Introduction

What defines a community? What makes a neighborhood feel like home? 

These are very culturally dependent questions that get to the heart of one’s sense of attachment and place.  The Culture & Assets section of this plan is an attempt at conveying the characteristics that make the North End of Lexington feel like home to so many.

In 2010, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup Polling undertook “The Soul of the Community Survey” - a research project to understand what drives people's attachment to the place where they live. Lexington, Kentucky was one of the locations studied. It found that social connectivity, aesthetic beauty, and openness to new and diverse populations were some of the driving factors in the appreciation that Lexingtonians felt for their city. 

While conversations about what drives attraction to place are important and interesting, it is difficult to pick out specific details that make people love a place, especially when they are sitting in a town hall meeting, or in a one-on-one interview. 

In order to get at these granular details, the North Limestone CDC and the University of Kentucky took several groups of residents, business owners, and social service organizations on walks through the North End and asked them to use their senses to determine what they valued and what they did not value about the area. Despite the diverse and varied populations and perspectives in the neighborhood, their sentiments regarding the North End overlapped significantly.

Neighborhood Culture

In the North End, community members agreed that the neighborhood culture could be summed up with one thing: people.  

Across all engagement methods and all demographics, neighborhood culture in the North End was identified with the people who live and work in the neighborhood; and residents indicated that seeing and hearing their neighbors is what makes them feel at home. Whether it was seeing them walking on the street, or at community events and church, interacting with neighbors is what defined their sense of place for many North End residents.

What is not clear is how the definition of neighbors changed from group to group. Different social groups have their own set of community members, and it is not clear if community members felt the same sense of attraction to people from outside of their social group, despite living in close proximity to each other. Despite this, the majority of community members valued people and relationships as common bonds that hold their community together. This makes the possibility of building a stronger sense of solidarity and community as a whole neighborhood encouraging. 

Another heavily valued characteristic was the diversity of the neighborhood, although what aspect of diversity was valued was unclear. These responses show that residents value differences as well as commonalities. There was also a common sense of frustration from many that certain aspects of the neighborhood - from businesses to public art - did not necessarily reflect the neighborhood’s diversity.

Physical Environment

In terms of the physical and built environment of the neighborhood, many of the residents and business owners responded with similar sentiments regarding their sense of attachment to the North End. Residents enjoyed seeing mature trees, green space in the parks, and public art. They enjoyed seeing renovated and fixed up houses, and new businesses like The Wild Fig. They valued the playfulness and creativity of small art projects and Community Gardens. 

Residents enjoyed the sounds of birds in the trees and the sounds of music coming from car stereos as they drove by. Residents enjoyed hearing the sound of children playing and neighbors talking as they walked on the streets. They enjoyed the sounds of dogs barking and leaves crunching, and the smells of fresh mowed grass, coffee, donuts frying, and flowers.

Infrastructure

Residents felt frustrated by the poor state of infrastructure in the North End - from rapidly deteriorating curbs and sidewalks to boarded-up buildings. They indicated concern that the renovations occurring on housing would make them unaffordable to longtime residents. There was a distinct feeling of economic segregation that troubled residents on a property-by-property basis - rundown substandard housing next to expensive, beautiful housing. Tall privacy fences made residents feel as if they were not valued in their own communities. 

Residents did not enjoy the sounds of construction on homes and the jackhammering/repair of streets. Almost all residents expressed displeasure at the traffic noise as cars drove by. One group of residents was even yelled at by a passing driver to get further away from the street, despite walking in the middle of the sidewalk. They did not enjoy the smell of trash and litter that accumulated on the street, pet waste left on the sidewalk, or the manure that they associated with urban farming. Individuals also did not like the smell of the ginkgo tree in Duncan Park.

Vision for the Future

Residents had hope and optimism about the future of the North End, and clear ideas for what they would like to see in the future. They wanted better street infrastructure - more bus shelters, complete streets, pedestrian crossings, and public trash cans. Residents wanted to see well maintained places that their children would actually want to use to recreate - more soccer fields and basketball courts.

They wanted to see more gardens, flowers, and landscaping. They wanted to see more buildings restored by neighborhood residents for businesses started by neighborhood residents. They wanted to see markers telling the history of the neighborhood, and children playing in the street. They wanted slower traffic and more conversation between neighbors. They wanted to smell baking bread and taste food that was more representative of the diversity of the North End.

Sacredness

Residents also listed several things that they found sacred. These aspects of Neighborhood Culture were what were valued above all other things listed above. These included physical things that make the North End of Lexington iconic in the greater Lexington landscape: historic buildings and architecture, Castlewood and Duncan Parks, the African-American cemetery on 7th Street, and the variety of churches throughout the community. 

Culturally, community members found the people of the North End sacred. They valued the working class demographics of the neighborhood, people with deep roots in the community, and new residents interested in being a part of the community. They appreciated the variety of religious groups that do work in the neighborhood and neighbors that open up their homes to the community. They valued the complex history of the community and people that seek to lift up what might not be known in that history.

Welcomeness & Unwelcomeness

As the North End goes through demographic shifts, it is important to keep in mind what makes people feel welcome and unwelcome. This is a notion that can also feel very abstract to people - what makes one person feel welcome is different than what makes another person feel welcome. In an effort to gain a better understanding of what makes people feel welcome and unwelcome in their own neighborhood, these two topics were brought up to participants in a number of community engagement sessions. 

The people of the North End were identified as most important aspect of neighborhood culture that made people feel welcome in the North End. Respondents described that the diversity of the neighborhood, which was earlier defined as one of the things that made this neighborhood unique, was also one of the things that made them feel the most welcome in this place. The acceptance of different lifestyles made residents feel welcome, as did the social relationships and bonds amongst neighbors. “Front porch culture” and the community presence of churches like Embrace and Total Grace Baptist Church were also highlighted as key producers of the feeling of welcomeness. Physical characteristics of the neighborhood that made North End residents feel welcomed were the presence of community parks, businesses, the accessibility and walkability of the area, and historic buildings.

Responses regarding what made North End residents feel unwelcome in their own place tended to be more infrequent, but longer than the responses about what made people welcome.

Respondents felt that the poor quality of sidewalks, run-down properties, and trash on the streets make people feel unwelcome. Fences that are too close to sidewalks, such as the Kentucky Utilities property on the 700 block of North Limestone, and the large privacy fence on the 600 block of North Limestone made people feel that they were unwelcome. Several people also responded that not seeing people that looked like them made them uncomfortable.

Residents indicated that high crime rates make them feel unsafe, but that signage that described “you are being watched” and other anti-crime methods made them feel equally uncomfortable. Many respondents indicated that being perceived as an outsider in their own neighborhood make them feel very unwelcome - some indicated that new residents moving in did not engage with them on the street, or looked at them like they were out of place in their own neighborhood.

New cultural amenities that serve a younger clientele made many respondents feel uncomfortable. Another trend that appeared in the answers had a racial dynamic - with a few respondents saying that the presence of younger white people makes them feel uncomfortable. 

Despite a number of residents indicating they felt unwelcome in their own neighborhood, there was significant hope for bringing the community together.

Neighbors wanted more spaces to gather together, building on the already existing Park infrastructure. These ideas included building a stage in Duncan Park and an activity space in Castlewood Park. Residents also wanted tax incentives to keep people in their homes, and heritage celebrationsto showcase the different cultures and nationalities that exist within the neighborhood. They wanted to widen sidewalks so that people have more room to stop and talk with each other as they pass, or to stop and talk with people on their front porches.  They wanted more public transportation infrastructure and local employment programs to encourage businesses to hire from within the neighborhood.

Neighbors wanted less “outsiders coming in and more initiative from longtime residents.” They wanted more family-friendly activities and music venues that are more family-oriented. They wanted opportunities to share differing opinions and beliefs in a safe and respectful environment, and more events and festivals to build pride of place, and pride of community.

These ideas, centered around bringing together North End residents, could help strengthen assets that already exist in the North , growing bonds between different types of social groups that exist side-by-side in the North End.

Moving Forward

The remainder of this document will show a wide range of community input, and differing vision for the future of the North End of Lexington. However, just because this input has been gathereddoes not mean that these viewpoints represent everyone in the North End. 

It is important to understand that there are many different ways of looking at the North End. While some people might look at dilapidated housing and see blight, others might see childhood memories.  Where one sees a beautiful mural celebrating the vision of an artist, another might see a new identity placed on their neighborhood that they had no say in, don’t like, and can't get rid of. 

There is a need to create spaces for open and honest dialogue about the changes that are happening within the culture of the neighborhood. Inevitably, older generations of people will be replaced by younger ones,  and the North End culture will shift. The neighborhood is at a crucial turning point, and it is important for people to meet others where they are, and understand that they might have different viewpoints.

Many of the changes that are currently happening in the North End of Lexington can either erode the cultural fabric of the neighborhood, or lift it up and celebrate it. Many neighbors that are moving in (which largely have more access to economic, political, and social capital) can help bring about the changes that have been desired by North End residents for generations; however, these changes cannot come solely from new influence and capital. This work needs to be rooted in the relationships and existing assets in the North End, with new influence and capital augmenting it.