Streets are our cities’ most abundant public spaces. Beyond the movement of vehicles, they can provide interesting places for people to stroll, visit, socialize and enjoy community. The street is the interface between everyone’s origin and destination, like veins and arteries circulating life throughout the city. It is critical that these important public realms provide the amenities to facilitate enjoyable transitions from point to point. A multitude of different elements make up our streetscapes; such as shade trees, utility poles, sidewalk widths, building material; and different combinations produce varied results. Through thoughtful experimentation and creative placemaking we can improve our most abundant resource for public life.
Sometimes simple but unexpected uses and materials can activate visitors imagination and make peoples’ day a little better. On September 26, 2019, Louisville District 8 Councilman Brandon Coan and I, through the University of Louisville’s Urban Design Studio, unveiled the prototype installation of the Stadium Seat Bus Stop Project with the hope to do just that.
Our intention with the project is to demonstrate the creative reuse of part of our City’s history–reclaiming stadium seats from the Old Cardinal Stadium that were destined for the landfill–to improve public spaces, increase seating capacities and elevate the image of public transportation. The prototype installation is the first of 15 bus stop locations along a 2-mile stretch of Bardstown Road with two additional stops on nearby Barrett Avenue for the first phase of this placemaking project.
Earlier this year Councilman Coan and I reached out to People for Urban Progress (PUP), a non-profit organization out of Indianapolis who had developed a similar project called PUPStops, to learn best practices, determine the feasibility, and figure out the process to realize the project.
On March 20th we rented a U-Haul truck and gathered a group of civic-minded friends together outside the Old Cardinal Stadium while the sound of heavy construction equipment could be overheard clearing part of the grandstand. Our goal was to salvage 120 seats, that were being donated by Complete Demolition Services, and somehow fit them all into the truck. A few of us obviously played a lot of Tetris at one point or another and we managed to get them in without much room to spare. We stored the reclaimed seats in an adjacent warehouse space next to the Urban Design Studio thanks to the generosity of local community-champion Gill Holland.
We collaborated with Metro Public Works and the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) to locate appropriate stadium seat sites for the first phase along the Bardstown Road commercial corridor. Local artist and craftsman shop RockerBuilt developed the 3-seat prototype, sandblasting and powder-coating the metal frames, rebuilding the seats and providing new mounting steel.
The best part of doing placemaking projects like this is the reaction from the people using the interventions. The day the prototype was installed I decided to stop by, have a look and get some photos. I had the good fortune to stop by at a time when there were already some folks sitting on the stadium seats awaiting the next bus. In the process of asking if they minded me taking a photo of them, they expressed their joy with the new addition. I was told the colorful seats made it feel like we cared more about the people taking the bus and that they were easier to get in and out of with the arms and back rests. They had expressed they wished these seats were at every stop and were excited to hear that more seats were planned. When one woman found out that the seats were from the Old Cardinal Stadium she told me of how she use to see games there and her face lit up. It instantly rejuvenated me. Not every experimental intervention works out as well as you planned, but when they do it makes the hard work, time and effort all worthwhile.
Several days after the seats were installed and unveiled I was driving down to Chattanooga for the Placemaking Week Conference. I had stopped at probably one of the most amazing rest stops outside the city overlooking a lake at sunset. Everything was going great until a cryptic text from my friend came across my phone… “Damn dude. That spray painting is some bullshit. The kids suck.” I didn’t even have to ask, and didn’t respond, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Someone had defaced the red seats with blue paint.
This wasn’t the first placemaking project I’ve worked on that got hit with grafitti. I and volunteers have had to personally repaint a number of shipping containers in the blazing hot sun over the last few years, but this was terrible because we were testing the prototype out and trying to get sponsors to take on new stadium seat stops. I pretty much expected that this was going to kill the whole project. Sometimes my mind goes to worst-case scenarios first. Amazingly, the incident made it clear that there was a lot of community support for the project in the anger and frustration on social media. Also, fortunately the seats were able to be cleaned up and looking at them now you wouldn’t know that they had been defaced.
Now that the pilot site has been positively evaluated, Rockerbuilt will begin fabricating the rest of the phase one seats. The day we unveiled the prototype we offered sponsorship opportunities to the public for the 16 other predetermined locations just to cover the costs with three-seat segments going for $850 and two-seat segments for $637.50. As of this writing all but three or four seats have been sponsored. The remaining 25 seating-units for phase two will be offered to other Metro Council members to sponsor and locate in their districts across Louisville.
The Urban Design Studio, along with UofL Master of Urban Planning students, will collect data and study how the seats are working and inform what other possible improvements and interventions can be made to the streetscape, not only along Bardstown Road but along other corridors throughout the city, as we continually strive to make the best use of our community’s most abundant public space asset…the street.