Home to over 760,000 people within its consolidated city/county boundaries, Louisville Metro is not only growing but is also becoming more diverse. As with many communities across the United States, not all populations within the Louisville Metro area have equal access to the things that many of us take for granted, such as adequate transit, safe and affordable housing, healthy food options and the parks, green space and other aspects of the physical environment that promote healthy living. As recently evidenced in the Louisville Metro Health Equity Report 2017, this inequity—or lack of fairness—within our communities is particularly evident in the disparities that exist in health status and health outcomes between different ZIP codes and census tracts. For example, Louisville Metro’s average life expectancy is 76.8 years, yet some regions have a 12.6-year difference in life expectancy. Simply put, where you live not only impacts the quality of your life, it also affects your life expectancy.
In Part I of this series about equity in communities, GS&P’s Valarie Franklin explored how architects, designers and planners have the ability as well as the responsibility to break down some of the physical barriers within communities to improve accessibility for all. In Part II, I look at how GS&P has helped break down socioeconomic barriers through the power of transformation and connectivity—including two Louisville Metro-based community projects—to give all populations a fair and just opportunity to enjoy the same public spaces and places that contribute to a community’s overall quality of life.
Access to Fresh Food – Produce Park
With the goal of reducing vacant and abandoned properties in West Louisville, Louisville Metro’s Vacant & Public Property Administration engaged GS&P to help develop the Rsquared 40212 program—a comprehensive umbrella initiative that encourages community-inspired redevelopment projects that put vacant and underutilized properties back into productive use. Our team of landscape architects and urban planners launched a yearlong effort that involved identifying vacant lots for reuse, and bringing neighborhood residents and stakeholders together for activities that included fieldtrips to the vacant lots in the 40212 ZIP code study area to discuss design opportunities. As a result of this community-driven design process, West Louisville-based nonprofit Louisville Grows was selected to implement a project that blended multiple community ideas into one innovative public space. Located in the Russell neighborhood, “Produce Park” was a direct result of community visioning and collaborative design, and what we refer to at GS&P as “Planning for Action.” The vacant lot turned urban orchard includes an edible forest garden and a gathering place that houses community-based events, markets and exhibits. Since opening to the public in 2016, Produce Park has been enjoyed by children from adjacent homes, and has provided Russell residents with an opportunity to harvest and learn about locally grown food while providing a first-of-its-kind communal social space for the neighborhood.
Access to Play – Liberty Field
City Collaborative is a nonprofit organization that works to develop actionable solutions for cities, regions and their communities. GS&P was fortunate to partner with the group on their ReSurfaced program, which aims to rethink surface parking lots in Louisville’s urban core. As part of the initiative, our team was involved in transforming a vacant surface parking lot in Louisville’s Phoenix Hill neighborhood into a pop-up soccer pitch dubbed “Liberty Field.” Although Louisville has many spaces in which to play soccer, access is an issue for some residents. This abandoned parking lot turned soccer field now unites residents from all over, including immigrant and refugee populations, giving everyone the opportunity to play one of the world’s favorite games.
Access Through Connectivity – Town Branch Commons Corridor
Another way in which GS&P is helping foster equity in communities is by providing connectivity in communities through projects such as the Town Branch Commons—a multimodal trail, greenway and park system along the route of buried Town Branch Creek in downtown Lexington. Mobility is a critical component of equity, as our transportation systems are the great equalizer along with housing affordability. As people are priced out of urban centers, public and multimodal transportation becomes a key element in both employment and quality of life. As part of a multidisciplinary effort, our firm’s Landscape Architecture and Transportation groups are working hand in hand to deliver this world-class multimodal system that connects diverse neighborhoods and provides comfortable and safe access for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. When the project is complete, the Town Branch Commons Corridor will be the central link in over 20 miles of greenway trails that will connect Lexington’s urban core with urban, suburban and rural communities, as well as multiple employment and entertainment nodes throughout Lexington.
Equity in All Communities
At the end of the day, equity in our communities only exists when everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy the resources that help make our lives better. As a landscape architect whose focus is on urban design projects, I spend a lot of time thinking about the social, economic and ecological well-being of communities and how I can do my part to enhance the human experience for all, especially communities where socioeconomic disparities can severely impact peoples’ health, happiness and security. At GS&P, we believe in improving quality of life in all communities on all our projects—from micro-installations such as Produce Park to 2-mile urban public space systems like Town Branch Commons, which will transform a city for the next century. I love what I do. And rarely do I love it more than when I’m part of a team that is helping enrich the lives of the people around us.