Thinking Deeper with Gill Holland and
Charles Cash, Jr.

Aug 05, 2010

What does “livable” really mean and what are the key elements of a city that attract and retain talent and high value enterprise? Those are the questions that lie behind the notion of Quality of Place.

But that notion goes beyond the amenities, cultural, recreational, and physical assets of the region to include the shape of the region itself. The 2002 Brookings Institution report on Louisville noted its compactness as a major asset: the fact that sprawl out into the region had not depleted Louisville’s strength as a regional hub – that Louisville and Jefferson County were home to the dominant share of the region’s jobs and population.

This year is the first year that it’s been possible to illustrate that point effectively with a community indicator. That’s because we now have sufficient data – from 2001 to 2007 for jobs and from 2000 to 2008 for population -- to show trends in the movement of jobs and population out from core counties into the surrounding regions for Louisville and its peer cities.

The “normal” trajectory for American cities is for the exodus of jobs and population that decimated core cities over the last several decades to now extend to the core county – and risk the loss of the urban county’s position as the strong center of a growing region. The indicator comparing the gain or loss of regional shares in jobs and population showed that’s precisely what’s happening in several of Louisville’s fastest growing peer cities. Indianapolis’s share of its region’s population has dropped 5% over this decade. Birmingham’s share of its region’s job base has declined 5.6% over the decade.

Louisville lost 2.34% of its share of regional population, but only 1.3% of the job base. But Greensboro, Raleigh, Cincinnati, and Charlotte all gained shares of regional population over the decade, and Greensboro did the same on jobs. Our distinctive Quality of Place is critical to Louisville’s ability to attract the regional population necessary to be competitive.

And now our first Guest Bloggers in the Thinking Deeper Series: Keeping Louisville a Competitive City
After ten years of living in Manhattan, I began to realize I was not ever going to be a “lifer” in that city and began to scout possible cities to relocate to.  I checked out Austin, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill, Asheville, Nashville and nothing seemed to click 100%. Then I discovered Louisville through the woman who is now my wife.  As I marveled at the arts and cultural richness of Louisville, as well as its undeniable “hip” factor, I always wondered why Louisville never makes it to the top ten lists of places 20- and 30-somethings want to check out as a potential place to live.  It should, for Louisville has the best live-ability of any city in America for these reasons:

1) Stroll districts.  The days of creative and entrepreneurial 20- and 30-somethings wanting to be tied to a 9-5 job in a corporate office environment are over (though those are also great jobs).  Creative folks can work from coffee-shops or park benches with wireless and cell phones.  Louisville has a great archive of inexpensive old buildings that are being retro-fitted and renovated as creative spaces, and offices for start-ups. The Bardstown road stroll district has several great locally owned coffee-shops which are community assets that function as a place where ideas are transferred, people gather and communicate, and where Fair Trade ideals are practiced. The stroll district of Bardstown road also has bars, and fun retail shops. Frankfort Avenue and the NuLu arts district, one of the “greenest” neighborhoods in America, are two other stroll districts that simply could never be found in any other city in America and give Louisville a proud, local identity.

2)  Local food and business movements.  Louisville is surrounded by small farms and has a great local food scene, which I think will be one of the major movements of the 21st Century. Local restaurants use local foods, name their suppliers on their menus and make everyone feel part of the movement.  Local businesses have a powerful local group called Louisville Independent Business Alliance that promotes local business and raises awareness in the public as to the benefits of supporting such businesses.  Most jobs are held by folks in small business and Louisville is a great place to start a business.

3)  Culture and Arts.  One of only 11 cities in America with all five major arts institutions (Ballet, Orchestra, Opera, Actors Theatre, and Speed Art Museum), and we are the only city in America with three public radio stations under one roof (WFPK, WUOL and WFPL).  Add to that the gallery district of NuLu, the great indie-rock scene, the Forecastle Festival (one of Spin Magazine’s top ten things to do in America) and there is a great scene for folks who want to get out and experience all kinds of culture. Plus the three year old Louisville Film Society and the Flyover Film Festival are assembling the many cinematic talents in town, and bringing in lots of folks from LA and NY who are discovering Louisville.

4)  Parks. The Olmsted Parks system is the master-work of the great founder of landscape architecture, and the Louisville Loop and 21st century parks initiatives are simply un-paralleled in the USA.

5)  Last but not least, cheap rent!  Where else can you buy a 100 year old Victorian mansion for $350K?  Or live out and maximize your artistic dreams paying $400 a month for a great place to live (and not have to work 60 hours a week catering to pay the bills like my friends in NYC, leaving no time for being creative?)

They told me to be short, so there is my short list of why Louisville is the coolest, most live-able city in the USA.

Gill Holland is an award winning film producer and co-developer of The Green Building. Holland owns The Group Entertainment LLC, the  movie production/talent management company (producing over 50 feature films), the label sonaBLAST! Records, and an art gallery. 

Small Town Growth  

When people talk about the qualities that define a great place to live, the list is often the same: good neighbors, convenient services, and close to work, school, recreation, etc. They are describing many of the attributes of a small town, and Louisville is blessed with multiple places that fit this description. 

Whether you’re talking about a neighborhood like Crescent Hill or Beechmont, or actual towns like St. Matthews or Shively, we have many desirable, compact examples of village-style living. The qualities that define these great places to live are now trying to be recreated in new communities.   

After the Ohio River, Floyds Fork could be counted as Louisville’s greatest remaining natural asset. Part of the tributary network of creeks and small rivers feeding the Ohio, Floyds Fork is a beautiful, meandering waterway winding through rolling countryside. The first major initiative focused on the Floyds Fork corridor was the creation of the 21st Century Parks plan to develop over 4,000 acres of new parkland and a 27-mile trail system along the creek. A series of other studies in transportation, infrastructure, and growth patterns seeks to balance the natural character of the area with the inevitable pressures of development surrounding the new parks. The 47,000 acre Floyds Fork Area Study seeks a new and sustainable development pattern that capitalizes on the scenic beauty of the Floyds Fork corridor, balancing growth and infrastructure with the preservation of open space by supporting the growth of three to four Centers -- small towns or villages. The Comprehensive Plan, Louisville’s guide to growth, encourages focusing development in Centers --Town Centers, Village Centers and Regional Centers -- where density can be supported. These “small towns” should be located at the nexus of major transit and commuter routes and positioned to provide the essentials of daily living to surrounding residents. Their civic life could be rich, with schools, libraries, religious and cultural institutions, providing all the trappings of a complete and unique place.

The Centers idea has a natural affinity within the Floyds Fork corridor, where clustering of development in more compact forms will limit the impact on the land, and work better with the area’s steep slopes and flood plains. Each of these towns or villages could be designed at a walk-able scale creating pedestrian-friendly communities. Subdivisions that occur in the surrounding countryside could be designed in Conservation patterns, where preservation of significant environmental features allows the clustering of homes – maximum natural beauty with minimum impact on the land. Overall, the Floyds Fork area may house the same population as more typical suburban areas, but the concentration of growth in small town Centers and the use of Conservation Subdivisions in surrounding areas works with the land. Infrastructure needs are reduced while the character, which defined the place and made it desirable initially, is preserved. Redefining growth and density in a semi-rural setting that respects both the town and the countryside has the potential to create a great and valued place to live – a rebirth of The Great American Small Town.

Charles Cash, Jr., retired as the Director of the Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services

Archived Articles

Related Topics