Elements of Urbanism: Louisville

December 1, 2009 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the downtown of another consolidated city: Louisville.

Tale of the Tape:

Louisville Population 2008: 557,224 (City); 1,244,696 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1780)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Louisville (369,129)

City Land Area

Louisville: 385.1 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Louisville: +7.12%
Jacksonville: +15.86%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Louisville: 863,295 (ranked 44 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Louisville: 2,207.0
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Louisville: +300,993
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Louisville: Kentucky International Convention Center (1977) - 200,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Louisville: Hyatt Regency Louisville (392 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Louisville: AEGON Center - 549 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Louisville: Humana (85), Yum Brands (239)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Louisville: An elevated Interstate 64 cuts the downtown core off from the Ohio River.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Louisville: 4th Street Live
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:

Both cities have a large number of surface parking lots and have been slow to embrace rail transit.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Louisville: 93 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Louisville-Jefferson's land area.

Louisville Photo Tour

Downtown Louisville

Downtown Louisville is the oldest part of the city of Louisville, whose initial development was closely tied to the Ohio River. The largest early fort, Fort Nelson, was built in 1781 near what is today the corner of 7th and Main streets. Many early residents lived nearby after moving out of the forts by the mid-1780s, although little remains from of the earliest (mostly wood) structures.

Early plans of the city, such as William Pope's original plan in 1783, show a simple grid on an east/west axis along the river. The earliest streets, Main, Market and Jefferson retain their original names from the plan, while the smaller Green Street is now known as Liberty (it was renamed after Green Street acquired a seedy reputation due to its many burlesque theaters). Main Street was the city's initial commercial hub for nearly a century.

By 1830 Louisville passed Lexington as Kentucky's largest city, with a population over 10,000. The steamboat era saw the opening of the Louisville and Portland Canal just west of downtown, and local commerce picked up further with the founding of banks and manufacturing. Most of Louisville's population was packed into downtown, which by this time stretched as far south as Prather Street (later renamed Broadway). Many still-remaining buildings reveal what the area was like at this time, with narrow, two to four-story buildings packing the streets.

The area and the city continued to grow during the railroad era. However, the increased mobility of early trolleys, as well as the shear number and diversity of people moving to Louisville, saw a shift in focus as areas like Phoenix Hill, Russell and what is now Old Louisville began to be built on the edges of downtown, particularly after the city annexed those areas in 1868. Railroads lead to a diminished role for the river in transportation, further reducing the importance of downtown in favor of areas on what was then the edge of the city, along rail lines.

In 1890 the first skyscraper, the ten-story Columbia Building, was completed at 4th and Main. The development of three large suburban parks and the electrified streetcar lead to the first true movement to the suburbs at this time. Some of downtown's business and industry followed people toward these areas. But by the 1920s the commercial center of Louisville was still nearby, at 4th and Broadway, dubbed the "magic corner" by the Herald Post. The riverfront area of downtown was still being actively improved, such as with the building of what is now George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge across the Ohio at Second Street in 1929.

After World War II, suburbanization increased and downtown began to decline as interstate highways further reduced the importance of its central location. Since the 1970s, downtown has been the subject of both urban renewal and historic preservation efforts. While many new buildings have been built, it has sometimes been at the expense of older landmarks, such as the Tyler Block.

Many buildings sat totally or mostly vacant at this time, and some became dilapidated to the point where they burned down or had to be razed. Many riverfront industrial sites were abandoned or saw limited use, many were eventually redeveloped into Louisville Waterfront Park. Other issues in the 1970s through the early 1990s included a former theater district on Jefferson Street that had become dubbed the "porno district". The businesses there were seen by the city as an eyesore since they were so close to the convention center, and most were demolished or burned down by the late 1990s. A few adult book stores and bars remained in the general area as of 2007.

From the late 1970s to early 1990s, nine new high rises over 200 feet in height were built in downtown. Unlike the city's previous tallest buildings, which were all set along the Broadway corridor, these new buildings were set closer to the riverfront along Main and Market Streets.

Since 2000, downtown has seen another major growth spurt, although this one not only includes new high rises, but also a large scale return of large scale residential and retail back to the city center. The completion of Louisville Slugger Field along with a mass expansion of the city's Waterfront Park, both completed in 1998, sparked new development along the eastern edge of downtown, with entire abandoned blocks rebuilt with new condominium units and shops. Several other major projects are expected to be complete by 2010, including the 22,000 seat Louisville waterfront arena at Second and Main Streets.


Waterfront Park

Louisville Waterfront Park is a 72-acre municipal park adjacent to the downtown area of Louisville, Kentucky and the Ohio River. Specifically, it is adjacent to Louisville's wharf and Riverfront Plaza/Belvedere, which are situated to the west of the park.


Phase I of Waterfront Park consists of approximately 55 acres and was dedicated on July 4, 1999. Louisville architects Bravura Corporation, together with Hargreaves Associates, were the designers of the park. Much of the park, such as the Great Lawn, had opened to the public by the fall of 1998. The initial development cost was about $58 million, a combination of public and private money. The site of the park was previously used for industrial purposes: scrap yards, sand pits and other industrial sites.

The park hosted hundreds of events in its first full season of use, including outdoor concerts and other festivals, with an estimated total attendance of more than a million people. There were problems early-on with the grass being too easily worn down by visitors.

Phase II of the park opened on June 10, 2004, and added approximately 17 acres, including the Adventure Playground, which opened in July 2003. Included is an esplanade along the river's edge and a cafe plaza where the Tumbleweed cafe opened in Spring 2005. The park also contains the Brown-Forman amphitheater, docks for transient boaters, and an area for a new rowing facility. The latter is used for the University of Louisville Women's Rowing Team, school and community rowing groups.

Construction on part of Phase III began in late Spring 2005, to add 13 acres and include the conversion of the former Big Four Railroad bridge into the longest pedestrian-only bridge in the world. The bridge will connect to Jeffersonville, Indiana's waterfront park. Several more lawn areas, tree groves, walking paths, and picnic areas will also be added. As of May 2007 it is not clear when the long-planned conversion will begin, as funding has not yet been found.


As of Summer 2005, Waterfront Park offers free wireless Internet access. Currently, this is the largest public park in the nation to offer such access. The park is packed each year during Thunder over Louisville, a major fireworks exhibition which occurs on the Ohio right in front of the park.

The western half of the park features linear fountains, not officially intended for swimming but nevertheless quite popular for that purpose. Further east, there are two expansive lawns, bisected by the interstate, and a small series of docks for boats. Nearby are the Children's Play Area and the Adventure Playground. If completed, the pedestrian walkway and ramp will be on the far western end of the park.

The park is heavily used on a daily basis, and averages more than 1.5 million visitors per year. It is a popular home to free and pay concerts and festivals, especially in the summer.

Waterfront Park connects to the Riverwalk via the Belvedere, and may eventually be part of an effort to create a long mixed use trail around the entire city of Louisville.


Waterfront arena

The Louisville waterfront arena (yet to be named) is a $252 million, 22,000-seat basketball and multipurpose arena currently under construction slated to open in fall 2010 on the Ohio River waterfront in Louisville, Kentucky USA at Second and Main Street. The project is part of a $450 million project that would include a 975-car parking structure and floodwall; a hotel was later deleted from the project.

The University of Louisville men's and women's basketball teams will be the primary tenants in the arena complex, however, conventions, ice shows, and collegiate sport championships would also use the facility as well.  It will be the fifth largest college basketball arena in the nation.


Fourth Street Live!

Fourth Street Live! is a 350,000-square-foot entertainment and retail complex located on 4th Street, between Liberty and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It is owned and was developed by the Cordish Company; it was designed by Louisville architects, Bravura Corporation. Fourth Street Live! first opened to the public on June 1, 2004, and all stores were finally completed for the grand opening on October 30, 2004. City planners hoped that the district would attract further commercial business development while providing an attractive entertainment venue for the city's hotel and tourist business as well as the local population.

Restaurants and entertainment venues in the complex include Hard Rock Cafe, Red Star Tavern, TGI Friday's, Friday's Rocks!, Sully's Irish Pub, Lucky Strike Lanes (bowling alley and restaurant), a British style restaurant The Pub, and the first-ever Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. Fourth Street Live! also has a wide variety of bars and nightclubs including Howl at the Moon, the Felt billiard lounge, Saddle Ridge and Tengo Sed Cantina.

A mall-style food court is also located in the complex with restaurants like Wendy's, Cold Stone Creamery, and Subway. There are also several retail stores such as Borders Books and Music, Fashion Shop, GameStop, and T-Mobile.

Traffic on 4th Street through the complex is often open, but closed for continued construction work on the street and venues, and for large public gatherings such as music concerts and other events.


West Main District

The West Main District is one of the five districts of downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to its containing some of the oldest structures in the city. The buildings of this district boast the largest collection of cast iron facades of anywhere outside of New York's SoHo district. The district also features "Museum Row", a collection of several notable museums located within just a few blocks of each other.

The district, named for its main corridor of West Main Street, is bounded by 2nd Street on the east, Market Street on the south, 9th Street on the west, and the Ohio River on the north.


Louisville City Hall

Louisville City Hall was completed in 1873 to house the city government of Louisville, Kentucky. The structure, at 601 West Jefferson Street in what became Downtown Louisville, is at the center of the city's civic district. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Since the merger of the former City of Louisville with Jefferson County, Kentucky, it now primarily houses the offices and chambers of the Louisville Metro Council. The former Jefferson County Courthouse, now known as Louisville Metro Hall, is now primarily home to the offices of the Metro Mayor of Louisville.


Unique Louisville

- The Louisville metropolitan area is often referred to as Kentuckiana.

- The city is sometimes referred to as either the northernmost Southern city ot the southernmost Northern city in the United States.

- Louisville was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark and is named after King Louis XVI of France.

- Before the Civil War, Louisville had one of the largest slave markets in the United States.

- The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875, at the Louisville Jockey Club (later renamed Churchill Downs).

- During the Great Flood of '37, 70% of the city was submerged, forcing the evacuation of 175,000 residents.  Today, the city is protected by flood walls.

- Since the 1980s, many of the city's urban neighborhoods have been revitalized into areas popular with young professionals and college students.

- 12 of the 15 buildings in Kentucky over 300 feet are located in downtown Louisville.

- Louisville has been ranked among the top 10 safest large cities by Morgan Quitno in the past four years.

- Louisville is located within one day's road travel to 60% of the cities in the continental U.S.

- The city is home to the Worldport global air hub for UPS.

- Louisville is the 7th largest inland port in the United States.

- One-third of all bourbon whiskey comes from Louisville.

- Important events occurring in the city have included the first public viewing place of Edison's light bulb, the first library open to African Americans in the South, and medical advances that include the first human hand transplant, the first self-contained artificial heart transplant, and the site of the development of the first cervical cancer vaccine.


Highlands district

The Highlands is an area of Louisville, Kentucky which contains a high density of nightclubs, eclectic businesses, and many upscale and fast food restaurants. It is centered along a three-mile stretch of Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue (US 31E/US 150) and is so named because it sits atop a ridge between the middle and south forks of Beargrass Creek. The commercial area extends from the intersection of Bardstown Road and Taylorsville Road/Trevillian Way in the south, to the intersection of Baxter Avenue and Lexington Road in the north, a length of 3.2 miles. A 1/2 mile section of nearby Barrett Avenue also contains many similar businesses. The residential area is separated from other adjacent areas like Germantown and Crescent Hill by the south and north forks of Beargrass Creek. The middle fork runs through Cherokee Park, and the south fork divides Germantown from Tyler Park, then past several cemeteries and undeveloped forests into Joe Creason Park. Due to its large collection of night clubs and restaurants, it is locally known as "Restaurant Row."

The grid of streets east and west of Bardstown Road are mostly single-family residences and range from working class neighborhoods to some of the most expensive streets in Louisville, such as Spring Drive. One of Louisville's most famous Derby parties - the Barnstable Brown Party, hosted by Wrigley's Doublemint Twins Cyb and Patricia Barnstable – is held at a home on Spring Drive.

In 2000, the Highlands had a population of nearly 33,000.


The Villes: Similar Traits

Jacksonville consolidated with Duval County in 1968
Louisville consolidated with Jefferson County in 2003

Downtown Jacksonville is located on the St. Johns River
Downtown Louisville is located on the Kentucky River

Jacksonville is the 43th largest US urban area
Louisville is the 44th largest US urban area

Metro Jacksonville has 1,313,228 residents
Metro Louisville has 1,244,696 residents

Urban Jacksonville has a population density of 2,149.2 residents per mile
Urban Louisville has a population density of 2,207.0 residents per mile

Jacksonville Beltway: I-295
Louisville Beltway: I-264

Jacksonville Outer Beltway: Proposed
Louisville Outer Beltway: I-265

Jacksonville rail transit: Non-existent
Louisville rail transit: Non-existent

Both city's early growth was largely influenced by the river boat industry.

Old Louisville

Old Louisville is a historic district and neighborhood in central Louisville, Kentucky, USA. It is the third largest such district in the United States, and the largest preservation district featuring almost entirely Victorian architecture. It is also unique in that a majority of its structures are made of brick, and the neighborhood contains the highest concentration of residential homes with stained glass windows in the U.S. Many of the buildings are in the Victorian-era styles of Romanesque, Queen Anne, Italianate, among others; and a large number of blocks have had few or no buildings razed. There are also several 20th century buildings from 15 to 20 stories.

Old Louisville consists of about 48 city blocks and is located north of the University of Louisville's main campus and south of Broadway and Downtown Louisville, in the central portion of the modern city. The neighborhood hosts the renowned St. James Court Art Show on the first weekend in October.

Despite its name, Old Louisville was actually built as a suburb of Louisville starting in the 1870s, nearly a century after Louisville was founded. It was initially called the Southern Extension, and the name Old Louisville did not come until the 1960s. Old Louisville was initially home to some of Louisville's wealthiest residents, but saw a decline in the early and mid-20th century. Following revitalization efforts and gentrification, Old Louisville is currently home to a diverse population with a high concentration of students, young professionals, and Hipsters.


Article by Ennis Davis