West Louisville’s Russell neighborhood once served as a vibrant economic anchor outside of downtown Louisville. In the 1940s, the district was referred to as “Louisville’s Harlem” due to its thriving African-American business corridor along Walnut Street, now Muhammad Ali Boulevard, which boasted restaurants, theaters, nightclubs and retail establishments.
In the 1960s, however, most of the Walnut Street business district was demolished as part of an urban renewal program, which ultimately destroyed the economic base of Louisville’s African-American community. In an effort to reinvest in the neighborhood, Louisville Central Community Center commissioned Gresham Smith to study the corridor and develop a plan of action for this once-flourishing corridor.
Out of the study came “THE BLVD,” envisioned as a 1.5 mile mixed-use commercial, residential, and public space development district from 5th to 22nd streets along Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Our multidisciplinary team of urban designers, landscape architects and engineers worked with community leaders, stakeholders and local agencies to develop a conceptual vision for THE BLVD. The vision focused on creating a vibrant, world-class public space that will not only encourage economic development, but will also bring back the identity of the historic downtown neighborhood.
We developed THE BLVD as three distinct districts that relate to their context: The Gardens District in the high-density Central Business District; The Walnut District, which pays homage the former entertainment hub of the African-American community, Old Walnut Street; and the Heritage District—a low-density, single-family stretch that connects with Russell’s historic district as well as the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.