Some friends of mine who also live in the East End neighborhood in Lexington are involved in a historical preservation project, which seeks to document the remarkable people, places, and buildings that have passed through the area over the years.
One of these places is the Bluegrass-Aspendale housing development. Built in stages between 1936 and 1951, the development was Lexington’s first venture into public housing. Initially, it was segregated. Bluegrass Park was occupied by whites; Aspendale by blacks. It wasn’t until January 1974 (well into the civil rights movement) that a 300-yard fence, which separated whites from blacks, was torn down. This fence actually had barbed wire coils on the top of it, since, as Robert Frost once said, good fences make good neighbors.
At its peak, Bluegrass-Aspendale housing complex had 963 units. But around 1990, the Lexington Housing Authority began to thin out the neighborhood by demolishing 295 units. In October 2005 the housing authority received a federal grant to demolish what remained of Bluegrass-Aspendale and redevelop the site. New apartments have already been built, along with a new school. More apartments and single-family homes are planned.
Today, historical ethnographers interpret Bluegrass-Apendale as an example of the challenges faced when cities try to revitalize urban neighborhoods. It is at least this, and a reminder of the toll that visible signs of segregation can take on a community.