Bringing Nature to the Neighborhood


An ambitious project is taking shape in Louisville, Kentucky, a city of nearly three-quarters of a million. The Parklands of Floyds Fork, which won an ASLA planning and analysis award, will help expand Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for the community. Olmsted had created a series of parks and parkways just outside the edge the late 19th century city, in an effort to “bring nature to the neighborhoods.” Now that Louisville, a city with more than 100 parks totaling 12,000 acres, has been engulfed by development, the city is turning eastward to seek new green horizons. WRT, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm, is working with their client, 21st Century Parks, a local non-profit, to develop a plan that adds some 4,000 acres of open space to a 20-mile length of bottomland in eastern Jefferson County. The firm says this $113 million project will create a green infrastructure framework to shape the expected future growth of the community and help the city create a more sustainable model for urban growth beyond the city limits.

The Parklands will be divided into four new parks, each with their own purpose and character. Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, Turkey Run Park and Broad Run Park will be linked by a braided system of passages, including a water trail on the creek (Floyds Fork), a park road, local roads, and a multipurpose trail corridor called the Louisville Loop. The Parklands will form one fifth of 100-mile length of the Louisville Loop, first proposed in WRT’s mid-1990’s plan for the regional open space network.

Beckeley Creek Park will offer the grand open space, a 23-acre “Egg Lawn,” with canoe launches into the ponds, along with lodges and picnic areas. Visitors can fish in those ponds, use the sports fields, or bring their kids to a “creekside playground and spray park.” Intriguingly, WRT is also building a “bark park.” Turkey Run Park will have “adventure programming” like zip lines and rope courses, along with rock climbing, while Broad Run Park will provide access to the waterfalls, springs, and wetlands.


The master plan calls for reserving 80 percent of the 4,000 acres for natural habitat. WRT actually broke down the zones and their environmental benefits for us:  

  • 2,000 acres of forestland will increase oxygenation and store CO2.
  • 400 acres of restored native meadowlands will provide habitat corridors and reduce the need for mowing (which gives off CO2 emissions)
  • 50 acres of restored wetlands will enhance habitat and improve water quality
  • 7 miles of restored streambanks will reduce erosion
  • 400 acres will be converted to support sustainable agriculture; no chemical use allowed.
  • All that protected habitat will provide home to 25 species of reptiles and amphibians; 40 species of fish; 20 species of freshwater mussels; 138 species of birds; 19 mammals; and 450 types of native plants, including endangered ones. 

The Parklands, says WRT, is the “next generation of open space outside of the city’s cherished Olmsted park system. The client and partners seized the chance to develop the 20-odd miles as more than a greenway – as a megapark that dwarfs even the ambitious dimensions of the city’s established Olmstedian system.”

Interestingly, the firm adds that this isn’t just about preserving ecosystems, but creating a system of green infrastructure at the largest scale and integrating people and nature into a more sustainable pattern of development. “The Parklands is not a preservation project – the client’s intent has been to place people in nature, and to proactively use open space as an agent in shaping future regional development on a county-wide scale.”


Their client, 21st Century Parks made the case. Dan Jones, head of the organization, told The Architect’s Newspaper the park will provide a new framework for development at the fringes of the city. While some may consider this expansive, not compact urban development, some ecological guidelines are already forming. Structures built along the new parklands must face the park and street trees have to be incorporated into the designs. Jones said: “A city has both a core and an edge. You can’t ignore the edge condition.”

The team is also looking to improve the standard subdivision model used in Louisville by creating a “model” community development in an “ailing, partially developed, adjacent subdivision” purchased by the group when real estate prices were low. These new model subdivisions are expected to be dense, offer high levels of connectivity, leverage the green infrastructure systems, and protect the natural habitat.

It’s good to see the project’s managers are starting to think out how to combine the benefits of both nature and density. As a number of landscape architects have argued, if you want people to live in dense urban areas, you need nature.

The first phase will be completed in 2013, with following phases finished by 2015. 

Explore the parkland and see the earlier master plan.

Image credits: (1-2) Parklands of Floyds Fork / WRT, (3) Parklands of Floyds Fork /Rendering by Bravura

2 thoughts on “Bringing Nature to the Neighborhood

  1. Emmon 04/02/2012 / 12:43 pm

    What a wonderful details on this project! You really go into depth — I had no idea Louisville was doing this. It’s pretty inspiring! My brother lives in Seattle and they have this amazing bike trail/green strip that runs from the northern suburbs into downtown. This reminds me a bit of that – with the addition of preservation of natural ecosystems, of course!

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