We have talked to people who say, "Maybe it's best if we do nothing." We respectfully disagree, it's time for Louisville to focus on "placemaking". More on that at the end of this post.
Doing NOTHING will leave us worse off than we are today by not addressing Louisville's air quality or lack of population density. These are two significant long-term challenges for our region.
First let's talk about AIR QUALITY. A few weeks ago the Brookings Institute released a study showing that Louisville's per capita carbon emissions are off the charts. We're 5th in the nation. Not good, but not surprising considering Kentucky produces relatively cheap and very dirty electricity from coal. But the Brookings report also broke down carbon emissions from trucks (no connection to our electricity), and in this category Louisville is 9th in the country. Also not surprising considering 32,000 trucks travel through our region every day and are all funneled into Spaghetti Junction where they sit in traffic and pollute our air. It's why we need the East End Bridge. Estimates vary, but the emissions from one 18-wheeler is equivalent to somewhere between 10 and 100 cars. Yikes.
Last week's Boston Globe story Road Hazard? discusses Tufts' researchers study detailing the health risks highways pose on local neighborhoods. Do you want to live next to 23 lanes of Spaghetti Junction?
Now, about POPULATION DENSITY. Which came first good public transit or population density? This is clearly a chicken and egg issue. Louisville needs to improve on both fronts to become a more sustainable city. Syndicated Washington Post columnist Neal Peirce wrote a column appearing in the CJ earlier this week titled Federal agencies cooperating?. You should read it. According to Peirce, the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation (DOT) are coming together to form a "Sustainable Communities Initiative". Recognizing the critical link between where people live and how they get around is critical to how our cities grow and whether we are able to preserve our country's natural landscape.
So why isn't downtown Louisville more populated? Obviously there are a lot of factors, and the current economy has hurt our current efforts. But we believe the underlying reason is that we haven't done enough PLACEMAKING.
In the 1960s Portland, OR decided that the city's waterfront should be an important place, so they replaced a waterfront highway with a large park. In the four decades since then, the city's population has grown by more than 40% and their public transit infrastructure (light rail, streetcars and bike accessibility) is now the envy of cities across the country. Unfortunately, over the same period of time, the city of Louisville's population declined by 40%.
8664 is a systemic, transformative solution that will help address some of Louisville's greatest challenges and create a more vibrant and sustainable place. We don't mean to suggest that it is the panacea, because it's not. We will need creative leadership and strong citizen involvement to transform our city. That said, it's what we should do.
We'd welcome your feedback, so please post a comment.