Louisville, as with many American cities, has suffered from the effects of urban renewal and disinvestment in the urban core during the mid-20th Century. Large swaths of the city, particularly east and west of 4th Street just south of Jefferson, were leveled in the name of progress. One only has to look at recent aerial maps of the city to see these scars like open wounds. In the image above, the red indicates surface or vacant hardscapes and the black features are the buildings.
In some very fortunate cities, growth and development efforts have really ramped up, and these vacant and underutilized spaces are rapidly being developed. Unfortunately, the resurgence of development in downtown Louisville was only beginning to take off when the recession of 2007-08 hit and cut the city and developers off at the knees. A multitude of game changing developments did not survive the economic crisis and the city is just now beginning to really get a foothold and bounce back.
Though there are some exciting developments in progress and new ones in the works, without the ridiculous growth that cities like Austin have seen, the multitude of underutilized surface parking and other vacant spaces in our urban core will be around for quite some time.
These surface lots and vacant spaces weaken the built environment by breaking up the city into a patchwork of active streetscapes and less attractive spaces, fragmenting the much desired walkability and street-life that promotes a vibrant urban experience. In order to begin repairing these disjointed areas in the city, we need to begin looking at creative ways to activate these spaces now with low-cost investments that pre-vitalize the space until future, large-scale development can take hold.
It is possible to find a higher and better use for the plethora of parking lots and empty spaces in our city that can increase the tax base, provide jobs, and reconnect the built environment. But we have to be creative and we have to be willing to experiment.
This is not an attack on the automobile. Like it or not, the car will be around for a long time to come. We can accommodate for a reasonable number of automobiles, but at the same time we must find ways to reclaim the valuable real estate along our streets and sidewalks to recreate the rich pedestrian environments that many of the most sought after cities provide.
Examples of this sharing of space could include identifying strategic locations where surface lots and vacant spaces exist in otherwise vibrant commercial corridors, or where they blight corners such as along 2nd and 3rd Street at multiple intersections. What if you took a handful of those parking spaces by the corner and created retail pads where food trucks and other pop-up retail could reside activating the streetscape and hiding the parked cars, all without loosing much parking. It is being done in other cities, it can be done here.
We need to be able to look back in a year or two and find that we are no longer a contender for the city with the worst parking craters. I think we can do it and ReSurfaced can be that catalyst for change, but it will take a lot of people to make it happen and begin this new dialog of urban experimentation.