We are in the midst of reinventing the Urban Design Studio (UDS). After almost seven years of splitting time with other organizations, including Hyphae Design Lab, Yard & Company, and the Louisville Downtown Partnership, I’ve come back to work full time at the University of Louisville as the UDS Director. As of August 1st, UDS 2.0 is now part of the Envirome Institute at UofL and has a sharpened focus on understanding how the design and function of our cities impacts human and environmental health, while finding solutions for improvement.
Our initial goal is to join current efforts to revitalize and reimagine downtown Louisville, and as such have relocated the studio to the heart of downtown at 429 W Muhammad Ali Blvd. Along with working alongside many of the talented researchers, faculty and staff at Envirome, we will strive to work with many other departments across UofL as well as community partners on a variety of projects and programs to improve Louisville.
As the work begins, we want to start developing a vision for a greener, healthier, and more connected urban core. This includes assessing the current state of downtown and building on the many discussions we have had and ideas we have explored over the last 15 years with the community who have clamored for more parks and greenspaces, street trees and other amenities that will improve the pedestrian experience on a multitude of levels.
Can we create robust green corridors that connect areas like the medical district with the Russell Neighborhood, or Central Park with Waterfront Park West? Are there opportunities to develop or at least proactively plan for a series of pocket parks throughout downtown that bring nature into the city and to the people? We think we can. These aren’t dreams. We have experienced these amenities in other cities, but it will take creative collaborations, a willingness to test new ideas in real-time and a motivation to think bigger about what is possible and why these efforts are important to the vibrancy and health of our city and its people. Plans are important, but we need to put our pencils down and pick up some shovels and start planting the flag for a new, better downtown.
While researching other mid-sized cities that have implemented green corridors, we were reminded of the South Park Blocks linear park that runs through 12 blocks of downtown Portland, Oregon. Scanning through Google Streetview and aerial maps is a favorite pastime of ours, but it pales in comparison to actually experiencing the greenway. Below you can see a great streetview shot of the beautiful corridor and also a one-to-one scale of the greenway in downtown Portland alongside downtown Louisville. If the greenway was in Louisville it would essentially run from Market Street to Broadway.
To really give you a sense of the immersive experience and the potential for our city, the static maps and images just wouldn’t do. This is where I am forever grateful for my connections with such good people like my friend, archeologist and urbanist, Chris Sims who now lives in Portland. Out of the blue I asked him via twitter if there was any chance he could ride his bike with a helmet-mounted camera through the urban greenway so I could show its grandeur. He responded almost immediately with a “hell yeah!” Not only would he ride through the linear park, but he would give us a sense of the bike infrastructure and character of the city.
Chris sent me the video last night and I was so amazed I decided that I’d share his edited bike ride in its entirety below as it inspired me to write this post. There is so much to break down in what we get to see that I figured it was better to just let you see for yourself and save the analysis and discussions for future posts and get-togethers. From the rich network of truly separated bike lanes throughout, to the new modular bus platform at minute 3:50, through the South Park Blocks starting at 4:05, passing a Portland Loo public restroom (that looked like it needed to seriously be cleaned) at 5:30, and rounding it out with crossing the Blumenauer Bridge at 9:08, Chris provided a lot to take in and I think if you are interested in parks and greenspace, bike and pedestrian infrastructure and just good city design, you will enjoy watching this from start to finish.
I can’t thank Chris enough, and hopefully at some point in the near future I’ll be able to ride this route with him to take a deeper dive into all the great things going on in Portland that could inform how we can approach reimagining Louisville. Hope you enjoy the video as much as I have. Look out for UDS events and opportunities to connect and collaborate soon. Also feel free to contact me and get involved.