty good, but those savings are achieved largely by shifting costs to future Lexingtonians.
Lexington needs to base community decisions on a community vision. It is often said that a small handful of people have made very important decision in Fayette County. Too often it has been at everyone else’s expenses. By not demanding a say in important community decisions we seem to assume our children are going to live elsewhere. That may explain why so many do.
Chetan Talwalkar is an engineer who has lived for the past three years on money he saved in order to spend his time as an active participant in city government. He is an independent advocate for the people. He says he can continue to do this work for six to nine more months.