Considering the City in 2038 Through Vision Louisville

All too often we live life on a single course, taking one thing after another as it comes. It’s rare when we take a break to consider our futures, or to express a vision for what we might become.

As Helen Keller once wrote, “The most pathetic person in the world is some one who has sight but no vision.” The same is true of cities. That is why the current Vision Louisville process is an exciting opportunity to think of what our city could be like in 25 years.

That may seem like a long time, but it really isn’t. I clearly remember how different Louisville was 25 years ago, in 1988. The Louisville International Airport expansion project was underway, but few had any idea of what a transformation it would bring to this region. With new terminals, runways and re-routed expressways, it was the kind of change that Mayor Greg Fischer is looking for as he seeks 45,000 ideas by the end of August from citizens across the metro area and from Southern Indiana.

Twenty-five years ago, there was no Slugger Field, no NuLu development, no renaissance along Frankfort Avenue, and no 21C Museum Hotel. Notably there was no Waterfront Park, and no master plan for the Ohio River corridor. Maybe most important of all, there was no merged government; Louisville was limping along with a population within its city limits falling behind that of Lexington and with all kinds of problems that resulted from duplicative, often squabbling city and county governments.

Arguably we have no major issues in 2013 that quite equal those challenges we faced 25 years ago. Or do we? Have we really thought enough about what we might become?

When I was in my late 20s, I was part of an energetic group of young Louisvillians, mostly under 40, who became advocates for change and improvements. The organization was called Third Century, and its name derived from the fact that it was founded around the time Louisville celebrated its bicentennial in 1978. That was a time of great changes around here too. Ground was broken on the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The Hyatt Regency Hotel and Commonwealth Convention Center were completed and became showplaces for a downtown that was experiencing a rebirth along the river. Old Louisville General Hospital was about to be replaced by a handsome new University of Louisville Hospital. But a big challenge then (as now) was retaining retail operations in downtown Louisville, and the big idea was the Galleria, a block-long urban mall with shops, restaurants and services. To build it, several of the city’s most historic buildings were torn down, and the backlash from that helped fuel the historic preservation movement.

If you turn back the clock to the 1920s, city leaders made a deliberate decision to expand the University of Louisville by building an entire campus on the site of the old House of Refuge on South Third Street just south of Central Park. Belknap Campus as we now know it was laid out by the Olmsted firm of Boston, which was also engaged to design the site for the J.B. Speed Art Museum at the same time. Now, some 90 years later, the results are far beyond the wildest dreams of anyone back then. And, of course, the Olmsted firm and its founder, Frederic Law Olmsted, was crucial in planning the Louisville park system in the 1890s under the leadership of another visionary mayor, Charles D. Jacobs.

In 2013, our vision process is far more organized, and to my mind, apt to provide even more exciting challenges. Among the things that many involved hope will happen is that enough big ideas will be identified to lay the groundwork for a special local-option sales tax to provide the revenue for funding. Characteristically for Mayor Greg Fischer, it seeks to be efficient and inclusive. In a series of community meetings that have been on-going since July 1, hundreds of people have come out to write their ideas down and to meet with committees that are assigned to come up with goals that focus on things like health, the environment and the city’s image. I’ve been working as co-chairman of the Image Community, so I’ve had an up-close view of this process.

So put on your thinking cap and join this historic process. Go to www.VisionLouisville.com and submit as many ideas as you have there. You can also get in touch via Facebook and Twitter (@VisionLVille). There’s an old saying that you can’t fight city hall, but in this case, you can challenge city hall and provide alternatives to make our city a very special place come 2038.

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