On Friday, Louisville received was awarded the dishonorable distinction as the city with the nation’s worst “parking crater,” a term for a vast area of surface level parking lots that deaden city block after city block. Streetsblog readers voted Louisville the winner of the “Golden Crater” trophy for a collection of parking lots in the SoBro neighborhood just south of Downtown Louisville below Broadway.
While the Parking Madness Golden Crater puts a high-profile label on a problem we all know Louisville continues to struggle with—surface-level parking lots—it can also help to focus attention to bring positive change to the area.
For too many years, we’ve been pointed to the problem with our parking lots, but we have done nothing substantive. And also for too long, we’ve ignored SoBro, the forgotten area between Downtown and Old Louisville that could provide a critical link to both neighborhoods and create a dense neighborhood that benefits both.
“I hope Louisville will take this opportunity to examine what kind of forces helped produce this crater—whether it was tax policies, or transportation policies, or some combination of factors,” Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt, who oversaw the competition, told Broken Sidewalk. “But also realize that it’s possible to change.”
Schmitt pointed to Denver as a case study in how to turn a parking crater around. This photo of downtown Denver in the 1970s actually inspired the Parking Madness competition, Schmitt wrote in her 2013 article on how that city turned its rampant parking problem around. “Denver, in the 1990s, eliminated surface parking as a land use by right,” Schmitt said. “Now the area is unrecognizable and bustling.”
“That doesn’t mean changing policies in Louisville would necessarily have quite the same effect,” Schmitt cautioned. “But the community should stop to consider the impact places like this have on the tax base, on social equity, the environment and civic pride.”
We certainly hope this distinction does just that—get the community talking and hopefully spur real change. SoBro and Downtown Louisville deserve it. While the western edge of SoBro won the competition, the larger neighborhood already has a lot of energy going for it that we could build off of for a larger transformation.
SoBro is home to the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, Memorial Auditorium, Spalding University, the Kentucky College of Art & Design, the newly renovated 800 Tower City Apartments, and a smattering of historic buildings. And just recently, architecture firm Luckett & Farley announced that it would invest in neighboring properties along Third Street. These are great assets, but it’s not yet enough.
One of the area’s greatest obstacles to redevelopment are the parking lots themselves. We’ve torn down so much of the historic fabric of the neighborhood that there’s little left to easily renovate. Rehabbing old buildings makes for easy incremental change to jumpstart neighborhood transformation. And while there’s still a lot of historic structures left in the area to do just that, we’re going to need to think creatively about building reuse to get the most for SoBro.
Where the slate has been wiped clean, there’s a need for major new investment in the neighborhood. And that requires the right vision and large, well-funded players to build back a neighborhood from scratch. In the meantime, we can take a cue from Tactical Urbanism and initiatives like Resurfaces to bring interim uses to the neighborhood.
This year marks the second appearance of Louisville in Streetsblog’s Parking Madness bracket. In 2013, Louisville beat San Diego in the first round before losing to Houston in the second. That year, the parking crater in question was a linear strip of parking lots stretching along Second Street from Liberty Street south to Broadway. One block in that crater is currently under construction as the sprawling Omni Hotel Louisville, but the rest of the parking lots remain.
Schmitt said that support from Broken Sidewalk readers helped push Louisville over the top in the polls. “In a way that’s good: there’s a community of people that care about this place, even though it’s really not that lovable right now,” she said. “I hope the competition will spark a local conversation about this. Ultimately we’re rooting for Louisville.”
Disclosure: Broken Sidewalk is part of the Streetsblog Network and a founding member of Streetsblog Southeast.