In the early 2000s, the last thing East Louisville needed was another traditional subdivision. Instead, local developers Charles Osborn and David Tomes wanted to bring New Urbanism to the city. The urban design movement, which rose to popularity in the United States in the mid-1980s, promotes a strong sense of community while emphasizing environmentally friendly lifestyle practices in a mixed-use environment.
After approaching Mary Norton Shands, daughter of progressive modern farmer and media maven George Norton, the pair formed a venture with the Norton Trust. Together, they planned to develop just shy of 600 acres of farmland into a type of community Louisville had not seen since the early 1900s.
Renowned new urbanist architect and co-founder of the Congress of New Urbanism, Andrés Duany, was recruited for the project. He, along with his wife and company partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, “grew up in walkable cities,” Duany explained, and “… we missed them.” In designing a new urban development, Duany shared, “It turns out that environmentalism is very well served by walkable cities.” More importantly, these communities “are great places to live.”
One principal factor of new urbanism’s popularity is that it appeals to diverse groups. Noted Duany, younger people are often “no longer charmed” by the suburbs, older populations appreciate the proximity of retail and business spaces, and “kids also have more freedom,” making these communities “easier for parents,” as well. The ethos of New Urbanism also includes the preservation of an area’s character while reflecting the historical significance of the city — an ideal solution for developing the Norton land into a walkable East End community with a mix of residential, retail, and green spaces.
Ground was broken in 2004, and the neighborhood’s first residents, John and Judith Madden, moved into their new home that next year, while most of the community was still incomplete. Now over a decade later and with the final phases of development on the horizon, Norton Commons has seen many changes. Averaging approximately 100 new homes each year, more than 1,000 of the community’s planned 2,800 dwellings have been completed. These include townhomes and single-family homes ranging in price from the mid-300s to over $1 million, as well as condos priced at under $200,000. The community also has various types of apartments for rent, including senior living apartments, higher-end luxury rentals, and an affordable option to be built in the coming months.
More than 60 businesses currently populate the vibrant community, among them restaurants and cafes, boutiques and retail shops, salons and fitness centers, physicians and a pharmacy, law and investment firms, and professional offices, among others. Many Norton Commons business owners and their families reside in the community as well. Children roam the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets, and residents have access to a large outdoor amphitheater, a YMCA, a golf putting and chipping green, two swimming pools, parks, playgrounds, and dog parks, plus other green and recreational spaces.
In addition to an early childhood education facility and a Catholic school, Norton Commons donated the land for Norton Commons Elementary, a Jefferson County Public School, which is scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2016 academic year and will accommodate approximately 650 students. The two-story school includes a library media center featuring the collaborative learning center makerspace, as well as Epson interactive projectors in each classroom, energy efficient LED lights with motion sensors, and geothermal heating and cooling. As part of the commitment to environmentally minded development, the remaining 1,800 homes planned for Norton Commons’ North Village in the coming years will also utilize geothermal heating and cooling — the largest residential community of its kind in the entire country currently under development.
Norton Commons may have seen steady growth since first welcoming the Maddens to the neighborhood 10 years ago, but this Louisville enclave has never lost sight of its vision: a tight-knit and resourceful community made possible by its New Urban design.