How Does A Heat Wave Affect Your Use Of Public Space?

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So everyone can agree it’s been ridiculously hot this summer. In fact, June was a record-breaking month for temperatures. The NY TimesCity Room blog recently discussed how the heat is counter-intuitively hurting business for ice cream trucks around New York. Drivers are reporting the streets to be largely deserted as people are seeking relief at swimming pools or staying indoors in air-conditioning.

Heat-induced deserted streets are an interesting phenomenon and can really change how we use the city. What have your observations been this summer during the heat wave? What are your own personal behaviors? Do you lock yourself in the air-conditioning or go out for a bike ride? What does it all mean for the street life of the cit? Discuss in the comments.

Also interesting: The Filson Historical Society just issued a series of postcards depicting scenes from its special collections of locals enjoying summers past in an age without air conditioning. (Hat tip to my old neighborhood blog EV Grieve for the video. )

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Branden Klayko


  1. Gosh, Branden, now that you bring it up — I haven't been hearing the ice cream trucks that usually prowl our neighborhood NEARLY so persistently and/or so annoyingly as in seasons past.

    I'm not mowing my grass as frequently, nor am I out-&-about chatting up neighbors. Brief encounters often are not much more than an exchange of complaints about the weather.

    Even my outside (feral) cat is preoccupied with locating & then vegging out in the shadiest, coolest place she can find.

  2. Currently living in Pittsburgh, I have no AC in my house, nor do I have any in my car. I honestly do fine. I still go running regularly, and I spend a lot of time on my front porch. I think everyone complains too much…

  3. I think of shade much more frequently. I spend more time wondering why our architecture dosen't offer more protection (same goes for snow and rain). I aim for the shade when I take the dog to the bathroom. These trips, and walks in general, are much less frequent (sorry pup and shame on me). I pine for our culture to empbrace more environmentally appropriate attire. Suits, make-up, smelling nice and fear-of-sweat-marks keep us inside our air conditioning. I ride my bike a lot slower on my morning commute. Though, I do find myself riding to work more than walking (see lack of shade above). I do my long runs earlier in the morning. I stop wearing shirts when running (hopefully not a public eyesore). I notice a lot of us don't slow down … which doesn't really jive with heat.

  4. I think about how much nicer our city would be if we had street trees everywhere. The city of Louisville is still installing large sections of sidewalk without accomadations for street trees. Instead of installing granite curbs and fancy bricks on sidewalks that are in decent shape the city should fix crumbling sidewalks and install more street trees. Also property owners are to blame as well. Many light industrial businesses take up entire blocks and don't bother to plant a single tree.

  5. I agree completely. I just returned from Rochester NY, where I used to live. Rochester is not nearly as hip a place as Louisville. Its one chic and artsy street, Park Avenue, is, in terms of interesting and independent shops, restaurants, and galleries, a drop in the bucket compared to Bardstown Rd. or Frankfort Ave., but… and this is a big 'but' – the street is shaded by trees all along its entire length, and by the way, without unsightly power lines. The difference in effect is dramatic. Bardstown Road is harsh and industrial-looking in comparison, no matter how appealing the shops and eateries.

    Rochester's near-downtown periphery also has admirable plantings. Only the core downtown is treeless. It is also dead all over and sad, especially compared to the multiple centers Louisville is growing. But there seems to be in general an understanding of the need for trees and foliage in commercial areas. We have something important to learn.

  6. A study of the street tree would warrant an entire article by itself. There are many factors to consider when selecting a tree species for use in the city street; ideally, it must have a straight, deep tap root that anchors firmly in the soil, a few surface roots that would minimize interference with underground power, water, and sewage lines. The two most ideal species, Ash and American Chestnut, have both been largely removed from the American landscape (the former today by the EAB and the latter in the 1920’s). Does anyone know of any other preferred species?

  7. This discussion is only concerned with street trees for shade? And only two species – I thought we were about diversity and sustainability, in addition to aesthetics? Why not canopies, awnings, solar collectors, and marquee/projecting signs? Projections from buildings could also help on a rainy day. As popular as Bardstown Road and Frankfort Ave are, I don’t know that the real estate is valuable enough to begin to bury the power lines. We could take advantage of the OHPL though, and hang from them misters along the length of those corridors.

  8. I’ll reiterate: trees help make an urban area more inviting and appealing and more hot-weather friendly. My mention of exposed wires was just an observation in passing. We will never go underground in my lifetime, I know… not going to argue. Rochester’s severe winters made going to hidden wires early last century a practical move. I just think that the combination of wires and treelessness makes Bardstown Road, despite its vibrancy, visually unattractive – especially in hot weather when all that exposed concrete just bakes and steams.

    That said, I agree that canopies, umbrellas, misters, projections, enclosures, etc. may be our only moves in such places.

  9. Ken: I dislike it when my ideas are squashed by ‘no’-guys. It is too early in the process to evaluate the obstacles to burying power lines. Potted plants create a nice edge to outdoor dining areas.
    The poles do, however, provide a ready location for animal, event, and apartment announcements. Another of those unintended consequences: The (existing) I-64 span over Waterfront Park provides shelter from the weather on most days and seems to have a prominent role in Thunder concession and evacuation planning.

    I’ve been directly at odds with the weather this week: mornings I walk on one side of the street, the afternoons the other side of the street, in an attempt to beat the heat. Lunch is at the desk.

    I would expect lunch destinations to be affected by the heat, as well as, the retail establishments of The lifestyle center.

  10. My favorite sign this summer is the “Free Heat” sign placed among other ads for an apartment building on the west side of Newburg Road right around the intersection of Champions Trace Lane. (I imagine it must be nice and cool in the winter.)

  11. Wait. What? How did I get to be a ‘no’ guy? If you’re talking about the buried cable thing, wasn’t I agreeing with you? You said, “As popular as Bardstown Road and Frankfort Ave are, I don’t know that the real estate is valuable enough to begin to bury the power lines.” and I said, yup, not in my lifetime (I’m 65, dude!). And then I agreed with you about canopies, etc. So… huh?

  12. In the unlikely event that local trolleys ever run again down these roads, that would be an extremely low-cost time to bury the cables. Of course, with current technology, the trolleys will still need catenary cables themselves, but (1) give the industry time to work out kinks in its wireless technology and (2) the catenaries are much much less conspicuous than the power lines now are.

  13. NS, are you seriously arguing that we should retain the hideously ugly & loud elevated I-64 through our image defining waterfront. Unbelieveable, Robert Moses called and he wants his brain back. If you want shade plant some trees. For many in this city the expansion and retention of an elevated I-64 on our waterfront is a deal breaker, we will move away.

  14. Ken: There is always some guy in the crowd who says or implies ‘it’ will never work – this time it was me. I’d sign a petition to bury power lines. I’d recommend it in a corridor plan. It’s the right idea. I think it is more likely to be accomplished if the property assessment were raised following vertical development on Bardstown Road.
    Dave: I think the solution that you are looking for can be found in clean-coal burning trolleys. That is the technology of tomorrow, today. Just kidding. Seriously, I’ve never heard of a worse idea than clean coal.

    Stunoland: … Alright. To draw from your allusion, Jane Jacobs appreciated the nuances and mixtures found in urban places. Some places are what they are by plan or by time. I can’t make many more points for the current alignment of I-64 except the utilitarian appreciation of such (below). Just wanted to point the one nuance I have come to appreciate.

    Migration in or out is not a vote for or against the bridges. Ms. Jacobs also spoke of and encouraged life-long public participation.

    My major criticism of the 8664 plan is:
    I-64 runs downtown. Even if a road by that designation runs elsewhere, there will be a role for the existing structure (number of lanes might be reduced for other uses – trails, trees, or transit). It is built. We desire the reuse of old structures because it does not require the same resources, funds, or energy to create the same new structure. Why not a highway? What is the Cost of a new highway lane mile?

    It’s ugly. It shows up in postcards and ESPN game time video backdrops. I wish it wasn’t there – as in I wish the decision wasn’t made many years ago to construct the downtown alternative for I-64. It could be dressed up. It could be beautiful.

    You notice that nowhere in my comments did I say I would prefer a new highway be constructed along the river, through an ethnic neighborhood, or voiced support for the proposed ORBP.

  15. extolling the virtues of shade created by the freeway is similar to Riverfields claiming that increased parking under the freeway enhances our city. Your observation that I-64 could be dressed up is a good one. The truth is Louisville has multiple options in solving its downtown traffic congestion and cross river mobility problems. One of those solutions would be a context sensitive at-grade I-64 featuring transparent sound blocking panels and a block wide pedestrian overpass plaza next to slugger field. In this scenario an additional 6 lane bridge would be built that handles all traffic switching from The East West directions to the North South. The existing Kennedy bridge would handle all I-65 north south traffic. Louisville would not be locked into having an ugly and loud elevated waterfront expressway defining the city’s historical gateway for the next 100+ years in this plan. At any point in the future the road could be renamed and a few turning lanes and bikes lanes could be added. This would not be my prefered solution but it is without a doubt vastly superior to the current plan.

  16. Stu… I was so taken aback by the ‘no-guy’ thing I didn’t notice the ‘hey, those highways make great canopies’ remark!

  17. I just got the book City Building: Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century by John Lund Kriken (
    Here is a particularly cogent passage: “To establish the walkability of an area and protect pedestrian comfort, major movement corridors need to be located at the edges of neighborhoods and districts. Conversely, those corridors must not be located in urban spaces where they wall off important views and amenities, SUCH AS WATERFRONTS AND OTHER PUBLICLY VALUED NATURAL FEATURES [emphasis mine]. San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, for example, stood for nearly three decades as a virtually impermeable barrier between the waterfront and the downtown. Its destruction in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was almost universally applauded by a population that regained its magnificent waterfront through what many thought was an act of a merciful God.”

    We are threatened by an act of Satan, and may someday pray for an earthquake.

  18. Wow, if this is the pulse of the community it is no wonder why nothing can be accomplished. It is obvious that passions run deep for 8664 and against ORBP in this BS community. But tell me why there are only two options. Dissent is an option not permitted by either camp. Just try to see the world in a different light or make a comment to provoke the imagination of the entrenched politic and stir up slights on character, receive assumptions of Moses or Riverfields. I believe my full, if however, contrary opinion is quite bankable so I will not waste a response on a local interest blog.

    Tell me why there are only two options. And why 8664 is only focused on vehicular transportation on 2.5 miles of riverfront highway.

  19. My $.02: This was once a great venue for celebrating both old and new facets of Louisville, but it seems those days are over. Its now all but dead, with just a few remaining voices kicking dead horses and preaching to choirs.

    Is there another forum out there that still offers what broken sidewalk once did?

  20. I would like to know this as well. No more relevant commercial real estate news and no roundup, either. We need a forum, organized by neighborhood, where the thoughtful and intelligent discussion from this site can continue. But Branden has done a lot to create/facilitate discussion, and as a fellow blogger, I can appreciate the time, effort and dedication to something that you get paid little or nothing to do.