Congress for the New Urbanism


Louisville, KY


Engineering, Landscape Architecture, Planning


2020 ASLA Kentucky Merit Award

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Hardened by urbanization in Metro Louisville, Beargrass Creek had become a forgotten piece of urban infrastructure. Gresham Smith was selected by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to spearhead a Legacy Project, a pro-bono design initiative that provides underserved communities with smart urban planning, to develop an improvement plan for the water source that is largely out of sight and out of mind.

On a fast-track, three-day timeline prior to CNU’s Annual Congress meeting, our landscape architecture, planning and engineering teams worked with Kentucky Waterways Alliance to develop a vision for reconnecting Louisville residents with the South Fork of Beargrass Creek. After studying the seven-mile stretch from the Louisville Zoo to the Ohio River, we developed a strategic plan that will improve water quality and create community spaces while honoring the site’s significance as an economic, environmental and cultural resource.

mile corridor
site-specific projects
day timeline

Developing Guiding Goals

We developed three distinct goals to drive our design process. First, we needed to connect people to the creek, because if we ever want it to be healthy again people need to see it. Second, we had to improve the creek’s health for a safer, more vibrant water system. Lastly, we wanted to develop community destinations to give people an opportunity to engage with the water source.

people standing on a bridge overlooking Beargrass Creek

Gathering Insights

We kicked off our multi-day workshop with a “creek crawl” to gather knowledge and a visioning session to generate ideas. After walking nearly six miles along the stream bed, we learned that the city’s overabundance of impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots, as well as channelization efforts, were contributing to many of the creek’s issues. After collecting insights we covered a room-size map of the steam with hundreds of ideas for improvement.

people gathered in a room around a large map laid out on tables

Digging into the Design

The following day we hosted an open studio, leaving our doors open and encouraging the public to stop by and ask questions, give feedback and engage in the design process. Live critiques improved our design, revealed important details and influenced the overall direction of the project.

designer presenting a PowerPoint in to a room full of people

Presenting to the Public

On the third and final day we presented our plans to community members and civic leaders before discussing recommendations and plans for short, medium and long-term implementation. We showcased ideas both big and small, acknowledging that we were only just beginning a long journey to realizing our vision.

an aerial rendering of the proposed park at Baxter Creek

Planning for Action

We developed recommendations for eight site-specific projects to illustrate how incremental action items can help jump start larger efforts. Our ideas included reimaging a portion of Joe Creason Park, developing public space at several key intersections, creating a pocket park on Rufer Street and revitalizing the Kentucky Street Alley.

Joe Creason Park Vision

aerial view of Joe Creason Park aerial view of proposed improvements to Joe Creason Park

Bringing a Vision to Life

After our report was published, residents and local authorities began taking steps to improve Beargrass Creek. Metro Louisville is working to improve one of the identified problem intersections, a large planned development incorporated creek access into their design and a local landowner expressed interest in de-paving a large impervious area.