KY Green Building Leadership Summit
The US Green Building Council Kentucky is putting on an interesting event on Wednesday, June 25th at 11:00 am in the UofL Clinical & Translational Research Building. This is a great opportunity to hear from the CEO and founding chair of the USGBC! Time is running out, sign up asap at www.usgbckentucky.org/fedrizzi.
Great Streets Start with Strong Corners
Monday, June 1, 2014 by Patrick Piuma
Beautiful corner in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Queen Village
Walkability has worked its way into the lexicon of cities looking to revitalize and attract talent. These built environments that foster rich pedestrian experiences with vibrant streetscapes and a mix of amenities are not only sought after commodities, but also have been found to increase property values (Walking the Walk, CEOs for Cities), something that has not gone unnoticed by real estate agents. Tools such as WalkScore are being integrated into real estate search sites, used by buyers and sellers alike to capture the added value of proximity to transit, shopping, schools, parks, and more. Typically, more compact neighborhoods with a mix of uses score higher on walkability. However there are additional factors beyond existing amenities that contribute to high-quality walkable environments, specifically within the built form of a city or neighborhood.
One of these factors is the definition of the street. Many celebrated pedestrian environments have streets that create "outdoor rooms." These spaces have definitive streetwalls, generated by buildings with contributing elements such as street trees. Continuous streetwalls not only provide a sense of enclosure, but also visual interest. There is a finite distance people are willing to walk past empty lots and vacant buildings, often referred to as "missing teeth," before the street becomes unappealing for pedestrians.
Though not a unique problem for Louisville, there are an unfortunately high number of streets in our densest neighborhoods that fail to create these outdoor rooms. In the central business district, aside from West Main Street and perhaps Fourth Street, there are very few examples of continuous streetwalls on both sides of the street. Missing teeth along East Market, at significant locations in NuLu, break up what otherwise is a solid pedestrian experience. Even along Baxter and Bardstown Road, arguably one of our most successful walkable commercial corridors, there are gaps that present opportunities to strengthen the street in key places.
Third Street, a street that is one block from the spine of our city along Fourth, is one example that illustrates our streetwall shortcomings. Along a half-mile stretch of Third Street, from Jefferson to Broadway, less than 42% of the street has buildings on both sides at any one section of roadway. If you don't include parking garages, that number drops to about 14%. To make things worse, the pattern of existing buildings shifts between the east and west side of the street so the pedestrian experience is further fragmented. This can help explain why there are so few pedestrians seen walking along this corridor.
The map above illustrates the fragmentation of the streetwall along Third Street. The red areas indicate the numerous surface lots and the blue show the parking garages. Though newer models of structured parking are incorporating first level retail or offices that reduce the negative impact they can have on the quality of the pedestrian environment, the examples along Third Street, such as the ~300 foot long street frontage garage image below, offer a marginal improvement to surface lot blight.
Beyond the incredibly poor streetwall along Third Street is a monumental failing of a linchpin of the street, the corner. The intersection at Jefferson is the only place where there are buildings on all four corners along this stretch (and that is only because I am including parking garages and a faceless convention center). This is important because strong corners can soften the effects of a weak streetwall by presenting travelers with a sense of massing and density. Strong corners provide the "cover" from which people judge the street beyond. Even surface lot bombed-out sections of street can be masked if it has strong corners with human-scaled buildings at its intersections.
The south-east corner of Muhammad Ali and Third, where the Urban Design Studio is located (pictured above), is one of the only examples of a solid streetwall along the half-mile corridor.
Unfortunately, right across the street is another massive parking garage and a surface lot on the south-west corner of Muhammad Ali and Third (picture above). Haven't seen the plans, but hopefully once the redevelopment of the incoming Embassy Suites is complete, something other than a surface lot and garage entrance will grace this important corner along the corridor.
Moving south on Third Street visitors will be greeted with another unfortunate intersection at Chestnut. The two expansive craters of surface lots on the east side of Third (above) completely destroy any sense that this is in a city setting. Regrettably there is almost a mirror image of this view just west of this location beyond Fifth or Sixth Street, both victims of previous urban renewal efforts.
At the end of this stretch of Third is Broadway. Aside from the excessively expansive road width or Broadway, this could be a great city streetcorner. Some beautiful historic mid-rise buildings grace three of the corners, however the sense of density is negated by a gigantic surface lot on the south-west corner in front of the Downtown Free Public Library. This site offers so much potential to re-weave the urban fabric along both prominent corridors. I would include an image of what building was on this corner, but I am afraid that it would bring some people to tears.
Click image to enlarge
Corners play a significant anchoring role even on streets that are otherwise very successful pedestrian environments. East Market between Hancock and Campbell is an example of a great walkable environment with an almost solid streetwall with most of the buildings meeting the sidewalk offering pedestrians great storefronts to view the activity at the various restaurants, offices, art galleries, and retail shops. The red areas in the map above indicate the two major corner surface lots that offer an amazing opportunity to strengthen street and elevate Nulu to a truly urban neighborhood environment. The green circle points out a corner building that manages to extend the pedestrian experience and provide an anchor to a section of Market that would otherwise fade off well before the south side of the 800 block ends.
Click image to enlarge
Though trees help obscure the empty lot at the north-west corner of Market and Shelby (see the left side of the image above), this empty corner lot is keeping the area down by destroying the sense of density right in the middle of NuLu. With a streetscape improvement project on the books and talk of a potential development on this site, NuLu could become one of Louisville's best examples of a vibrant pedestrian environment.
Just as a quick example, consider how different the entire streetscape would feel if there was a well proportioned building holding down the corner (see above).
The above image shows the Rye building anchoring what essentially is the current end of the retail corridor as a solid unit. Even with the expansive surface lot between the rest of the shops on the south side, Rye makes it possible to extend the perception of the district and imagine one day the continuation of storefronts, housing and other amenities being developed eastward.
Most successful urban neighborhood streets that promote pedestrian activity have buildings built to the sidewalk, particularly at their corners. However, Garage Bar (above) is one example of how a well executed design of the outdoor space, when used sparingly along the corridor, can not only maintain the dense urban feel of the street, but actually improve it and become a central focus of the area for pedestrian activity.
Baxter & Broadway
The Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road corridor that traverses the many neighborhoods that make up the Highlands area of Louisville is arguably our City's best example of a vibrant pedestrian environment. When I moved to Louisville in 1997 this was the hub of 24-hour pedestrian activity with the largest clustering of restaurants, bars, shops and other amenities anywhere in the city. This still is largely the case, but fortunately downtown is coming back to life and other areas like NuLu, Clifton, St. Matthews and multiple other nodes have become destinations in their own right.
There are few breaks along an almost three-mile stretch of this corridor, however there is one very significant location at the corner of Baxter and Broadway that should be a prominent gateway to the corridor but simply falls apart. In the map above, the key features of the intersection have been highlighted.
The elegant entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery begins to provide a gateway by serving as a point-tower that can be seen by travelers heading east on Broadway for what seems like a half-mile (when trees are not fully leafed out).
The failure of this important node begins, however, with the surface parking lot on the north-east corner of Baxter and ends with the gas station on the south-east corner (see above). The gas station is currently for sale, so hopefully a developer might come along and figure out how to make this location into an asset for the walkability and pedestrian anchor leading towards downtown. There were some conceptual designs by urban planner Nick Seivers for this location a while back but I could not find a functioning link to that work.
There are a few other key locations along this corridor that could make an already amazing pedestrian environment that much better. As mentioned in a previous article, the bank property for sale adjacent to Douglass Loop on Bardstown Road would be another amazing opportunity to extend the pedestrian experience and further enhance walkability along the corridor.
Completing Louisville's streetwalls downtown and in other urban areas across the city will take decades and many streets will simply never be complete. Walkability and the development of rich, vibrant pedestrian environments is becoming a key ingredient in creating successful cities in the 21st century. In order to have the greatest impact on improving Louisville's walkability from an urban design perspective, we should consider a strategy that focuses on anchoring the corners along corridors that have the greatest potential to enhance the pedestrian environment. This approach could work both in existing successful areas, like the ones presented, as well as neighborhood corridors in need of revitalization. This approach won't work everywhere though, particularly along corridors that have no hope of becoming pedestrian filled streetscapes. However, as we begin to identify potential pedestrian rich corridors and create an inventory of opportunity sites for strong corners throughout the city, our hope is that this approach will add one more tool to move Louisville toward the vibrant walkable city it has the potential to be.
City Explorer: Memphis... initial thoughts
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 by Patrick Piuma
In our quest to explore other cities and discover the great things going on around us, with the hope of bringing some ideas and best practices back to Louisville, we had the great opportunity to visit Memphis, Tennessee last week. There are a lot of similarities between our two cities, both river towns, approximately the same size and population, each has three Fortune 500 companies, and so on. We had also heard that like Louisville, Memphis was on the upswing and good things were happening. However, we were blown away by the palpable optimism that was expressed by many of the people we had the good fortune to meet. Memphis has its problems, and like Louisville there were some incredibly dedicated individuals and organizations trying to tackle those issues, in creative and innovative ways.
What originally drew our attention to Memphis was the tactical urbanism initiative to activate a beautiful historic brewery building downtown through Tennessee Brewery Untapped (see above), a pop-up beer garden within the vacant building, for six weeks during Memphis in May. Slated to be demolished, the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team partnered with other groups, individuals, and volunteers to transform the first level of the old brewery into a impromptu beer garden and event space. The idea was to bring attention to the building and test the viability of an incremental urbanist approach that, instead of trying to redevelop the entire building all at once, experiment with the possibility to scale back and just activate the ground floor.
Though we don't have numbers, judging from the continued large crowds of people enjoying the space, beer, food trucks, and entertainment every weekend since it opened, it has been a big success so far. Ultimately, the biggest win would be if the building is saved from the wrecking ball in August, only time will tell. However, there was a buzz about town that there was renewed interest in the property.
Having the opportunity to experience the Tennessee Brewery Untapped would have been worth the trip alone, but thanks to our incredible host Tommy Pacello from Memphis' Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team, we had the chance to tour several areas of the city undergoing change and meet with some of the interesting and passionate people behind those initiatives. Some of the areas we toured included Crosstown, The Edge, Soulsville, Broad Avenue Arts District, Cooper-Young, South Main Arts District, and Harbor Town. The areas covered the gamut from thriving neighborhoods to transitional zones to the economically depressed.
Crosstown is undergoing a major revitalization with newly activated storefronts adjacent to a planned redevelopment of the vacant 1.4 million-square-foot Sears Crosstown building (above). Pre-vitalization efforts include Pecha Kucha and MemFeast events. A number of great organizations and initiatives are going on here including Crosstown Arts that could serve as a great model for Louisville.
The Edge (above), an area similar to SoBro in Louisville and home to Sun Studios, is just outside the downtown and adjacent to the medical district. The area has a multitude of vacant and underutilized properties that could provide the bones for a vibrant makers district. The area is also part of Memphis' 2014 ULI Rose Fellowship focus similar to Louisville's 2013 ULI Rose Fellowship focus on 4th Street.
Soulsville, with its rich history of being the home to Stax Records in the 1960s and '70s has suffered significant disinvestment and urban decay. An organization of local leaders created the Soulsville Foundation to rejuvenate and restore the neighborhood with the establishment of the Soulsville Charter School, Stax Museum of American Soul Music (pictured above top) and Stax Music Academy among other initiatives. While there we had a chance to tour the brand new Memphis SLIM Collaboratory (above bottom) that rose out of the renovated home of Memphis Slim. Together these institutions are reshaping the neighborhood and providing incredible assets to the local youth.
The Broad Avenue Arts District is a great example of tactical urbanism revitalizing a commercial corridor. Through a 2010 demonstration project by Livable Memphis and other collaborators called "A New Face for an Old Broad," the street was reimagined with new parking and bike lanes painted (pictured above) to slow and change the traffic patterns to facilitate a pedestrian walkability. In conjunction with a two-day event that brought in street vendors and activated storefronts, the new arts district is rebuilding itself. These efforts can provide a roadmap for struggling areas in Louisville.
A neighborhood in the Midtown area of Memphis, Cooper-Young (above), resembled Frankfort Avenue or Bardstown Road with attractive storefronts in low-slung buildings creating a great walkable neighborhood.
The South Main Arts District (above) would be similar to Bardstown Road or a more established NuLu in Louisville. Along with the incredible array of shops, restaurants, bars, and other businesses, new residential developments and historic buildings under restoration made this one my favorite destinations to get a cup of coffee at Bluff City Coffee, walk, and windowshop.
We visited Harbor Town (above), which happens to be one of the oldest examples of New Urbanism in the country, though the developer may not have known it at the time. Similar to the New Urbanist development of Norton Commons in Louisville, this community is right on the Mississippi River adjacent to downtown. The neighborhood is lush with its +25 year old tree canopy and has aged well giving a glimpse of what Norton Commons will resemble in a decade or two.
While heading towards the South Main Arts District we walked through an area that struck me as strangely familiar. The area had an unexpected gravity that was jarring and even moreso when I realized I was staring at the Lorraine Hotel (above) where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Words cannot do justice to how that experience affected me, so I will just suggest that if you are in Memphis, you should visit the site and see what affect it has on you.
We spent a great deal of time in the urban core of Memphis. One of the first things I saw that caught my attention driving into the city and one of the last things I experienced before leaving were the streetcars. These beautiful historic trolleys passed gracefully by as I had a morning coffee (pictured above), rode my bike through downtown, visited the Tennessee Brewery, and shuttled me across the city one rainy night. They don't move faster than the buses in Louisville, they may not have seemed to have a consistent schedule, and I'm not sure if they have had the strong economic development impact on the neighborhoods in Memphis that other city systems have reported, but they add a rich layer of attractiveness to the city streets that they meander along and increase the quality of the streetscapes. With all of the interest generated through the Vision Louisville process around rail, we should seriously explore bringing streetcars back to our city. There are definitely many things to consider, but before anyone dismisses the idea, they should spend a weekend in Memphis and watch these colorful vintage pieces of art paint the streets.
Beyond the recollections above, we are still digesting the experiences and what possible connections our two cities have to learn from and build upon. Just today, while driving through Germantown, I noticed things about our city that were previously shrouded in familiarity. There are a lot of incredible opportunities in our city just waiting to be unlocked. I am sure what we saw in Memphis, if it does not provide the key, will at least provide the graphite to loosen the tumblers and open us to new possibilities.
100 Ideas for the Fourth Street Corridor
How can Louisville create an identity for, improve connections between, and foster desired development along the diverse districts of the Fourth Street corridor?
In late 2012, Louisville's Fourth Street Corridor was identified as the study area for ULI's Daniel Rose Fellowship land use challenge. Historically, Fourth Street served as Louisville's north-south commercial spine; connecting dense retail/entertainment venues, with insitutions, residences, and workplaces along a bustling streetcar corridor. This approximately four-mile stretch now traverses four distinct districts that pose their own unique opportunitieis and challenges. The Louisville Rose Fellowship team considered ideas for improving connections between, and fostering desired development and programming along the diverse districts of the Fourth Street corridor. Some of the broad themes that cam up in the analysis included:
• Reestablishing strong retail uses
• Catalyzing dense, mixed-use development
• Promoting physical ties between the educational institutions
• Reinvigorating the Fourth and Oak commercial corridor
• Connecting the South Central neighborhood to UofL development
• Strengthening the identity and connectivity of the entire corridor through urban design and consider transportation improvements, such as a streetcar route.
In early 2014 the University of Louisville's Master of Urban Planning Capstone students were tasked with developing catalytic ideas in support of the broad themes of the Louisville Rose Fellows. Through semester-long exploration of the corridor, the students generated 100 ideas to reinvigorate the corridor that are meant to serve as a starting point for comunity discussion and foster the development of even more ideas that could provide implementable initiatives to start activating the area now. In addition to the 100 Ideas, five "Featured Ideas" were selected to develop further.
View the website here and add your comments and thoughts to begin moving the discussion towards implementation and regeneration of a historically prominent corridor in Louisville today.
Opportunity to Strengthen Douglass Loop
Thursday, March 13, 2014 by Patrick Piuma
Catching the 17 bus at Douglass Loop on my way to work the last few weeks I kept walking by the PNC Bank building on the corner of Bardstown Road and Douglass Boulevard. When I noticed the building had a “for sale” sign I was overcome with this sense that there was an incredible opportunity here. The building itself appears to be in great shape. The architecture somewhat fits with the area and has a very typical "old is new bank” look to it even with the drive thru pretty well hidden from the main road. What I couldn’t shake out of my head was that this was a prime opportunity and location for something better.
Strong corners in an urban area set the tone for the entire neighborhood. Banks, gas stations, fast food restaurants, basically buildings that rest in a sea of asphalt parking or drive thru lanes on corners destroy the sense of a walkable urban neighborhood. We unfortunately have a number of good examples of this type of development along our inner-city neighborhood corridors. It is true that the building only occupies roughly 180 feet of frontage and takes 30 seconds to walk past, but it is the potential of this corner that makes it so interesting.
What if instead of the bank building, a low to mid-rise mixed use building occupied the space? A series of storefronts or office spaces could line the street with a building that met the sidewalk. Above, two or three stories of apartments or condominiums with attractive balconies and/or rooftop decks could provide more residential units to build density at a historic commercial node. This building could bring together the Douglass Loop and strengthen the Bardstown Road corridor which begins to lose its urban neighborhood feel as you move south due to more autocentric uses that break up the fabric of the streetwall. Even though the bank building is fairly new it may be worth removing a perfectly good building to do something that would have a much bigger and better impact on the neighborhood.
The bank property reminds me of a conversation I had with an out of town urban designer while giving a tour of Bardstown Road. He was blown away by the length of the commercial corridor and how, save for a few places here and there, that the built environment formed an almost continuous and complete pedestrian environment. This bank property is an opportunity for a creative and innovative developer to capitalize on the location and provide an example for strategic town center development throughout the city. The property also could serve as a model of transit oriented development that our community sorely needs.