Waterfront Park in Louisville: Whose Park Is It Anyway?


Last Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous day, warm at 85 degrees, and with a relatively clear sky (for Louisville) with puffy white clouds to decorate it. It was a perfect day for a walk across the Big Four Bridge to Jeffersonville. By early afternoon when I arrived by car, the parking lots were full and people were parking along River Road as far at the University of Louisville Boathouse with more cars arriving every minute.

Handicapped not welcomed?

I fully expected the bridge to be packed with walkers like me, but I suspect the majority of people were there to enjoy the “Battle of the Food Trucks” being held at the foot of the former railroad bridge. Nonetheless, the bridge was modestly busy with walkers, runners, and bikers. They crossed as singles, couples, families and groups.

As I have always observed, my companions of the day were as diverse as could possibly be with respect to age, sex, shape, or color. Both as individuals; or within the pairs, families, and groups; the apparent mix of races, genders, ethnic origins, or socio-economic status was so great as to seem random. All were unselfconsciously enjoying the day as much as I did. When city leaders claim that our Waterfront Park hosts the most diverse groups of people in Louisville, there is no reason to doubt them. I love it! This is my dream of what America should look like and how it should function. Surely, any barriers placed that would bar general access to this public resource are ill-advised at best, or otherwise unconstitutionally discriminatory.

I have previously opined that the charging of a de facto admission to a Waterfront Park in the shape of a rolling 3 hour parking fee represents an example of the cloud of structural racism that still hovers over our communities. Like the magnificent Parklands in Eastern Jefferson County, the Big Four Bridge and much of the Waterfront Park is not conveniently serviced by public transportation. Like a poll tax, a parking fee keeps the same people away.

$10 per head.
Walk around sir.

As occurs with so many other commercial events held within Waterfront Park,the general public is denied both access and thoroughfare to what I have assumed is public land. In the instance of the Battle of the Food-trucks, a large area of the park at the base of the Big Four was partitioned off with barriers, including the magnificent concrete river overlook and adjacent wooded picnic areas. The fee to even approach the trucks was $10 per person. When I attempted to walk along the riverside sidewalk, the I was blocked by manned barriers and I was told to walk around back to River Road.

The lines at the trucks were long, and there were many people picnicking among the shade of the trees or on the esplanade. While the paying customers enjoying their food still displayed some diversity, these were people whose appearances suggested that $10 per person and the cost of food was not a issue for them.

Picnic in the park. A virtual La Grande Jatte!!

Waterfront Park is not a country club. It is on public property is it not? If not, how come? Is there a good reason why the string of parks along our riverside is administered by an independent, quasi-public authority and not by Louisville’s Division of Parks? If there was once a good reason for the waterfront to remain outside of city government jurisdiction, is it still valid? [I do agree that if the Commonwealth does not contribute funding, that a Governor should have no control over the Park’s administration.] If the Park were the responsibility of and administered by the City, would not responsibility for its funding be spread over an appropriately broader base? Is political or government oversight with the accountability that follows such a bad thing? What would the elected representatives of South and West Louisville say about charging parking fees to access Waterfront Park? Indeed, I think I am already hearing their voices– they don’t like it.

[p.s. By the time I left at 4:00 pm, cars were parked on both sides of River Road nearly a half mile up-river and past the luxury marina condos.  Waterfront Authority take notice! Is this an opportunity to put in parking meters? Can only the City do that? Would you if you could?]

To conclude:
Let me finish this with a few questions that I hope my readers will help me answer.

Why should not full control of the Louisville Waterfront Park be turned over to the Louisville Metro Parks Department?

When is it appropriate to charge users a fee to enter the Park properties or use its facilities?

Under what conditions is it appropriate to exclude the general public from Park properties to accommodate commercial interests? What happens to the money?

How is it that I can be blocked from a public sidewalk so someone else can have a private party there?

Perhaps there are good reasons the Waterfront Park Authority can use to justify their policies. Let’s hear them. I do not wish to hear that the Authority wants to use funds designated for expanding the park in the direction of West Louisville to preserve the status quo.

Peter Hasselbacher
September 21, 2017

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