April 4, 2007 | By: Carol Lea Spence

The group of civic and academic leaders that gathered at the Kentucky Horse Park recently were examining questions whose answers not only impact Lexington and the Bluegrass area but could possibly resonate across the commonwealth, as well.

Ernest Yanarella, a University of Kentucky political science professor and the coordinator of Lexington, the Bluegrass and the Future of Planning conference, catalogued those questions for the group.

“How do we break from the old politics of planning that has produced bitter conflict, win-lose policy solutions, creeping urban sprawl and worsening infrastructure problems?

“How do we protect the environmental and cultural treasures of the region?

“What steps need to be taken to create a new politics of collaboration, creativity and transformation?”

The nearly 80 invited participants in the event, which was funded by UK’s Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment, were representatives from the University of Kentucky, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, and Fayette County School System. Yanarella was prompted to organize the conference by a number of factors, including the results of the most recent city-county elections and the fact that sustainability appears more frequently on local and regional agendas.

He said that over the last nine months he has seen a proliferation of new groups relating to sustainability, who have begun to play a role in the conversation, not only about the Bluegrass region, but also about UK and its responsibilities. 

“So it struck me that it was time to try to bring together representatives from these diverse bodies to sit down and talk about these issues,” he said.

Keynote speaker Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, Inc., and founder of the ideaFestival, focused on the need to create an atmosphere that fosters innovative thinking. He pointed out that, though the number of college graduates in Kentucky has risen, it has risen at a slower rate than in the rest of the country. That means that in 2004, Kentucky was farther behind than it was in the early 1970s.

He said it is time to create a new strategy to create an environment for sustainable growth, quality of life and innovation.

“Ask yourself, who said it always has to be that way?” Kimel said.

The role of the Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment, a part of the UK College of Agriculture, in collaborating with Yanarella on this event is one that fits with the center’s mission.

“We’re designed to work across all colleges,” said Carol Hanley, the center’s director of education and communication. “As long as it has an environmental flavor, somehow tied to natural resources and the environment, we are happy to help. We want to bring these people together. That’s our purpose.”

Nancy Cox, associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture, said the college is involved in urban planning and land management because it is interested in using the land as a resource base, as well as in creating healthy environments, “whether that’s a family environment or the natural environment around us.”

“And we’re not just planning in Lexington,” Hanley said, “because how we plan impacts Woodford County and Jessamine County, and how we create wealth in Lexington and the Bluegrass will impact the rest of the state.”

Conference attendees felt a sense of urgency to resolve the problems facing Lexington, the Bluegrass and Kentucky as a whole. 

“As Kris (Kimel) pointed out (in his keynote speech), in this speeded-up world of globalization, we can’t afford to drag our feet,” Yanarella said. “If we do, we’re going to find ourselves remaining 48th, 49th, 50th (in state rankings)…. That’s not good enough.”


Carol Hanley, 859-257-3785, Nancy Cox, 859-257-3333, Ernest Yanarella, 859-257-2989