Mayor Jim Newberry of Lexington, KY Sits Down with MayorTV: “The presidential candidates should shoot straight. Cities are the key.”
As the Democratic presidential nominating process sputters to an anti-climactic close (or will it?), MayorTV – DMI’s campaign to stimulate discussion of cities in Election ’08 – pressed on to Kentucky, site of Tuesday’s primary, to ask the Mayor of Lexington Jim Newberry about urban issues.
Lexington, and the pride it takes in its rural surroundings, present a significant challenge to an urban issues agenda: how can a presidential candidate (and then a president) articulate an urban agenda that addresses the demographic, economic, and cultural diversity of America’s cities?
In general, Mayor Newberry described, there are quite a few areas of common ground for such seemingly diverse cities. “Whether you are in New York with the financial services industry or in Detroit with heavy manufacturing facilities or in Lexington with magnificent farmland around you, the needs are very, very similar,” he said. “We all need to have affordable housing. We all need to have sound infrastructure. We all need to have safe cities. We all need to have well-educated workforces. These are things that all cities can unite around.”
At the same time, Mayor Newberry looks to the federal government to facilitate “the activity that is already going on at the local level.” The Mayor described several Lexington policies that the federal government can help other localities replicate. In 1958, Lexington created the nation’s first Urban Growth Boundary and divided Lexington into an Urban Service Area and a Rural Service Area. This boundary, along with several subsequent restrictions on development, have helped to preserve the green space around Lexington that defines the cities’ culture and character. In particular, Mayor Newberry highlighted the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, which encourages the sale of property development rights in order to limit sprawl, as a policy that other cities can easily and effectively reproduce. The National League of Cities recognized the PDR program in 2004 as one of the best urban policies of the year. Additionally, Lexington was named a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Though Lexington has focused much energy on maintaining the rural landscape and pastureland around the city that attract tourists and maintain the city’s “Horse Capital of the World” brand, Lexington has not always been friendly to its environment. For years, inadequate sewage infrastructure and management difficulties produced, according to the EPA, “unlawful discharges of millions of gallons of untreated sewage…into streams in the Lexington/Fayette County area and increased pollution levels in urban storm water.” Under pressure from the EPA, Mayor Newberry has made cleaning up Lexington’s sewage infrastructure a priority and has entered into a consent decree “to substantially upgrade [Lexington’s] programs to reduce pollution in its storm sewer system…” through improved funding mechanisms and stricter ordinances. The EPA’s action to force Lexington to improve its sewage system was “painful”, Mayor Newberry admitted, but “helpful overall in terms of focusing us on our need to improve water quality.”
Finally, Mayor Newberry emphasized that metropolitan areas, rather than formal state boundaries, increasingly define global economic competition. In areas as diverse as broadband Internet access and residential development, cities can push ahead to deal with the challenges presented by technological growth, climate change, and globalization. Education and training are important, but for Mayor Newberry creativity is the fount of competitiveness: “If we are going to have the vibrant economy in the future that we want to have, it is absolutely imperative that we have a vibrant arts community.”
Mayor Newberry’s interview demonstrates that each of America’s metropolitan areas presents unique challenges- from horses and Bluegrass landscape to water infrastructure and declining manufacturing employment. But a national urban agenda would recognize cities as “the economic engines of our country” by supporting the infrastructure projects, the arts programs, and the environmental initiatives that make these engines run.
Visit MayorTV to see Mayor Newberry's interview and interviews with mayors from across the country.
The Urban Landscape:
Population of Lexington in 2006: 270,789
Horse population in Kentucky, as estimated in 2005 by the American Horse Council: 320,000
Percentage of population that was White in 2006: 79.2%
Percentage of population that was Black or African American in 2006: 13.8%
Percentage of population that was Hispanic or Latino (of any race) in 2006: 5.3%
Percentage of population that was Asian in 2006: 3.3%
Per capita income in Lexington in 2006, in 2006 dollars: 27,304
Per capita income in the United States in 2006, in 2006 dollars: 25,267
Percentage of individuals living below the poverty level in Lexington in 2006: 16.2
Percentage of individuals living below the poverty level in the United States in 2006: 13.3
Percentage of housing units that were vacant in Lexington in 2006: 9.7
Percentage of housing units that were vacant in the United States in 2006: 11.6
Mean travel time to work in Lexington in 2006, in minutes: 19.4
Mean travel time to work in the United States in 2006, in minutes: 25.0
Portion of the U.S. population within a day’s drive of Lexington: 2/3
Year urban and county governments merged to form the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government: 1974
Area of Fayette County, in square miles: 283
Mean average temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit: 54.9
Annual precipitation, in inches: 45.68
Lexington’s early nickname: Athen’s of the West
Lexington’s current nickname: Horse Capital of the World
Other American city that claims to be the Horse Capital of the World: Ocala, Florida