Urban Design Studio

Moving our city and region towards a sustainable future

What Makes a Great Neighborhood?

What Makes a Great Neighborhood?

Aug. 1, 2016

Tonight was a pretty amazing night to just sit outside, enjoy Rowan’s Creek on the rocks and listen to some good music. 73 degrees, a slight breeze, a blue moon over Kentucky passing through a veil of tree leaves in an almost cloudless sky. Crickets and other insects chirping away and oddly, the distinct scent of damp wood, reminiscent of sitting on a boat dock on a lake. It’s the simple relaxing pleasure of doing nothing in particular on a night like this that makes life in Louisville wonderful.

While not doing anything in particular, my thoughts wandered around what made my neighborhood, Belknap, such a great place to live. Since moving to Louisville in 1997, I have lived somewhere along Bardstown Road. I could probably make an argument for why the Original Highlands, Bonnycastle, or Deer Park neighborhoods are great places as well, but there is something special about Belknap. Sure, I miss having an alley behind my house and the sidewalks are a bit fragmented in places, but the amenities within walking distance (which I suppose is relevant to your own constitution and what you consider walkable) are hard to beat no matter what WalkScore.com would like to say.

According to Walk Score, my house has a walk score of 44 listed as “Car-Dependent for most errands.” It also has a low score for transit (37) stating that there is “Some Transit”. This might be fair to say when comparing Belknap to a place like Telegraph Hill in San Francisco with a walkscore of 96 and transit score of 96, but I can walk 10 minutes to catch a bus from home nearly every 15 minutes to get to the Urban Design Studio downtown either on the 23, 17, 40, or 21 routes. An occasional pleasant walk to work takes about an hour and a half. I can also ride my bike the scenic way through Cherokee Park and along the Beargrass bike path in 40 minutes, 25 minutes if I take a more direct route. I would also argue that you don’t need a car for most “errands,” but more on that in a minute.

Map of Belknap Neighborhood

Going with the flow of the night and thoughts about the neighborhood I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk to the grocery store to get some milk for breakfast. Being able to walk to a grocery store, particularly one that is open 24 hours a day, is a luxury for most, but one I often take for granted. As I got up to leave, my great walking companion Bosco could tell what I was up to and invited himself along. I got the leash, plastic bag, and we were off.

There is something I have loved about walking in an urban neighborhood at night ever since I lived in Savannah, exploring the historic downtown with my camera night after night. Its this feeling like you are the only person alive. The quiet streets, sleepy houses, wonderful shadow play between various streetlights, window glows, and moonlight… a comforting stillness. Those first experiences of appreciating the quiet nights in a city likely were what originally attracted me to city planning and my general love for the urban environment.


As Bosco and I set out for Kroger I was again reminded of the wide array of housing types, ages, sizes, and architecture. This impressive mix of housing, from condos and apartments, to bungalows and grand historic homes, paired with an amazing tree canopy, makes for a rich pedestrian experience.


As we neared our destination we passed Lakeside just down the road from our home and around the corner from Kroger. Lakeside alone makes Belknap an amazing neighborhood to live in. An old quarry, converted into the most unique and beautiful water recreation facility in any neighborhood in any city in my opinion.

After getting some milk in the surprisingly active grocery store for 1 am, it became obvious that Bosco was not impressed with the 7-minute walk to the grocery store, so I decided to take a longer route home. We walked past Douglass Loop, a wonderful commercial node that once was the terminus of a streetcar line.

Douglas Loop

Douglass Loop is home to a wide variety of amenities that make for a great walkable neighborhood. With places like North End Café, Heine Brothers Coffee, Dundee Candy Shop, Highlands Hardware (formerly Horton’s Hardware), Graeter’s Ice Cream, Great Floods Brewing Company, Vines & Canines wine shop, Café Lou Lou’s, Havana Rumba, and a multitude of other shops and restaurants a block or so away, there is no shortage of places to go for daily needs and wants.

Warheim Park

Meandering our way back to the house we passed the entrance to Warheim Park, a wonderful pocket park maintained by the local neighborhood. The park is a great model for how Louisville can improve its astonishingly poor ParkScore by the National Trust for Public Land. We have a premier park system in Louisville with the Olmsted Parks system, Metro Parks and new Parkland’s of Floyds Fork, so it is a bit shocking and pride deflating to get a low score, but beyond the issues with merged city-county municipalities, we have a desperate need for more access to walkable greenspaces such as pocket parks like Warheim. Speaking of larger parks, Joe Creason Park, the Louisville Nature Center, and Louisville Zoo are all within a 15-minute walk of Belknap.

There are many other aspects that make the Belknap Neighborhood a great place to live, but it boils down to a place where one has a variety of options for housing, and places to get daily needs in a beautiful setting, close to downtown and other points of interest in Louisville.

I realize what makes a great neighborhood to me is partly subjective, and I am very fortunate to live where I do, but everyone has different perspectives and values, so what do you love about your neighborhood? By the way, there can be a fuzzy grey area when delineating neighborhood boundaries and we will discuss this further in a future post. However, if someone thinking of moving to Louisville was trying to decide which neighborhood was right for them, what would you say about the area you live to help with their decision? By discussing what makes our neighborhoods great, we can also begin to think more constructively about what could make them better.

1606 Rowan Street    |     Louisville, Kentucky 40203    |     Phone: 502 587-7015    |     twitter     facebook      flickr   View photostream on flickr