Lessons from Louisville

Written by Scott Kratz

A recent road trip brought me to Louisville, Kentucky for a visit with the wonderful staff of the Louisville Waterfront Park – an 85 acre civic space along the Ohio River. On an early Sunday morning I toured the park with President David Karem and Event Manager Ashley Cox Smith. The park was filled with residents and tourists alike lounging in hammocks, grooving to a Zumba class along the river’s banks and taking in a new Memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. Talking to our peers around the country, we are learning so much and applying lessons learned to our very own 11th Street Bridge Park.

Here are several take aways from my visit to this award winning public space designed by Hargreaves Associates:

From the founding of the waterfront park in the 1990’s, flexibility has been a driving principal for staff. We think about this a ton as we plan the Bridge Park – how will people use the space 25 years from now and how can the space adequately adapt to future uses when we are all dancing with holograms? In Louisville, grassy lawns can be used for a 50,000 person concert one weekend, a giant flea market later in the month or a pick up game of ultimate Frisbee.

Create Unique Spaces
Parks serve many different visitors, and successful spaces establish distinct areas – some more appropriate for high energy activities like sports and other more peaceful areas for quiet reflection. Just like a house has rooms that are used differently – the same is true for parks. Louisville’s waterfront park accomplishes this brilliantly. While visiting the new Lincoln Memorial for instance (designed by Ed Hamilton, the same artist who created D.C.’s African American Civil War Memorial) I saw a family relaxing by the seated statue of our 16th President. A grassy hill protected visitors from the wonderfully chaotic children’s splash area located just a few hundred feet away.

We Really Like Bridges!
O.K. – I admit it. I’ve turned into a bridge geek and love spans of all shapes and sizes. But I’m not alone. Louisville Park’s latest addition is the Big Four Bridge – an old railroad truss first built in 1895. The bridge stopped carrying railroad freight in 1969 and was abandoned for decades. Last May the bridge re-opened as a bike and pedestrian path connecting Kentucky with Indiana across the Ohio River.  During my visit, the bridge was PACKED with peddling bikers, families out for a stroll and couples taking in the stunning views of downtown Louisville. At night, the bridge lights up in a colorful display that has quickly become an icon for the region.

As we begin working with our talented design team at OMA and OLIN, we’ll apply these lessons to ensure the 11th Street Bridge Park is a flexible and beautiful new addition to D.C.’s skyline. Special thanks to David and Ashley for being so generous with their time. We look forward to giving them a tour of our Bridge Park when we open in a few short years!