Walkable. Diverse. Affordable. Community-building. Sustainable. Architectural excellence.
These were all key tenets of the community vision that Norton Commons brought to the east end of Louisville when it broke ground in the fall of 2003. Fifteen years later, those values may be more self-evident in the expansive village community than ever before.
Making those elements attainable for the neighborhood has been achievable in part because Norton Commons has maintained a philosophy of mixed use which promotes or enhances walkability, diversity, community and more.
Town Architect Michael Watkins explained the term ‘mixed use’ as it applies to their community.
“In our view of the world, mixed use means being able to walk to meet daily needs. If you need food, there are grocery stores or restaurants in walking distance. Schools, churches, shops, YMCA, whatever you need.”
“Mixed-use communities are in high demand for good reason,” said Marilyn Patterson, Norton Commons’ marketing director and general counsel. “By their very nature, they create a wonderful diversity in terms of property types, price points and population that is not found in typical suburban neighborhoods,” she said.
Watkins, who has been involved in the neighborhood since the master plan was completed, said Norton Commons’ vision for mixed use included a variety of home styles, retail and office space. “Mixed-use architecture definitely adds to the diversity of a community. In Norton Commons, we have small live-work units often used as business incubators or for businesses that don’t need much space – all the way up to bigger multiple commercial spaces.” Watkins explained how prioritizing form over function also makes buildings easily adaptable.
“In conventional building, everything is separated based on use, and the form of the building is given little attention,” said Watkins. “But here, it’s the form of the building, the street, the public space we prioritize, and what use goes in the building is very flexible based on neighborhood demand,” he said.
“In one block, we have a hair salon and women’s clothing store next to a little grocery store that’s just opened in the last few months. That store is run by the father of a restauranteur who has his business just around the corner,” said Watkins.
With a residential mix ranging from one-bedroom apartments to large single-family homes, Norton Commons offers homes to accommodate a range of incomes – and family types. Watkins said in his walkable neighborhood in Maryland that is similar to Norton Commons, there are four generations of family living together. “I know that wouldn’t have happened if there were only single-family detached houses on one acre lots. Mixed uses and mixed housing types have a great impact on the strength of the ties in a community,” he added.
According to Marilyn Patterson, another way mixed-use neighborhoods encourage a healthier, more social way of living is through well-designed walkability that encourages use and enjoyment of common spaces.
Watkins said his research bears that out. “In the book The Great Good Place, the author talked about how communities need a third place, not the workplace or living space but a third place, a gathering space,” said Watkins. “The classic example is the English pub where everyday people can walk to the corner to talk with their neighbors.”
Kenny Andreozzi of Commonwealth Tap said he has seen their wine and whiskey bar become that fun gathering place for the neighborhood – and beyond. “It’s great having a space in the heart of the Norton Commons neighborhood that appeals to so many who enjoy coming in for good conversation, entertainment and delicious libations. Encouraging residents to leave their vehicles behind and just walk increases community awareness, neighbor awareness and ultimately a stronger sense of community,” said Andreozzi.
Rebecca Blackburn, owner of Pet Station Salon and Boutique, has been with the neighborhood since the beginning. She said she believes the mixed-use business community feeds that sense of neighborhood unity.
“It helps businesses build friendships with neighbors, which benefits the businesses and also attracts more neighbors. People want to move there because you recognize people and it feels like family when you’re there. It’s like Cheers.”
“It’s wonderful,” said Blackburn. “We see people from all walks of life and all income levels in this neighborhood that we all share together. I say kudos to the architects and builders of Norton Commons. It’s come a long way from when we first moved in. I look at it now and say, ‘Wow they did it.’ The vision they had – we’ve definitely seen it come to fruition.”