The Healthful City Initiative
Louisville, Kentucky
Exploring the connections between city design and health
We need to think about how the design of our cities can promote health and not just prevent disease

The design of our cities has a direct impact on human and environmental health. This has been true since the beginning of organized settlements, but the recent pandemic and increasing pace of natural disasters have illuminated this connection and created an urgency for collaboration between urban designers and public health professionals to find novel solutions.

With the new Healthful City initiative, the Urban Design Studio will begin to explore how downtown can serve as a living laboratory for research, education, experimentation, and ultimately innovation around the connections between city design and health. We have already begun, but starting on November 8th, 2021, we are excited to open a temporary pop-up we are calling the Healthful City Initiative at 429 W. Muhammad Ali Boulevard on the second floor of the former Republic Building. This six-month move will help the studio dive into issues and opportunities specific to the heart of downtown right across the street from Founder's Square.

view of the Healthful City Design Studio building from Founder's Square
View of the Healthful City Design Studio on the 2nd Floor from Founder's Square

The UDS initiative will work to build partnerships between various departments within the University of Louisville and the community, businesses, public officials, local professionals and others to develop solutions to improve the design and function of our city.

This initial effort focuses on downtown because there is a great need and wide ranging interest in seeing downtown revitalized. The character and function of downtowns across the country have changed dramatically. This is an inflection point for our city. We need to take this time to develop innovative solutions that not only attract people back downtown now, but will improve the city over time and position Louisville for the future.

The impact of city design on health doesn't stop at the edge of downtown, far from it. Though over the next several months we will be specifically looking at our urban core, we will be exploring what related issues and opportunities face our entire community. Many of the things we learn and test downtown will be applicable to different areas of our city. Many of the things we learn about the rest of our community will inform how we approach the issues. We see this process as an exchange of ideas and a chance for mutual learning.

We are working to develop a series of events, workshops, demonstration projects and more to bring together professionals and the local community to explore how the built environment affects health and what it means to be a healthy city. Our work will build off of past UDS programs such as public forums like the Sustainable City Series and Pecha Kucha Louisville events, and placemaking projects such as ReSurfaced and CycLouvia.

Along with our partners at the Envirome Institute, we will be joined by a growing group of collaborators from different UofL departments, Louisville Metro Government, the University of Kentucky and related organizations as the direction of the initiative takes shape.

Early events and activities will be focused on outreach and education, getting people together to share ideas about what a healthy city looks like, and collaborative demonstration projects to communicate the importance of cooling urban heat islands, improving air and water quality, planting trees and other vegetation, public safety, welcoming environments and the health benefits of reintroducing nature into urban environments.

This is an exciting opportunity to pull together the threads of urban planning and design, public health, equity, ecology, engineering, economics and more to focus on how these overlapping facets of the city can not only solve problems we face now, but also position our downtown and city for the future. We hope to answer questions like: How do we adapt our city for the changing climate and new realities brought about by the pandemic, and how do we use science and other disciplines locally to improve people’s health and happiness? 

We believe there are a lot of talented people in our community working and thinking about ways to make our city better. Aside from our own projects and research, we hope to provide a physical center for bringing people and ideas together, becoming a beacon and gathering place for innovation and advancement in the design of our city. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but if we all start rowing in the same direction, we think we can do great things for our community.

There are a number of ideas, interventions and events we are hoping to get off the ground shortly, but our main mission is to start connecting the dots and learning about what great ideas and projects are already happening in our community related to city design and health. We will post upcoming events and ways to get involved on this page at the bottom as we build on this initiative and build out the community network.

We look forward to this exploration with you.

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