Enhancing the public realm of medical districts

by David Gamble, AIA AICP LEED AP

Urban medical districts are places of sensory overload, with a wide variety of activities occurring at the same time: valet parking, people seeking out the emergency rooms, students racing to class, employees changing shifts, ambulance sirens wailing, patients being admitted and discharged, visitors seeking a cup of coffee or a place to grab a bite. Such districts struggle, to some degree, to establish a public realm that is safe, inviting and easy to navigate. The setting in which they exist often precludes attention to the connective tissue – the streets, sidewalks and public spaces – which enable a stronger identity and more superlative public space network to emerge.

Chestnut and Brook Intersection

We are delighted to begin our work with four institutional partners in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The Louisville Medical and Educational District (aka “LOUMED”) represents the most concentrated economic engine in downtown Louisville area. The primary institutions located within its 22 square block campus – Norton Healthcare, the University of Louisville Health Science Center, U of L Health, and Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) – provide essential jobs, health care, and educational resources for Louisville, the Commonwealth, and beyond. Covering 250 acres that include almost 10 million square feet of occupied space, the District’s institutions employ over 16,000 people, with a combined annual payroll of over $1 billion.

LOUMED deserves a high-quality public realm commensurate with its high-quality of care, research and education. Fortunately, much of the infrastructure already exists to build upon the assets in place to reach this goal. The Framework Plan advances the individual efforts of the institutions towards new collective opportunities that will create a network of pedestrian connectivity and landscapes that foster a more welcoming and campus-like district.

Three east-west corridors organize the Framework Plan:

  • A pedestrian spine: Significantly improving the east-west pedestrian spine of Abraham Flexner Way with new landscaping, pedestrian-scaled lighting, signage and canopies. Large concrete-paved zones are differentiated with crosswalks for pedestrians.
  • A campus connector: Reinforcing Chestnut Street as a two-way vehicular corridor versus one way. The street connects all four institutions with a reduction of pavement, expanded planting buffers, sidewalks and bike lanes. Raised crosswalks, curb-cuts and artistic lighting to the underside of the interstate strengthens the gateway experience.
  • A public transit link: As Louisville Metro advances its bus rapid transit plans for Broadway, increased coordination is needed to ensure that these “gateway” improvements can be incorporated into the medical center.

The Greening of LOUMED

Now more than ever – as the pandemic continues to impact how we live – outdoor gathering spaces are essential to our health and well-being. This is especially true in dense, urban medical centers with few outdoor opportunities for patients, staff or visitors. In addition to the above streetscape and infrastructure improvements, the District currently lacks a central open space where clinical care, research, teaching and education coalesce. LOUMED Gardens creates a new plaza for the surrounding community and the institutional partners. Located on a central site of a vacant corrections facility, the one-acre, multi-use park/plaza complements the existing intimately-scaled gardens, outdoor dining plazas and drop-off areas. Collectively, these “pocket parks” form a framework for navigating the campus which increases safety, addresses mobility and adds shade and resiliency that strengthens the identities of the institutions and bolsters their collective image.

Framework Plan

As the campus matures, support services with new infill housing and mixed-use development in the seams the medical center shares with its neighbors will be essential. New signage and wayfinding that works at many scales – from high-speed traffic on the highway, to the local streets, bike paths and pedestrians – bolster the entrances to LOUMED and create a stronger and more welcoming identity and image.

Project lead: CityVisions Associates, Design Distill

Share this story