Lexington, Kentucky – 6th Congressional District
The investments in Charles Young Park provided an opportunity to address long-standing inequities in Lexington’s East End neighborhood. As the Commission for Racial Justice and Equality Housing and Gentrification committee recognized, historical segregation by race and class was reinforced over time by disinvestment in the area – including the public spaces. Through a meaningful community engagement process, our team was able to secure buy-in and build trust early on in the project at Charles Young Park. The playground improvements were a forward step toward reinvesting in this historic downtown, and ensuring improvements were in line with those found throughout the city. The city’s efforts at Charles Young Park playground directly responds to our city’s goals of providing access to quality public parks and facilities to all in our community no matter their income, age, race, ethnicity, gender, or physical ability.
Improvements have led to this park becoming the number one visited park in downtown Lexington and continues to support numerous programs and community events for the adjacent neighborhoods. Through a community driven engagement process our design responds to the neighborhood’s input and has resulted in a new public facility to support the adjacent neighborhoods. Based on the wishes of the community, especially the input of our youth ambassadors, the play equipment was carefully selected to encourage playing “together.” The equipment includes pieces for all physical abilities as well as many opportunities for more than one child to play encouraging social cooperation and interaction. Additionally, several places within the playground were identified and reserved for potential cultural interpretive opportunities in the future.
This project is part of Town Branch Commons, a transformative vision for a multi-modal transportation and linear park system tracing the path of the historic Town Branch Creek providing an improved public realm, greenspace, and lush stormwater management infrastructure through downtown Lexington. Our team has measured and evaluated Charles Young Park in an effort to capture and understand the social and economic impacts of this civic investment. The playground improvements have spurred a noticeable increase of socioeconomic mixing as there have been more interactions among people with diverse economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Studies have shown that bridging social capital leads to greater innovation, education, upward mobility and increased opportunities for people in underserved communities. The park improvements are also supporting the local economy, as the park is an integral part of public life in the East End neighborhood. Improvements are a draw for adjacent private developments, including the newly opened mixed-use development, the MET, that incorporates local restaurant and retail businesses, artist studios, and mixed income housing. The improvements along this corridor, including those at Charles Young Park, intend to serve as a physical and spiritual “bridge” between varying populations, providing a place where people from all over our community can meet, gather, and learn from one another.
Why was this project chosen for CDBG funding?
Charles Young Park is a local community landmark and cherished amenity. During an era of social segregation, the Charles Young Community Center was established in 1934 as the city’s first indoor public recreational facility for African-Americans, and the adjacent park was only the second outdoor public recreational facility for African-Americans in Lexington. Both the center and park are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, affirming and celebrating the important role of Charles Young Center and Park, for its contribution to the cultural & ethnic history of Lexington, and particularly of the African-American community. The Charles Young Park provides an important physical and spatial indication of the existence of the East End community, and the importance that a public place holds for any community – for recreation and civic gathering.
The playground was reconstructed in 2003 as part of a playground renewal plan. However, the average life for a playground is 15-20 years. This particular playground was in need of replacement due to age and because it was originally constructed under minimal funding. Additionally, the parks in the East End, typically smaller neighborhood parks, have not received the renovations that regional parks have enjoyed – especially in regard to playgrounds and other amenities; therefore the renovations at Charles Young Park were needed and will have a long-lasting positive impact on the adjacent community for years to come.
Our city is committed to providing parks and trails in all neighborhoods. Our efforts have and will continue to shed light on ways to ensure we provide access and opportunities via our parks and trails for people of all races, ethnicities, incomes, abilities, and origins. In 2018, the Parks Master Plan, Your Parks, Our Future, designated the East End as an area with high social and economic needs highlighting this area for investment. Additionally, the park’s proximity to the Town Branch Trail (the hub of a city-wide parks and trail system), the park will be a centerpiece for all who are walking, running or biking, opening Charles Young Park to all of Lexington residents and downtown visitors.
The CDBG funded improvements have been completed and a public celebration and ribbon cutting for the playground was held in August 2021. Improvements have led to this park becoming the number one visited park in downtown Lexington and continues to support numerous programs and community events for the adjacent neighborhoods. The adjacent Town Branch Commons trail will soon celebrate the completion of construction in 2022; however, the adjacent plaza to Charles Young Park has already been completed and safely accommodates visitors to the park as they move from the park to the trail. The investment by the city to renovate the playground and construct the downtown trail has led to an additional $1.25M in private funds to be invested in the park toward downtown’s first nature inspired splash pad. This water play zone will offer water-based sensory and educational experiences for all ages and abilities while providing a direct and meaningful connection between the existing playground and the city-wide trail system.
• LFUCG Division of Parks and Recreation
• LFUCG Mayor’s Office
• Council District 1 Office
• Charles Young Center Advisory Board
• William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association
• Colonel Club – youth park ambassador program
• LFUCG Division of Historic Preservation
• Kentucky Heritage Council
• Private Donors – Vulcan Materials and Kiwanis Club of Lexington
Private funds $90,000
Other public funds (please list source) Parks Operation Fund $10,000
Monica Conrad, Director, Parks and Recreation Lexington KY, 859.288.2965, [email protected]