• Center For Neighborhoods

Re-Imagining Public Space: Now Is The Time!

As the city takes steps to re-open the local economy, creative possibilities emerge.

Alley activation next to Woodlawn Avenue during Better Block Louisville 2018.

People and place are always at the center of our work here at Center for Neighborhoods. But in the face of the COVID-19 global crisis, this relationship - people relating to their physical surroundings - is even more important. As we remain healthy at home as much as possible, our outdoor and commercial spaces are needing to be redesigned to support health and safety.

Open spaces and fresh air are some of the best protections against the spread of the disease, which will affect how businesses utilize the space around them. Also, time spent outdoors right now can be so helpful for guarding against the isolation and loneliness effects of social distancing. Considering these things, our city's local economy is going to need plenty of well-designed space in order to thrive post-pandemic. Walkable streets have always been good for small business, but as relief packages and emergency funding dries up, small retail is going to have to think creatively about activating the public right-of-way.

Right now, cities all over the country are tackling this issue, passing measures that enable local restaurants and retail to safely re-open: Boulder, CO; Cincinnati, OH; Brookhaven, GA; and more. Lucky for us, the city of Louisville is taking action too. On May 14, Metro Council passed an ordinance that gives restaurants greater flexibility to use outdoor space around their business. Parking lots can now turn into safely-distanced dining spaces using this free application, and sidewalks can potentially be utilized too (Accela Citizen Access). There is also further possibility of activating side streets and alleys; those ordinary cut-throughs could become lively gathering spots! The Project for Public Spaces affirms - the recovery of our city will happen in public spaces like parks, open streets, and in the right-of-way we all share. Now is the time to look towards Eric Reynolds' idea of "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" interventions.

Tactical or “DIY” urbanism is a tool we share at Center for Neighborhoods all the time. In all of our neighborhood partnerships for Better Block Louisville - Shelby Park, Parkland, and Beechmont - and in our own “front yard” downtown (see below), we apply key principles of this quick, affordable approach to improving physical spaces. With an asset-based approach, it's all about using what is readily available, like materials, individual skills, and relationships to transform under-used or uninviting neighborhood nooks into more accessible, more attractive community spaces.

We all are going to need to think creatively. As social distancing starts becoming physical distancing in a more active economy, what can we do in our communities to create safe, accessible outdoor places? This is the time to try what hasn't been tried before, to open up in new ways. To rethink our spaces in favor of people and safety.

As we move forward together, there are many good possibilities for strengthening local retail and regaining a vibrant sense of community in the open air. DIY activations will be really great ways to reclaim right-of-way spaces in these unprecedented times. Yes, restrictions do exist - Logan Street, Bardstown Road, Algonquin Parkway, and Bank Street are examples of Louisville roads under state control and any changes to these corridors have to be reviewed and approved by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). But many side streets and alleyways along these major roads can still function as open (safely-distanced!) gathering spaces for outdoor markets, dining, performances, cinema, gardening, and good ol' fashioned hanging out in our neighborhoods.

Alley activation during Better Block Louisville 2018

All of us here at Center for Neighborhoods will continue keeping the main thing, the main thing and finding new ways to connect with all of you, our #Louisvilleneighbors in these sometimes difficult but always hopeful times. Let's all be open to short-term innovation in this COVID-19 frontier, so we can achieve positive long-term change, together.

#gobeneighbors #bettertogether

Stay tuned as we share ideas for creatively utilizing outdoor public spaces in our Louisville neighborhoods, both for our community and our local businesses!