We’ve seen the future, and it’s, ah, complicated.
Louisville has been Possibility City for some time now, but when will it break through and become Probability City?
Turns out we will reach metropolitan Nirvana when we become an authentic, interconnected, tech-driven, advanced manufacturing, park-ringed Green European city, free of the shell of the gridlocked 1950s American industrial center we once were.
This is according to the initial presentation by Space Group Oslo, the consulting firm shaping Vision Louisville, the 25-year plan touted by the Fischer Administration.
Last night’s first public workshop at Metro City Hall included Mayor Greg Fischer, entrepreneur/fundraiser Matthew Barzun, Maria Hampton, Louisville-based president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Gary Bates, architect, designer and co-founder of Space Group Oslo.
Bates was the main presenter, with a 90-minute, 150-slide Power Point, followed by a brief presentation from Susan Sellers from 2X4, a New York City-based branding firm.
Fischer emphasized the workshop was the very first step in a long and public process. But last night’s presentation was so far-reaching, it was difficult to identify a central theme.
If there was a main point, it was that consultants can’t impose a new identity on a city that ignores its history, culture, tradition and fixed realities such as geography.
“The question is, ‘How do you cultivate the assets that are here?’” Bates said.
“It’s not, ‘I’m Gary Bates, and I’ve come to fix your city.’ It’s about understanding the best practices of cities such as Portland … and Austin, and then identifying the 10 things you want to achieve.”
Which, apparently, is going to take some time.
That said, about mid-point in Bates’s blue-sky talk, he got to the essence of the decision between progress and stasis.
The status quo is untenable, he said, because of demographics: “There’s an enormous shift we have to face right now.”
Louisville has to change or face deteriorating quality of life because of future growth.
According to Bates, Kentucky is in the Midwest, and the Midwest is where the economic action is going forward.
Though he didn’t cite sources, he said the Midwestern states collectively are the fifth largest economy in the world behind the United States as a whole, Germany, China and Japan.
The middle-sized cities are driving overall American GDP growth, Bates said, not big American cities.
Louisville is on course to get 115,000 additional people by 2037, or about an 8-percent population pop over 25 years. By that time, Bates said, 58 percent of residents will have reached retirement age.
Housing 8 percent more people translates into the city adding about 12,000 acres in housing.
“Where will that be?” Bates said.
The city will add about 35,000 workers, who’ll need about 3 million square feet of additional office space.
To deal with the growth, Bates and Space Group Oslo identified categories on which Louisville needs to focus including regionalism, health and energy.
Bates discussed regionalism at length, noting that Louisville has a unique geographic position as the city farthest west in the eastern time zone.
He advocates a model where Lexington and Louisville unite economically a la BEAM and away from a model based on, “How do we one-up neighboring cities?”
“Cross-city initiatives accelerate growth for both cities,” Bates said. “Regional partnerships equal economic prosperity.”
Fischer recruited national Obama 2012 campaign finance chairman Barzun and Hampton to head up the Vision Louisville effort to articulate where Louisville should go and how we should get there.
Barzun and his wife, Brooke Brown Barzun, have put up about $250,000 to finance the $1 million Phase 1 of the project. See the end of the post for details about the first Vision Louisville phases.
You can follow the Vision Louisville conversation on Twitter: @VisionLville
Distilled points from last night’s presentation:
• Bates suggested establishing goals for elements such as transportation, with Louisville moving to 40 percent cars, 30 percent mass transportation and 30 percent bikes from 85 percent cars, 5 percent bikes and 2.2 percent public transportation. “If we don’t put it on the agenda, it’ll never happen.”
• Bates identified a number of Louisville’s assets including its extensive park system and the Ohio River, its culture including the IdeaFestival and bourbon, and economic development advantages such as the UPS air freight hub, adaptive reuse of downtown properties including NuLu, food culture and strong position as an aging care center.
• Bates noticed that Louisville has multiple festivals and that culture in Louisville is more “nuanced” than he expected. “But how do we change from a festival city to a creative city?” He used 21C Museum Hotel as an example of how Louisville transcends convention.
• Rather than the urban/suburban divide of 2012, Bates said classic suburbs will remain, but Louisville should expect to evolve into an urban core, surrounded by suburban cities.
• Some parts of American life are evolving so quickly, it’s impossible to know how they’ll fit into Louisville’s business matrix 25 years from now. When Bates interviewed officials at the University of Louisville about the school’s relationship with industry, “They said, ‘We don’t know if education in 25 years will exist as it does today, with the Jeffersonian campus. We don’t know.’”
• Major obstacles include what participants termed “The Ninth Street Divide,” the interstate and surface streets separating downtown from the West End, Louisville’s poorest area.
Phase I of the Vision Plan centers on big ideas. It starts with the collection and interpretation of existing issues and opportunities. Space Group will reach out for public input regarding the built environment, and, using this input and background research, will build multiple future city scenarios. These scenarios will take the form of “big ideas,” and concepts for catalyst projects and development instigators, and will create the urban design framework for our vision of future Louisville.
Future phases of the Vision Plan will build on Phase I work to take a deeper look at catalyst projects and development instigators. Consultants and planning staff will further engage the public in a discussion of investment priorities. Priorities will be identified based on their ability to connect with a specific focus such as the economy, education, sustainability, transportation and the arts and culture, and will be the big ideas that move Louisville toward a more vibrant future.