The “public realm” of a city is the environment that its streets, open spaces, parks and plazas create for visitors, employees and residents. The public realm in any vibrant Downtown engages people and encourages human interaction. It makes one want to sit outside at a café and watch what’s going on rather than stay inside. Its streets celebrate the uniqueness of Downtown and add to its creativity.
In Downtown Louisville, some parts of the public realm currently provide exactly this kind of welcoming environment. The West Main Street area and Waterfront Park exemplify two areas where the public realm is successful in engaging visitors, residents and employees in an attractive and pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. This is no accident. Active and intensive efforts to create this kind of environment in these areas have been in place for a number of years. Aegon Plaza is a good example of space that is inviting to pedestrians, creating a great atmosphere for stopping and enjoying the city.
The creation of an inviting public realm does not depend solely upon an upgraded streetscape program, although that is certainly one necessary element for success, particularly in those places where the quality of the public right-of-way does not match that of the private. The creation of a sense of place involves a complex set of interrelationships among a variety of factors. These include:
Louisville’s reclamation of the waterfront has helped to reconnect the public to the Ohio River after many years of waterfront property use that was openly hostile to pedestrians. A generation ago, a drive along the River would show most of the property being used for a variety of heavy industries. Today, green spaces, play areas, a new baseball stadium, and new residential development are all contributing to the community’s return to the River.
Louisville Waterfront Park is the front door to Kentucky, a playground for people of all ages, and a gathering place for folks from all over the community. It offers a grand view of the river, space for concerts and festivals, quiet places to read a book, picnic spaces for your family and friends. The parks hosts crowds of 350,000 for Thunder Over Louisville, and groups of 25 for family reunions.
The Park is made up of three phases and totals 85 acres. The last phase, Phase III, is currently under construction and will be completed soon. Annual attendance at Waterfront Park tops 1.5 million people.