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What's the State of Downtown Louisville? Here Are Takeaways From Tuesday's Presentation

Fewer people live in Louisville's urban core than nearly a decade ago, yet in the same time span more housing units have become available— a juxtaposition symbolic of the current state of downtown.

That's according to the annual State of Downtown presentation on Tuesday by the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

The presentation covered these and other issues—such as education, employment and transportation—that can have lasting impacts on residents' quality of life.

Louisville seems to be lagging in some of these areas compared to 18 peer cities, and exceeding in others.

Here is a map of Louisville's peer cities.

Fewer People Living In the Urban Core

The population of Louisville's urban core—downtown, Old Louisville, Original Highlands, Portland and Russell, Jeffersonville and Clarksville—has dropped about seven percent since 2000, according to Matt Ruther with the Kentucky State Data Center.

Though the drop in population is noticeable, Ruther said it has not been as drastic as other cities.

The current population of Louisville's urban core is about 106,000—the sixth highest among the 18 peer cities.


"This urban core encompasses a small part of the land within the metropolitan area it comprises a very large share of it's population and housing," Ruther said.

Despite the drop in population, Louisville has more housing units in its urban core than 15 of its peer cities, Ruther said.

Just 81 percent of the near 55,000 housing units in the urban core are occupied and even fewer, 36 percent, are owner-occupied, Ruther said.

"The drop in population, coupled with the increase in housing units, suggests smaller households or more single households and is possibly related to the lower occupancy rates we see in 2013," Ruther said.



Few Young People Call Downtown Louisville Home

Compared to peer cities, Louisville has a strikingly low number of residents aged 25-34, according to the data.

Just 16 percent of Louisville's urban core population is comprised of young people.

Since 2000 the number of young people living in the downtown area has increased about 2 percent, according to the data.

People within this age group are important to cities because that's when they commonly start families.

"Which of course implys future population stability," Ruther said.

Younger people are also important for cities' growth because they are more frequent users of restaurants and nightclubs—meaning they spend more money, Ruther added.

Few College Educated Residents Live Downtown

Just 19.4 percent of the people living in the downtown area have a college degree.

That is the third lowest rate among the 18 peer cities. Oklahoma City has the lowest rate of college educated residents in its downtown area with 19.1.

Ruther said about 9,000 residents of the urban core are currently enrolled in college taking undergraduate or graduate level courses.

Since 2000 the number of people with a college education living in the downtown Louisville are has increased about 5 percent, according to the data.

Education attainment levels aren't something "that downtown itself can really address," said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

But what downtown Louisville can do is provide "a place where folks who have a higher education and who want to be in a vibrant, authentic community … that's a place where we can help."

Matheny said the largest challenge to attracting young, successful downtown is the "fabric we've lost over time to surface parking lots" and to "how vibrant some of our other quarters really are," such as the Highlands and the Frankfort Avenue corridor.

Louisville's Urban Core Median Income Very Low

Among peer cities only Knoxville has a lower median income for residents within the city's urban core.

Louisville's median income for people living within three miles of downtown is just more than $27,000.

Though the number is adjusted for cost-of-living in various cities "its unlikely that such an adjustment would eliminate the disparities," said Ruther.

"Most of the wealthier households in the Louisville metropolitan area are located further out from the urban core," Ruther said.

In fact, Louisville ranked 13th among the 18 peer cities for the number of jobs in the downtown area that pay at least $3,333 per month, or about $40,000 per year.

Louisville in Top 5 In Alternative Transportation Use

Residents in downtown Louisville walk, bike or ride the bus at the fifth highest rate among the 18 peer cities, according to the data presented by Ruther.

About 19 percent of residents of the urban core in Louisville get around the city without the use of a personal vehicle, Ruther said.

"Use of alternative transportation by commuters is typically considered beneficial to cities," he said.

Public transportation, walking and biking can boost the sense of community, increase safety and help improve the public health, Ruther said.

Bu the high share of Louisville commuters who use public transportation is also a reflection of the lower incomes of this group, he said.

In fact, more than half of residents that ride the bus in Louisville earn 150 percent or less of the federal poverty rate.

Reasons to Be Optimistic

Ruther said the metrics presented at the State of Downtown presentation weren't all favorable.

But there is good news, he stressed.

"The urban core is increasing on all measures of the education gradient," he said.

Despite a low rate of college educated residents currently living in the area, the numbers are on the rise, he said.

Downtown Louisville also ranks highly in total population and the number of available housing units, he added.

The surrounding neighborhoods are also vital for continued growth in the urban core, as well as ongoing projects such as the Omni development and efforts to resolve the Ninth Street divide.

"We have a lot of work to do to get to Ninth Street," said Matheny. She said expanding the scope of downtown beyond Fifth Street is key to expanding beyond Ninth Street.

"When you get to the western edge of downtown, it really stops at Fifth Street," she said.

Future plans to spark growth in the western edge of downtown include a westward expansion of the Business Improvement District, includes providing the areas with downtown ambassadors, who work on the street and act as something like a security guard.

Matheny hopes to see the business improvement district expand beyond Ninth Street by the start of 2016.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.