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What's This?

It’s being described by officials as “an innovative new pilot project in Downtown Louisville,” a “cutting edge initiative,” and “a brand new way to deal with old solid, surface paved parking lots.” It’s hailed as a major step forward in tackling Louisville’s stifling Urban Heat Island Effect. What is it? Trees.

Nine Allee Elm trees have been added to the sun-baked parking lot covering half a city block behind City Hall at Sixth Street and Market Street. The species was chosen for its hardiness to tough urban conditions—and it doesn’t get much tougher than this kind of parking lot.

(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

What’s different about this project is that these trees were retrofitted into an existing parking lot. Diamond-shaped pits were dug out of the asphalt, so each of four parking spaces shares in the slight paved reduction. The plan was originally to install a special rubber porous paving around the tree (as has been done in sidewalk tree wells around Downtown), but on a visit in late March, the trees were simply surrounded by gravel.

Ken Herndon, Special Projects Coordinator for the Louisville Downtown Partnership (LDP), thought up the project, according to a press release. “Newer parking lots have regulations that require planting strips where trees must be planted to battle the heat island effect,” Herndon said in the release, but the LDP counts 381 surface parking lots in the city that carry no tree cover.

(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

The hope it that owners of parking lots around Downtown can be convinced to add trees to their lots once they learn about the affordable idea that maintains the same level of parking and revenue.

The project was sponsored by almost as many agencies as there are trees. Those include the LDP, the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), the Division of Community Forestry, Metro Public Works, Metro’s Department of Sustainability, and the Parking Authority of River City (PARC). Installation took place at the end of February.

The new stand of trees is dedicated to the late Mike Houston, a longtime Louisville Metro Government employee, who worked with Brightside, the Louisville Zoo, Louisville Metro Public Works Open Spaces and PARC.

What do you think of the idea? While the ultimate goal would be to see these parking lots redeveloped, necessitating eventual removal of this sort of tree, it does look like a good interim solution. Louisville has more parking lots than could possibly be redeveloped in the near term. We’ll be rebuilding the city for a long while to come. Share your thoughts and where you’d like to see trees pop up in a parking lot around you in the comments below.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

5 COMMENTS

  1. The parking lot on the corner of 5th and Liberty has to be one of the most ill-planned and conceived parcels in the downtown business district. How has this lot not been developed yet? It’s a complete wasteland of concrete. No trees, landscaping, islands, etc..

  2. Lipstick on a pig, perhaps, but if you’re stuck with the pig, you might as well dress it up.

    My biggest specific concern would be that with no bumper, bollard, or extra space to provide protection, those trees are a little too susceptible to getting run over by a wayward vehicle. Obviously any solution there would require extra costs, but it would save them from likely abuse.

  3. Unfortunately there are lots of parking lots in downtown in what would appear to be prime locations for development. The one at 2nd and Main right across from the Whiskey Row lofts is one. I guess they are a steady source of income for the owners but man are they tough to look at and really are a scar on the urban fabric of the community.

  4. It’s all going to depend on how expensive downtown land gets. A lot of people are pretty bullish right now, and most of the older buildings are already being snatched up. It’s a matter of economics. It’s an intermittent $5 here or there, or a developer with a lump sum of $500k or $5 mil it begins to look a little less appealing to hold onto an empty parking lot.

  5. The university of Louisville parking lots are some of the worst in the city followed by the Fair and
    Expo Center. I wish they would follow the cities lead.

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