Louisville is a city that has long prided itself on the stunning system of parks and parkways that were designed for us by the landscape architect genius Frederick Law Olmsted. The father of landscape design molded the Louisville landscape into one of his largest and best pieces of work. His amazing labors have helped to form the Louisville psyche and our reverence for large, urban green spaces.
This is a love and passion that is alive and well in the Louisville of the 21st century, just as it was in the 19th century when our grand park system was planned and dreamed of. We can see our love of urban green space in the new Riverfront Park in downtown, which has won award after award for it's reclamation of industrial brown fields and it's innovative design. We see it in the preservation of our legacy in the Olmsted system that we have cherished for well over a century - and we see it in the renewed vision and invigoration of these magnificent public spaces. Beyond our renewed focus on our downtown park and Olmsted masterpieces, we find Louisville striving for the next great step in urban parks. This new focus has led to the creation of the "City of Parks" initiative.
The "City of Parks" initiative has been a dream of Louivillians for decades, however it was only recently that events have been set into motion that will create a new "emerald necklace" around the city's periphery. The master plan is still being created, however many of those documents are expected to released to the public in Fall 2007.
Still, before those master plans are released, we already know many of the large-scale efforts and expectations:
- A new trail will link the "big 3" parks from the original Olmsted system, along with many improvements to the original city parks.
- A trail of more than 100 miles will surround the city - linking downtown to all the suburbs in Jefferson County.
- A "recreation corridor" along River Road just east of downtown.
- The Jefferson Memorial Forest, already America's largest urban forest, will expand.
- Floyd's Fork, a stream that cuts through eastern Jefferson County, will be the focus point of more than 30 miles of trails, and several new large parks - many of which will be larger than Cherokee Park in the Highlands of Louisville.
- Protection of the watershed of Floyd's Fork.
- Addition of new sports fields and recreation opportunities along the Floyd's Fork route.
This project is not some pie-in-the-sky dream that the city is going slowly about in completing - they're actually moving forward at a breakneck pace.
Sen. Mitch McConnell has already secured millions of dollars in federal funding in last year's budget, and local philanthropist and businessman David Jones has been kneading the local professional community for donations of land and money. Jones has been highly successful, raising in excess of 35 million dollars, and convincing local landholders to donate thousands of acres of land to the Jefferson Memorial Forest and donate the land needed to build the new parks along the Floyd's Fork.
Just last week Jones was able to buy 175 acres near the Bullitt County line that adjoins another 114 acres he secured in December. Jefferson Forest added 400 acres in December and hundreds of more acreage has been stockpiled for this project even before that. Other stories from just this last week chronicle the efforts that civic leaders are doing to make this project a reality.
The "City of Parks" project is the first large scale park building and renovation project in Louisville in more than 100 years. Based on what I've seen so far, it is my opinion that these parks in the suburban areas will be as beautiful and well used as the parks in the urban core. These parks are also going to sort of "make or break" our suburban areas.
These park projects are currently in rural Jefferson County, where residential and commercial development has not yet swallowed up all available land. Nearly all of the land currently expected to become parkland is farmland or horse pasture and is surrounded by very sparse residential homes. Yet, suburban development is quickly encroaching on the area - hence the need for speed in acquiring all the land for this project.
These parks - and the ensuing development around them - will become a defining feature of suburban Louisville and speak to our city's collective personality. The question is, what will it say about us? Will we work together and create a true enhancement to the original Olmsted system only to build typical vinyl-sided homes on cul-de-sacs in the surrounding neighborhoods? Will we build walls around the parks and only have a few automotive entrances? (Besides the "decorative" walking trail connectors?)
Or will we learn from the amazing examples we already have in the urban core. We already can see the great neighborhoods that can be created when we weave them together seamlessly with great public spaces - will we let that be our guide in a new format that is suitable for the suburbs? I can say that I hope so, but the public will have as much to say on that as does the city government.
Louisville really is a city of fantastic parks and this project will only solidify the city's commitment to that reputation - let's hope we're able to take these new public spaces and graft them onto our city's urban life equally as well as we have done with the parks of our past.