With a little bit of elbow grease and a few gallons of paint, the SoBro neighborhood has taken a hopeful first step to spark a cultural renaissance for the underutilized area to the north of Old Louisville and south of Downtown. SoBro is a portmanteau meaning “South of Broadway,” and has become the moniker for the mixed-use community that contains several colleges, the Main Branch Library, a mix of cultural, commercial, and residential offerings—and a vast expanse of vacant land.
The initiative began when Vision Louisville launched the SoBro Artwalks crosswalk design contest earlier this summer, which was intended to encourage citizens to think of new ways to invest in the urban fabric of the city.
Four intersections along the Fourth Street corridor were selected for the competition: Broadway, York, Breckinridge, and Kentucky streets.
“It highlights an often forgotten neighborhood and allows people to get out of the car and stroll the streets with a sense of happiness,” said Stephanie Graziano, a competition winner who created the design on the Kentucky Street intersection.
Graziano said the artwork she used was a collaborative effort by Women in Design, a local non-profit organization “intended to encourage, empower and engage women in all professions concerned with the built environment.”
“I thought I could create a fun design by using three colors for the intersection, letting them create new colors as they crossed each other,” said Jodi Smiley, also from Women in Design, referring to her artwork on the York Street intersection. “Since the manhole covers are there to stay, I decided to let them help drive the design, using them as starting points for the different colors.”
Leading the design for the Breckinridge Street intersection was Alexis Hamilton, a Clarksville High School student, and her Fine Arts teacher, Anne Bird.
Hamilton said the inspiration for her “school supplies” design came from the fact that the Breckinridge crosswalks rested between two well-known academic institutions: Spalding University and Presentation Academy.
“SoBro is like the hole in the doughnut between our downtown district and the historic Old Louisville neighborhood,” said Kendal Baker, planning supervisor for Vision Louisville. “Hopefully, the Artwalks project helps community activation and interaction and spurs new ideas and dialogue for revitalizing and energizing SoBro.”
Though a seemingly modest enterprise, the steady revival of SoBro fulfills a larger strategy to re-invigorate the entire Fourth Street corridor.
In 2012, Urban Land Institute nominated Mayor Greg Fischer to serve as a fellow with the Rose Center for Public Leadership. The nomination resulted in a land use challenge: “How can Louisville create an identity for, improve connections between, and foster desired development along the diverse districts of the Fourth Street corridor?”
Commissioned by ULI, a diverse panel of urban designers and planners partnered with Louisville’s Daniel Rose Fellowship to produce a comprehensive report that identified all of the assets and liabilities that lie along the Fourth Street corridor.
According to the report, the four-mile stretch of Fourth Street suffers largely from an excess of parking lots, an abundance of abandoned properties, a car-centric design, and an inconsistent public transportation network.
In reference to SoBro, the report emphasized the need for a “strong quality of place” in an area that currently lacks a local cultural identity.
Baker echoed this sentiment and stressed the fact that Fourth Street continues to be one of Louisville’s most vital corridors, connecting the Ohio River to several key properties in the city, including the University of Louisville and Churchill Downs.
The outpouring of support for place-making events like the SoBro Artwalks demonstrates how a simple concept can help energize a community and revitalize a neighborhood. But will the rest of the corridor catch on?
We’ll keep you updated on the developments in SoBro and Fourth Street as they unfold.