Rebuilding Market Street’s Lost Olmsted Park

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Proposed changes to East Market Street (courtesy Bingham Fellows)

Current conditions on East Market Street (cortesy Bingham Fellows)

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Near the end of East Market Street, between Shelby Street and Campbell Street, the roadway becomes noticeably wider; parallel parking is replaced by diagonal spots; and the urban edge of the historic buildings is pushed back from adjacent blocks. What seems like an anomaly today was actually a park over 100 years ago designed by the Father of Landscape Architecture and architects of Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee Parks, Frederick Law Olmsted.

A community action group for Leadership Louisville called the Bingham Fellows proposed rebuilding the park originally named Kenton Place as part of a study to increase the retention of young professionals in one of Louisville’s fastest growing urban neighborhoods.

Kenton Place opened in 1892 and features landscaping with shade trees, ample seating areas, and a goldfish pond. The park was short-lived, though, as it was repurposed for a trolley line only eight years later. The new design calls for drastically improving the streetscape including adding colored pavers to the driving surface. Trees, landscaping and a walking path would be added to the median park. Curb “bumpouts” on the block’s corners would add safety to the pedestrian environment, too. (A good example of a “bumpout” can be seen on West Main Street’s street corners.)

Proposed changes to East Market Street (courtesy Bingham Fellows)
Proposed changes to East Market Street. (Courtesy Bingham Fellows)
Original Olmsted Plan of Keaton Place (courtesy Bingham Fellows)
Original Olmsted Plan of Keaton Place. (Courtesy Bingham Fellows)

Currently, the 800 block of East Market Street contains two parking lanes, a bike lane, and four driving lanes. Under the Kenton Place proposal, the layout would remain much the same but diagonal parking spots replaced with parallel spots. The extra space would be used to create the park in the median. Market Street already accommodates two-way traffic, but one eastbound lane would become west-bound.

The Bingham Fellows are seeking historic photos of the original Kenton Place and encourage interested citizens to visit their booth at the upcoming Nulu East Market Festival on September 26. The Kenton Place proposal was designed by Carman landscape architects of Clay Street. Members of the Bingham Fellows include Gill Holland, Mary Lea Quick, Adel Elmaghraby, Brad Davies, Chris Padgett, Donna Perry, Harriet Lair, Julie Pogue, and Terena Bell.

Current conditions on East Market Street (BS File Photo)
Current conditions on East Market Street. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
Detail of the original Olmsted design (courtesy Bingham Fellows)
Detail of the original Olmsted design. (Courtesy Bingham Fellows)
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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

30 COMMENTS

  1. beautiful job bingham fellows and carman. this would be a nice precedent to set for our wider streets!

  2. I find this completely intriguing. I have never once heard or read of this (Kenton Place), but I find it immediately appealing and seemingly do-able without too much fanfare or fuss. The only suggestion I would make is that Washington Street be designated a bicycle route & all bike traffic be routed there. I’m very concerned for the safety & lives of cyclists who bike on E. Market St.

  3. Wow.
    Could the prow of the ship be pulled closer to the intersections to provide a shelter for ad-hoc crossing? People are going to J-walk against the light no matter what you do. It would be just as well to make it safe for them.

    Also, as a cyclist, I say this: PLEASE PLEASE GOD KILL THAT BIKE LANE. Yes, that one particular block is actually quite good, but the rest of Market is one big door zone. It’s an attractive hazard, and I’d rather have no bike lane whatsoever. Of course I’d even more prefer to have the door zone problem fixed with another 3′ of bike lane space, but that might be too much to hope for.

  4. I like the idea, but when the original park was there, there wasn’t the concern of being in the middle of auto traffic. I certainly wouldn’t advise letting kids play in this park, purely for safety reasons, unless rails were placed around it.

  5. There were a few more of these center-roadway parks in the original Olmstead plans, not only on E. Market, but also on E. Main and E. Jefferson. Pictures of them can be found in the first floor hallway of City Hall at the Congress Alley end of the building.

    I think it is great that someone is revisiting these ideas. A lot has changed since those plans were first out there. There were no automobiles and when they did come along, all of these streets were two-way streets. But, in this instance, having them one-way might be a way to address Morse’s concerns about bike. The bikes could be diverted to one side while cars used the other. Of course, making that work would require the bikers follow all the traffic control laws, something most do not do.

    Further, both Steve and Brian make good points. I can’t agree with Steve’s idea of putting rails around it as that detracts from the park itself. And Brian is right. We presently have all kinds of dedicated park space not being attended to. On top of that, Brightside spots spring up all the time in the hopes that some private group, company, neighbrohood association, or some other entity take on the responsibility of maintianing them. These commitments are often short lived, allowing the sites to grow back over with weeds.

    Unless we are building passive park spaces, and this would not be one of them, we need to think about the costs of future maintenance.

  6. What a wonderful idea. No doubt it will have to be paid for by private funds since all of Louisville’s money goes for arenas and bars.

  7. I think it is a great idea, but the fountain from the original drawing should be incorporated. However, I strongly disagree on the one-waying of the Market and Main Streets. These need to be walkable, urban streets- not 4 lane highways going to and from downtown. The traffic studies have been done and conclude that they can handle the two way traffic and then some. I am all for the redevelopment- but lets make it smart design too.

  8. Any improvements that could add to the beautification of our downtown corridor would be welcome. I like the idea that someone is working toward making downtown more attractive from a residential standpoint, not only as a commercial zone. And the more safely bike-friendly, the better. Are the alleys a possibility for bike-only lanes, as well?

  9. Sigh. Here we have a nice plan for a public plaza, and everyone freaks out about safety of kids. I think the park will actually increase safety.

    Frankly, we could afford a bigger park if we fully jettisoned another lane of traffic or another lane of parking. I mean, how much capacity does that contraflow market lane really add? It bottoms out before you get to the good stuff at 2nd street anyway. There’s no express way link. Its local access, pure and simple. So ask the locals – which do you want more: a better park, or more asphalt? I know what would increase *my* property values more. Hint: not asphalt.

  10. Steve, don’t take it wrong, its not your comment but a general attitude I see in this city. This automatic yielding of public spaces to the perceived dangers of cars drives me nuts because it’s destroying the fabric of our society.

    One way to combat this is to remove all the public spaces. That sucks. Its also our knee-jerk reaction. Witness the sacking of Wayside Park. Rather than calm the traffic whose speed had been creeping up in recent years, they just bulldozed the play equipment. Wrong pardigm.

    Another way to combat it is the model you’ll see in any European city, which is to tame the car beast. Slow the motorists down. Give them enough stuff to think about that they dont’ blaze through downtown at 35mph.

    As a society we need to retrain ourselves to think of streets primarily as public places, and only secondarily as motorways. So don’t muddy up a perfectly good park design with railings, instead muddy up the motorway with 25mph stop light synchronization! It’s downtown. Downtown is for people, not cars!

  11. My position isn’t reactionary though. I’m not calling for the removal of any public spaces. We’re talking about a potential narrow park in the middle of a major street. Let’s have some perspective here. We can talk about lowering speed limits around it, sure, but if anyone thinks we’re going to be eliminating any car traffic in that block, they would have to be dreaming.

  12. It’s not official yet but it looks like Metro is going to change Main St. from Second St. to Baxter into 2 way..

  13. Maybe I’m misreading the map and conjecture, but this narrow area seems a ‘park’ only as a visual and aesthetic resting place. It’s too narrow and small to do anything but sit or stroll a bit. Kids aren’t going to be playing baseball or throwing frisbees. The Olmstead drawing has a number of ‘seats’ marked, but I can’t imagine their being occupied much except during an event like the Trolley Hop.

    I love what the space does not in terms of providing room for activity, but as an aesthetic tone changer, a framer of the architecture and activity around it. Currently much of what is called NuLu is icy and rigid, given the palimpsest of industrial use and new retail, residential reuse. It needs little touches like this plan to warm areas together into visual wholes.

  14. Agreed. A green space like the planned “park” changes the feel and mood of a place, from gritty, edgy “downtown” or “business district” to the more friendly, warmer “neighborhood” or “community.”

  15. If it’s OLMSTED, it has to be good. Not sure I’d call it a park though – more like a grassy median. Still, I’m a supporter of greenspace wherever we can incorporate it downtown.

  16. Right… and as a boulevard, it becomes an altering gesture in that area. The discontinuous feel of NuLu needs to be dealt with. Such small changes as this ‘boulevard’ are important, and may be the real ‘tipping points’ needed. Malcolm Gladwell’s insistence that tipping points are often achieved by the small rather than the large is significant. The more ‘little’ things we do right, the more the big picture falls into place. I keep saying the mood of the future is small, smart, and connected rather than big, brutal, and entangled. I hope this small project happens. A lot of such moves, done right, can be the guerrilla warfare against the brutality of the Bridges Project and other such Robert Moses-style actions and vision.

  17. Speaking of tipping points – it looks as though the changes to Broken Sidewalk… and this particular thread, have been tipping points in bringing about some real discussion and attention!

  18. Some great ideas going around. I am particularly intrigues by the idea of keeping only one westbound lane and expanding the median an additional 11 or 12 feet. It looks from the plans that the proposed Kenton Place is slightly narrrower than the original, hence no fountain or seating niches, but expanding it would not only bring it closer to the sidewalk and invite more use via a shorter distance to cross, but could allow those original features to be reintroduced in some form.

    Whatever happens, the proposal is sure to dramatically change the feeling of the street as has been pointed out. The proportions of the street (building heights to street width) now creates a vacuous feeling, that of a traffic drain out of town, with the neighborhood as an afterthought. Kenton Place will help to provide a center to the neighborhood, and taller shade trees will help to break up the width of the street. (For some reason, the idea of an asymmetrical layout as described above could really be interesting on pedestrian level and less rigid than a symmetrical plan.)

    I agree with David that the bike lane is right in the door zone. Many bike lanes I see in NYC not only have a “door buffer” but also a striped three foot “shy zone” facing traffic, bringing the overall width of the bike lane to something around 9′ (that only happens on very wide streets, though). The “bumpouts” at the street corners are an important safety device for bikes and pedestrians, though, and I am glad to see they have been incorporated into the proposal. It would be nice to see the “prow of the ship” as David put it pulled out into the crosswalks to form a pedestrian island and ease access to the park.

    Lastly, one important design feature that hasn’t been discussed yet is the street paving scheme. It’s unclear what material it will be, but the rendering suggests brick, synthetic pavers, or possibly granite. It’s nice to see the color pattern shift to delineate parking and traffic lanes, and perhaps could also shift again to indicate a bike lane. Besides being visually more appealing, the paving scheme should serve to slow traffic slightly with a tangible texture “under tire” and create a sort of “carpet” for the outdoor public room. I’m glad to see such attention to detail already suggested in the proposal.

  19. Steve: this would not be a park in the “traditional” sense of Cherokee/Shawnee/Iroquois, but rather a “parkway” like Eastern between Barret and Baxter.

  20. The brick surface is, indeed, an inspired move. There is something so inviting about a mix of brick and foliage. It would be useful, I think, to bleed some brick and foliage east of Campbell as a kind of welcoming antechamber before the pleasant doorway effect this parkway would have. (and it would draw Cake Flour into the mix).

    It’s interesting to think about the ‘doorways’ to downtown. It this Main Street project comes to fruition, it becomes the doorway from the East (and then there’s that odd jump over to Main Street…) From the South, it’s the library and that church facade – not bad. From the west, in my childhood, there was the L & N and the Courier/Times building and the Main Post Office… big, commanding, important things. From the North, of course, the formal entry, which will now be that ugly arena.

  21. Great idea but this park needs something to make people actually want to use it besides sitting nooks. I’m thinking a public ping pong table, they’re common in Europe. This would add something to the neighborhood that can’t be found anywhere else in the city and can be built in a low to no maintenance way. another idea would be permanent tables and chairs that are designed for chess players. This would add some much needed human activity to the street. A similar problem is going to arise in the new Arena Plaza which should have been designed with the City’s premier outdoor basketball court including permanent seating and goals that could be disabled on game day to allow for traffic flow. Instead this will just be a well landscaped but little used plaza 250 days of the year. Just my 2 cents.

  22. The idea of an asymmetrical layout as described above is very interesting to me as well. Plus it adds some width to the Park/Green space. I am in favor of the bump-outs and cross-walks as well, anything to increase pedestrian safety.

  23. I am old enough to remember when Olmsted’s Eastern Parkway had way more median – at least down to the old St. Joseph Hospital. I lamented its removal, which corresponded either with the arrival of Dutch Elm Disease, the move of St. X to Poplar Level, and/or the construction of the former Winn-Dixie on Goss (which necessitated a left turn lane). Some people opted to walk their dog in the leafy median, rather than use the sidewalks. It gave an entirely different ambiance (soothing, quieter, attractive, neighborly, organic) to the area – which should be the desired result on E. Market.
    I must admit I had never before heard of Kenton Place. I thought the variation on Market was due to a former “town square effect” where such diagonal parking was common.

  24. Wish our city leaders had the same vision instead of allocating large blocks of money to the City Center Development that may never be built.

  25. I was rereading this post and had a thought… I’m not sure what inspired me, but I wondered (if the proposal was widened, as suggested) what an interesting feature it could be to extend the park a second block and create a bridge over the intersection to connect the two medians. As is, the proposal is simply that: a grassy median. It seems unlikely that people will want to venture out to the proposed median just for a block long stroll. With something of interest like an architectural pedestrian bridge (think stone, unique lighting) over the intersection, it creates a small, functioning destination park, as opposed to just an attractive, aesthetically pleasing addition to the area.

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