Mediative Urbanism Ideas for LFUCG/UK College of Design

Mediative Urbanism Ideas for LFUCG/UK College of Design

Ace SundayEDITORIAL, October 18

On October 15, the Irish Hill Neighborhood Association in Louisville announced the winner of its Mediative Urbanism design competition for an abandoned brownlot, “A Scenic Walkway,” contributed by a Paris, France team (pictured).

Ace became aware of the project in its early stages because of the sponsorship involvement of Ace‘s newsweekly contemporary in Louisville, Leo Weekly.

The winning concept is an inspiration, as opposed to a design-build plan.  What the IHNA solicited was: ideas, vision, leadership, and partnerships.

You can read about the project’s history at

Here is what they asked for:


The Irish Hill Neighborhood Association invites urban designers, architects, landscape architects, and artists to envision the future of a 30-acre post-industrial site in Louisville, Kentucky. Mediative Urbanisms is an international open ideas competition created to encourage critical design approaches and public debate around a potentially vital zone in the landscape of Louisville.

Development processes often evolve and proceed with little direct feedback or interest within the public realm, immediate or otherwise. The IHNA seeks to foster a continued discussion of this site’s potential by inviting the input of designers world wide to help drive the process through a public display and evaluation of concepts.

The project site, located just east of the city center, is bisected by the lower middle fork of Beargrass Creek near its convergence with the South Fork. Historically inhabited by distilleries and most recently by River Metals (a scrap metal and recycling yard), the site is currently both a brownfield in need of rehab as well as a potential ecological jewel in the urban landscape of the city. The site poses further challenges as an urban design problem due to its unique configuration, adjacencies to various neighborhoods and present boundary conditions.

What they got was 30 entries—from teams in Kentucky, but also in Australia, Turkey, Norway, Canada, and France, to name a few.

The list of sponsors thanked by the IHNA board included:
– Louisville Metro 9th District Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh
– The Kentucky Waterways Alliance
– LEO Weekly
– Friends of Irish Hill
– Maker’s Mark Distillery
– Louisville Slugger

This meant the partners at the table included Louisville’s urban county council; its neighborhoods; its corporate sector; and a newsweekly (a newspaper representing an industry founded on advocating for positive change, as opposed to the regurgitation of press releases generated by advertisers and cronies that occupies so much of the current “media”).

These Partners had a very specific, measurable laundry list of objectives, rooted in public engagement:

City residents would like the area to be developed into a long-lasting, pedestrian friendly zone that connects the adjoining neighborhoods with daily-use programs linked to the communal and ecological health of the city. As indicated in a survey of area residents, the most desired program is a neighborhood market, due to the lack of grocery stores and produce markets in the immediate area. The survey further indicates support for programs including light industrial shops, medical clinics, small-scale educational facilities, park space, high-rise residential construction, patio-style dwellings, small-scale commercial spaces, greenhouses for food production and a farmer’s market. Participants are encouraged to couple innovative strategies for ecologically-driven design with and urban strategy that fuses the currently isolated site into the larger urban context while preserving adjacent residential properties.

Lexington has a lot on its development plate these days.

The vision for the South Limestone streetscape beautification has positive consensus, but the execution has drawn sharp criticism. The Newtown Pike extension—in development for years—only got powerlines buried when activists and advocates vocally intervened in the process. UK-adjacent neighborhood associations are on the verge of civil war with the University of Kentucky (though a moratorium on big-box additions in the third district was passed as a stopgap measure on Thursday, October 15). Earlier this week, CouncilMember George Myers reassured Council Members at the Intergovernmental Committee meeting, “We haven’t yet conceded CentrePointe’s not gonna happen.”

UK’s College of Design Dean Michael Speaks recently informally addressed an LFUCG worksession on September 1st about the River Cities Project. An extension of the 2007 Henderson Project, River Cities is a “new project that will focus on the creation of strategic design proposals for communities along the Ohio River.” Lexington, as many know, is not located on the Ohio River. Readers can follow (but his September 1 visit to LFUCG isn’t mentioned there). So, the Council was briefed on the River Cities, but there were no formal motions to engage the College of Design in Lexington’s urban development initiatives beyond the loan of David Mohney’s staff time to the Lexington Downtown Development Authority. 

Vision and Leadership means good business; sustainable economic growth; and environmental responsibility. It makes for good public policy and good politics. The two are not mutually exclusive.

But amorphous terms like “vision and leadership” also have to be broken down into quantifiable, measurable objectives to mean anything. Those measurements might be as specific as jobs generated and carbon footprints, to quality of life issues such as “nightlife” and concrete developments like the new Buster’s anchoring the emerging Distillery District.

Elections are another way we quantify “vision” and “leadership.”

Lexington has deservedly high expectations for its economy and for its quality of life as a sustainable, imaginative community.

The hope is that some will rise to that challenge.

But CNN’s Anderson Cooper put it best post-Katrina (when everyone was “hoping” for the arrival of the National Guard): “Hope is NOT a Plan.”

The Irish Hill Neighborhood Association had a Plan.
And they are seeing it through.
That is to be commended.