The last time Louisville got this much grief was early last September, when New York Times senior critic Michael Kimmelman came to Louisville for an IdeaFestival presentation with 21C Museum Hotel co-founder Steve Wilson.
Kimmelman was supposed to speak about Architecture with a capital A … the big trends, the new approaches, blah, blah, blah.
Instead, he went off on a brief, elegant rant that essentially came down to, “People, what the hell are you thinking, making a bigger mess of your downtown by adding a bridge instead of removing the hideous tangle of concrete that defiles your fabulous riverfront?”
(That, and he went on about all the downtown surface parking lots and how it must have been Albert Speer who actually designed the Humana Building.)
By the end of the month, Kimmelman had followed up with a scathing opinion piece about how Louisville was about to undo all the successes of the past decade by running a second bridge though the center of downtown.
Today, in “Like the Ohio River, a Bridge Project Divides a Community,” reporter Bobby Allyn revisits that topic – the Berlin Wall Louisville is about to build between a struggling downtown and the vital neighborhoods of Butchertown, NuLu, the Highlands and Clifton.
Allyn interviews bridge supporter Gov. Steve Beshear, who gives one of his classic “this breedge will bring pros-purity” answers, without explaining how.
But the more interesting interviews are with downtown bridge opponents U of L Professor Hank Savitch and 8664 founder Tyler Allen.
Savitch sums up what’s coming with the new downtown bridge: “It will dissipate energy in the central city, where they should be concentrating investment, and instead draw capital to the outer metropolitan area.”
Allen makes the point that the forces for enhancing Lousiville’s riverfront instead of burying it in concrete ran “into the buzz saw of power.”
In fairness, that buzz saw of power was propelled by the fact our three (still functioning) bridges are so old and so neglected, they’re on the verge of being structurally unsound, overstressed and unsafe at any speed.
But instead of considering ingenious and forward-looking options, everyone from former Mayor Jerry Abramson to Southern Indiana power broker Kerry Stemler chose to apply a 1950s solution to a 21st Century problem.
A caveat: There are several factual errors in the story including Allyn’s assertion that River Fields fought the proposed East End bridge to protect historic homes in Jeffersonville.