Retrofitting the RETRO

The Retrofitting the RETRO: Southland Drive Case Study is a visioning exercise conducted alongside the sidewalks design and construction project. The study is being conducted by the City’s Division of Planning in partnership with the University of Kentucky’s School of Interiors: Planning, Strategy, & Design, Historic Preservation, and the Landscape Architecture programs. All work is purely conceptual and provides a way for the Southland neighborhood to explore creative design options to supplement the infrastructure that is underway.

RtR logo

Suburban commercial strip centers are scattered about the city. A place once a community center for neighborhoods now acts as a physical and social divider in some places. This project, Retrofitting the Retro explores how to connect and revitalize suburban strip centers by proposing design solutions to alter the parking lots into a welcoming public space while still providing adequate vehicular circulation and parking. The project is discovering how to create a welcoming shared public space in a suburban style strip center to enhance mobility and make for a more attractive, safe, successful, and supportive neighborhood district.

Street Section

Commonly known as the strip mall- these centers were once thriving and offered a space for the exchange of goods, information, and social connections as the automobile dominated our community development patterns in the 1950’s & 1960’s. But many have emptied due to bigger developments and anchor stores that moved to the malls. Some strip centers have been vacant for years and have become physical and social dividers within neighborhoods.

The big question


Downtown Lexington has completed a Gehl Studio led Public Space Public Life Study, has implemented several tactical urbanism pilot projects, and others are underway. Retrofitting the Retro will collaboratively work with the neighborhood, city representatives, and other stakeholders to employ strategies and lessons learned from the downtown urban environment to the suburban commercial context. Design explorations will leverage planned infrastructure investment of the sidewalks project and complement the existing built environment to resolve mobility and public space issues.

Southland Drive has a strong neighborhood and business association (one others look to as a model to follow) which has worked diligently to attract and retain successful retail, dining, and entertainment options drawing a regular and diverse customer base. However, this district exhibits limiting physical characteristics of a retro strip center. With a lack of safe connections andWhy SD box shared public space, many visitors rarely explore all that the district has to offer. With sidewalks underway it is the appropriate time for the Southland Dr. area to creatively explore how to connect the users of the sidewalks and bike lanes to the business storefronts and other amenities.

This case study is documenting the district’s history, successes, and challenges and using a data driven approach to inform public space designs. This district has so much to offer already and the physical environment explorations will provide valuable lessons learned to Southland Dr. and other neighborhoods around Lexington.

SD pictures


The project has had students exploring the history of and design solutions for retrofitting the suburban strip mall model. Check out all the hard work that the students have completed!

  • Click play on the video above for a semester overview of the Retrofitting the RETRO project.


Student Project Summary

  • A summary document of the work completed during the Fall 2016 Semester may be downloaded by clicking the image below.

  • The three schools combined for an intensive data collection and design development process for DESIGN WEEK 2016 which included a case study visit to Nashville, a lecture series, and data collection. The students conducted pedestrian counts, bike counts, parking utilization analysis, physical environment assessment, and perceptions on public space and walkability of the corridor.
    • The data collection informed their development of “What If” statements for Southland Drive.  These are big concept proposals which has informed their continued work. You may view the students’ conceptual Design Week Videos with this link.


Community Input

  • A community input meeting was held on October 5th and was a huge success. We had approximately 75 community members in attendance, and with all students and faculty we had 110 people in one room talking about the future of Southland Drive. Additionally the students’ Design Week Concepts were presented and well received from those attending. Our goal with sharing the students’ work is to spark ideas within the neighborhood, and we are hopeful that some of them may be a springboard for community action.


  • Students from Landscape Architecture have taken their data and lessons learned to inform the development of three master plan proposals for the entire corridor. Interior Design students have applied the same information toward the development of retail concepts that could be utilized along the corridor.

Pop-Up Design Competition

  • Students were then invited to bring their big thinking to a smaller scale as they had the opportunity to participate in a student design competition hosted by the City’s Division of Planning, made possible by a grant from the Blue Grass Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund.

Retrofitting the Retro: Pop-Up Public space design competition challenges University of Kentucky student teams (multidisciplinary encouraged) to propose a temporary, mobile structure that will activate and connect businesses and the proposed sidewalks along the Southland Drive corridor while supporting economic opportunity and social inclusion. The submissions are schematic in nature only, but aim to inform a design/build project in spring 2017. Download the design brief and more details about the design competition HERE.

  • The community was invited to a public exhibit of the students’ work and presentation of the design competition submittals on December 7, 2016 at Good Foods Co-op from 5-7pm. We welcomed many to come share their thoughts and vote on their favorite ideas! Following this a selection committee discussed all of the competition submittals to choose a winner. All pop-up design competition submittals can be viewed HERE.

Rakeem Bradshaw’s Music Lounge Pop-Up was the winner and he is now working on the final design to fabricate and install on Southland Drive in May 2017

The Music Lounge Pop-up Launch

  • On Friday May 12, 2017 the Division of Planning hosted a ribbon cutting the celebrate the opening of The Music Lounge: Southland Pop-up. Press and the community came out on a rainy day in support. Click on the video below to hear more from the ribbon cutting or check out the video at this link.

  • This is a continuation of the Retrofitting the RETRO Public Space Pop-Up Design Competition held in Fall 2016. Student Rakeem Bradshaw, from UK’s Landscape Architecture Department, brought his winning design idea to life. With the help of many community partners we now can experience expanded pedestrian amenities at this location.

Click the Image below to read more about The Music Lounge!



Continued Research and Design

  • Three Landscape Architecture students continued building upon the Retrofitting the RETRO Fall analysis during Spring 2017 semester, and developed inspiring ideas at three different scales for the corridor. Their work was presented at the Southland Lunch-N-Learn hosted by the Division of Planning on May 3rd. Their thoughts and ideas were enthusiastically discussed among those in attendance. Thank you to the Southland Association, 10th District Council Office, UK Landscape Architecture Dept., and Willie’s Locally Known for making this event a success!


Check out the student presentations below and see more about their inspiring ideas for the Southland Corridor. They proposed exciting enhancements for the corridor at a variety of locations and scales.

Retrofitting the RETRO has been buzzing around town- check out some of the good press:

UK Students Begin to Re-Envision Southland Drive, October 4, 2016
City lands grant for public pop-up space on Southland Drive, November 1, 2016
UK students help design new public space on Southland Drive, December 5, 2016
UK Design Proposals for Southland Drive Strike the Right Chord with the Community, December 15, 2016
Southland neighborhood, built for cars, is about to become pedestrian-friendly, February 18, 2017
Distinct Districts: Southland Drive, March 1, 2017
Temporary ‘Music Lounge’ opens on Southland Drive in Lexington, May 12, 2017
UK Grad’s Pop-Up Space Brightens Southland Drive Despite Rainy Welcome, June 30,2017

This design project is an academic exercise that will give great real world experience to the UK students involved while at the same time offering design assistance to the neighborhood. Please stay connected and give us your input. We will post updates and way to get involved periodically to this website.  To always stay connected be sure to sign up for email alerts for the most up to date information. For Retrofitting the RETRO specific questions feel free to email Brandi Peacher in the Division of Planning at