I can’t agree with Tom Eblen’s premise in his Sunday column in the Herald — “After the games, nation got an unflattering look at UK, Lexington” — but the larger point he’s getting at is a good one:
Last week’s mayhem was a wake-up call to both UK and Lexington officials. They must redouble their efforts to clean up neighborhoods around campus that have been allowed to become little more than student-rental slums.
The problems began in the 1970s, when UK dormitory construction and maintenance began falling behind enrollment growth. About the same time, longtime residents of some nearby neighborhoods built between the early 1800s and early 1900s began dying off or moving away.
Many homes were sold to the university for campus expansion. Others were sold to student-rental entrepreneurs, who either cut up old homes into rental rooms or knocked them down to build boxy apartment complexes.
Once-lovely neighborhoods where many faculty and staff used to live fell into disrepair, as fewer and fewer homes were occupied by their owners. UK’s hands-off attitude reached its zenith in 1998 when officials banned alcohol from campus, which pushed student parties into the surrounding neighborhoods.
Landlords used zoning loopholes to build large dorm-like additions to bungalows and pave over yards, overwhelming those areas with people, cars, garbage and storm-water runoff. Those neighborhoods were not designed for such density.
Diane Lawless, the Urban County Council member who represents those neighborhoods, said the problems have been made worse by spot rezoning and years of building inspection that was “way beyond lax.”
Eblen goes on to look at how these neighbhorhoods are changing, how the city and the University have begun working together to play catch up on getting the situation under some sort of control (or attempt to).
His thoughts on State Street came on the heels of more pointed criticism from the paper’s Editorial Board, which correctly and directly placed the blame for the situation at the feet of the University of Kentucky and years of lax governance from the city… that abusive relationship in which the city has bowed at the feet of the University over and over again as if the one controls the other and not the other way ’round.
If University of Kentucky researchers ever want to study the link between social pathology and failed urban planning, all they have to do is walk across Nicholasville Road.
There, in the shadow of UK’s beautiful new hospital, they would find what once was a pleasant neighborhood of retirees, young families, professors and students.
The neighborhood was destroyed when demand for student housing and UK’s 1998 ban on alcohol at fraternity houses collided with an ineffectual city government, and, voila, Lexington created a slum.
It’s no coincidence that this overcrowded student ghetto is Ground Zero for the vandalism, arson, drunkenness and violence that accompany UK sports events and reached an embarrassing peak after Saturday night’s win over in-state rival Louisville.
As to Eblen’s initial point, that the University’s abuse of its neighbors resulted in a black eye for Lexington on some national scale… I’m not so sure that particularly matters, even if it were true. And it’s probably not true — no one’s talking about UCONN’s “riots” (which weren’t riots either) after last year’s victory. The truth is, six months from now, no one outside the state will care about Lexington or the supposed riots. And the truth is that the real issue isn’t what people might think, but what the University could do better to no longer be a predator on its community but a protector.
And… as we’ve been pointing out, the real story about that celebration wasn’t a few bad apples, but that the “riot” wasn’t a riot at all but instead a pretty remarkable city-wide celebration. As the Fuzz themselves said:
About 60 fires were reported, and more than 20 people, including a shooting victim, were taken to the hospital.
However, police emphasized at a news conference Tuesday that the majority of revelers was well-behaved. Police said crowds at South Limestone, State Street and the intersection of Woodland and Euclid avenues totaled 15,000 to 20,000 people.
“The number of arrests we made and the number of problems we had, we felt like, were relatively small based on the number of people that we had celebrating,” Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. “I think that speaks volumes to Wildcat fans and the Big Blue Nation.”