Designing Oldham County's future

UK landscape architecture students
take on Oldham County as class project

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

BUCKNER, Ky. (April 2004) – Imagine Oldham County as you would like it to be in 20 years. How would it be different? What would it look like? What would people be doing here?
The answers to these and other questions will guide over the coming weeks the senior project of fifth-year landscape architecture students from the University of Kentucky. Each year, as a final requirement for graduation, the students select a county or an area in the commonwealth for a semester long study and large-scale planning project. In January, the students selected Oldham County and asked local government officials for consent.

UK-Jonathan Perkins

Photo provided

UK student Jonathan Perkins at work on the Oldham County project.

"We had a limited time in which to say yes, so we decided to say yes immediately," Judge-Executive Mary Ellen Kinser told approximately 45 community members who gathered at the Oldham County Community Center on Feb. 12 for the first of three public meetings. Kinser thanked the students for showing an interest in the county. "We're so glad that they made (Oldham County) their project for the semester," she said.
About 20 UK students and three professors, Horst Schach, Brian Lee and Stephen Austin, also attended the meeting, where information was shared and community input gathered.
Landscape architects do more than just plant trees and bushes, said student and project manager Steve Allen. Designing urban communities, plazas, university campuses, commercial and industrial sites and residential communities are all areas in which landscape architects concentrate their expertise.
Following an overview of the project presented by Allen and other students, meeting attendees were asked for their ideas. "The most important thing they can do tonight is hear from you all," said adjunct professor Stephen Austin. Austin, also the president and CEO of Bluegrass Tomorrow, a central Kentucky regional planning group based in Lexington, introduced Dr. Lori Garkovich, who facilitated the meeting by asking open-ended questions.
"This is about imagining the possibilities, so we should not allow ourselves to be constrained by what is," said Garkovich, a member of UK's College of Agriculture Department of Community Leadership and Development.
Those who showed up for the meeting were not short on opinions, about both the things they liked and the things they would change in the county.
Excellent schools, proximity to Louisville, scenic highways, rural beauty and landmarks such as Yew Dell Gardens and Duncan Memorial Chapel were some community strengths and assets cited.
Riverfront development, preservation of green space, better roadways, additional recreational facilities, planned growth, and economic development were among reoccurring issues of concern.
Following the first public meeting, students visited Oldham County for a weekend trip during which they gathered more information from county "stakeholders," according to professor Brian Lee.
The students returned for a second public meeting March 25 to present their findings and again get suggestions. Areas presented for project consideration included downtown La Grange, Pewee Valley and the riverfront in Westport. The purpose of the meeting was to determine which ideas seemed most worth pursuing based on responses from the public, said Lee. Tables featuring various topics were set up around the room where attendees could speak with students and share their ideas. About 32 people attended the meeting.
The students' project will culminate on May 6 with a final public meeting and presentation of a full-color project manual, complete with pictures, graphs, charts, information and recommendations. "We'd like to see more people there," said Lee.
UK's landscape architecture department implemented the senior studio planning project about 16 years ago, according to professor Horst Schach. Previous planning projects have included Elliott, Harlan and Washington counties, central Kentucky's equine region, and the Land Between the Lakes, he said.
In Washington County, where students completed a project last year, community officials regularly use the manual, according to Schach. Practical applications have included applying for grants, recruiting businesses and planning, he said.
Oldham County may realize similar benefits, but "the priorities are always different," said Schach.
UK's Landscape Architecture Program is a five-year program accredited by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Students who successfully complete the program go on to work in careers that include community design, planning and historic preservation.

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