Congress For The New Urbanism Is Coming To Louisville In 2019!

Congress For The New Urbanism Is Coming To Louisville In 2019!

Welcome to the Custom Home Builder Podcast Series, the show for people who enjoy the home design and construction process, and who want to listen in as we discuss a variety of topics related to fine craftsmanship, the general home building process, and even interviews with other builders and tradespeople from across our city, the region and even the country as we strive to answer all of your custom and luxury home building questions and bring you the very best our industry has to offer.

For those of you on Instagram, you can find us at ArtisanSignatureHomes and that’s where we try to share a new picture from one of our projects almost every day, so check it out.

All right, we’re back with round two with David Tomes and Jason Black, one of Louisville’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury home builder. Good to see you both.

Jason: Thanks for having me back to my podcast.

Greg: You are welcome, thanks for having me back. I feel like maybe I ask too many questions, I got you off topic Jason. So I know that we started the last one with David we were gonna talk about-

Jason: Well I think it was good though cause it laid a foundation to let people understand where David’s background is, where his passion for New Urbanism comes from, and really I think we have him to thank for bringing the CNU or the Congress for New Urbanism to Louisville in 2019, and maybe have David, maybe expand on what that means for the city, not just Norton Commons, but for the whole city of Louisville. It’s a worldwide event that’s coming to Louisville in 2019.

Greg: Can we start with what urbanism is, new urbanism?

David: Sure, sure. The new urbanist, the Congress believes that we should be reinvesting in city neighborhoods and redeveloping those areas, it believes that we should be building green fields in the model of greenfield development in the town of… And the idea of towns and villages and that we should also be looking to fix areas of what has been the 50 year model of suburban development by making those places more cohesive. And then it has a very strong environmental movement that if you design places well, you will protect the environment also.

Greg: All right so I want to jump in, cause this is my role right, ask a bunch of questions?

David: Okay.

Greg: You’re talking about the new Suburbanism or what we’ve experienced over the past forty years. Is that something? If you’re a new Urbanist, are you at odds with the Suburbanists and do you try to fix it or do you try to find a way to coexist with it?

David: I think we coexist. Certainly I think people deserve choice in their lifestyles and the like, but we do recognize that at least give us a fair chance to do urban type development, New Urbanism. And when we say New Urbanism I think that sometimes the term Urbanism doesn’t get, maybe creates a little bit of a false impression of what we’re doing. New Urbanism could be a small town like La Grange. It just is the idea that you’re creating a walkable environment where pedestrians and what have you are given equal chance with the car. And certainly, you know when you walk you wanna have a place to go to, and that may be a park, it may be a, you know the park is the center that you’re trying to get to or maybe a town center, maybe lots of things, it may be a civic place, you know a school or a you know, whatever.

Greg: It could be like you were talking about earlier, in The Highlands, it could be restaurants and it could be-

David: Sure.

Greg: Mom and Pop-

Jason: Absolutely.

Greg: Boutiques.

Jason: Absolutely.

David: You know I live in the neighborhood and we rarely get in the car when we’re doing things in the neighborhood, you know, we walk. Course I live a block and a half from the town center, so-

Jason: But it is fun to see, I see people on my front porch all the time-

David: Yeah.

Jason: Walking and their dressed up, you can tell they’re walking to the town center, they’re gonna have dinner, and-

David: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jason: They’ll come back or you know

David: Yep.

Jason: It, they don’t have to leave.

Greg: So Norton Commons and Cherokee Triangle, some of those neighborhoods are New Urbanism, even if they are old.

David: Oh yeah.

Greg: So what is the Congress? What is it that’s coming to town, and is that a big deal or is that something that happens regularly?

David: Oh, it’s a big deal for cities in lots of ways. The Congress was formed by seven individuals that were planners, architects and the like, back… They began talking about it. I think 1991, they actually formed the organization. In 93, those seven signed the charter, and then they had, I don’t know three or four hundred co-signers who all signed an official charter, like the constitution so to speak of what they stood for. That charter really talks about not only their broad ideas of better planned suburbia, better plans or redevelopment in the city as well as the environmental issues, but then they have principles that they build into that charter that talk about things like walk-ability and design of safe streets and so forth, and so all of those principles get put into what they’re trying to do.

So the second part of the question I think was “How did we get this, how did we get here?” Well, it’s far more than me. We’ve been blessed in Louisville with not only our land planning firm of Duany, Plater-Zyberk, also known as DPZ, working here in the community, but during the same time, Urban Design Associates, led by Ray Gindroz, they’re out of Pittsburgh had done the plans for Park DuValle and Liberty Green which is down, downtown area. And then on top of that, you had people coming along like Gill Holland and Bill Weyland who were redoing significant parts of the the urban fabric. Gill worked in NuLu and now is over in Portland working again. Bill Weyland and Barry Alberts were involved in a lot of main street area and course The Glassworks, and the bat museum, and the Henry Clay building, and now a new hotel next to Henry Clay and the likes. So those are all new Urbanist type projects and fit into that realm.

The other thing we have going for us is, this question of the environment and what cities are and we were blessed in Louisville with the Olmsted Parks and the Olmsted Parks System and the Parkways and the like, and it served us well for you know a hundred and some years now. It still, you know, you got guests coming to town, you somehow figure out a way to drive them past those areas, to kind of show off the beautiful green city. So we are now involved in the largest urban parks project in American with the 21st Century Parks out in the [inaudible 00:08:21] of the county. We’ve had the Waterfront Park Development so those are all a part of the urban fabric and part of Urbanism, as the hundred mile bike loop is.
So I’ve felt really we began talking about trying to do, seeing you probably five or six years ago. I’ve started talking to Patrick Piuma who runs the Urban Design Studio downtown in conjunction with the University of Louisville, and a young man and he was very excited about it, but we couldn’t get any traction back then. And so then probably four or five years ago, we, I say we, Norton Commons, hosted what was called a National Town Builders Association meeting here in Louisville and National Town Builders are basically an organization of planners and developers who are all CNU members, but a smaller organization that really just talks about sharing ideas about development and developing urban areas, new, old, whatever. So we get together and so we hosted that here in Louisville and as a part of the hosting effort, we had a day in Norton Commons, we had a day in NuLu and we had a day with Bill Weyland downtown and so it kind of was a good practice round for us-

Greg: Yeah.

David: On what we had to show off and show and tell on and so that I think, got a few people excited. Probably late November, I get this annual request for submittals for hosting CNU, all members get those sorts of things and I thought “Well, maybe we should try it again.” And I tarried around a little bit until early December and then just sent the Mayor a letter and copied several other people including Weyland and Gill and so forth, and said “We should really try to do this.”… Patrick and so forth and the planning department, Emily Liu, in particular and got a very positive response, “Yes we should go for this.” It’s a big deal, hosts twelve to fifteen hundred people on an average year for this thing and it brings a lot of focus on the city.

But we were under a timeline that was really difficult because we had to have our proposal in, I think, mid January, and part of that proposal includes some fundraising and all that. So we quickly formed a committee. I was asked to be the chair, I got Barry Alberts to be the co=chair, Gill Holland took lead in many areas including some of the writing and so forth, but also helping to lead the fundraising along with Gant Hill. And then Emily Liu and Patrick and lots of the Mayor’s staff were involved in helping us get the proposal together. You know I still work for a living, so I didn’t have full time to devote to this, but we made our initial proposal, they cut it to two or three cities, we got invited to come to Washington to make our pitch, we were one of the finalists. We went up, actually, myself, Gill Holland and Mary Ellen Wiederwohl of the mayor’s economic development team made the pitch in Washington and it was a thing that we had 15 minutes to make the pitch and 15 minutes for answers and at the end of the day, we were delighted to hear that we had won. We had other people go up on the trip just so you know kind of some of those folks, Rebecca Matheny went with us and Patrick Piuma, Emily Liu were part of the pitch team, but just supporters.

We had a great presentation we felt like and we talked about all these things that Louisville has to be proud of and wants to show off and that’s a big part of CNU. They come in, they look at your city, they see what’s going on in the way or Urbanism and lately, the Congresses have done what they call Legacy Projects, which to me make this just fabulous for the city, because the Legacy Projects will typically send in a team of planners, and these are the best planners in the world, ahead of the Congress to actually go to a particular neighborhood or an area of concern to actually develop plans for redevelopment or even new development in some cases.

So, for our fundraising goal here in Louisville, which we haven’t totally hit yet, was to raise $200,000 as our part of the support for this thing. It takes about a million dollars, which they raise the balance of to put on a Congress.

Jason: Wow.

David: But we’ve been raising our money, and still have a ways to go, but we feel comfortable we will get there. But the real thing about a Legacy Project is that it probably gives you $200,000 worth of design consultants for free. That’s a great gift, a pro bono gift to the city and typically they will do three to four of these projects when they come into a city because they decided, the Congress used to just meet and talk about everything that was going on around the world, they’ll still do that, still do that, but they decided they needed to really understand the city they were in and to also leave something with that city. So you’ve go firms like our firm, DPZ that will come possibly to town, and maybe they concentrate on an area, oh gee, could be Russell or could be Portland, could be SoBro, whatever-

Greg: When do those get decided?

David: Well, we will work with the CNU on that between now and the Congress to see what they think should be studied. We’ve given them a list of things that we think are important, but we would like to do at least three and I think that could have a great impact, certainly the edges of the downtown area are prominent areas to look at-

Jason: I know that’s not what you sought at to get when you wanted the CNU to come to Louisville, but what a nice side effect of having them come.

David: Yeah. Well and for us, Norton Commons certainly will be one of the places that will be visited during the CNU. We’ve given them a list of top ten places that everybody-

Jason: How long will they be here? Or how long is the event?

David: They’re generally, they get in on Wednesday and go through Sunday. So its a-

Greg: When are we talking about?

David: It will be sometime couple weeks after Derby of 2019.

Jason: So mark you calendars.

Greg: You have to open your doors right? So Jason will be on his front porch-

David: Yep.

Greg: Waving people in.

Jason: I could be hosting somebody, you never know.

Greg: That’s right.

David: Right. So that’s to me, one of the great gifts that the city gets out of this. I think it’s a remarkable opportunity to have the best minds in the world really look at creative ways, and they’ve been working all over the world, so they have ideas none of us have ever seen of how to make urbanism better?

Greg: Do they do this every year?

David: Yes.

Greg: Okay.

Jason: So for example, 20… This year they’re in Seattle, next year they’re in Savannah-

David: Right.

Jason: So they’ll be coming off Savannah to Louisville, so-

David: Last year was Detroit and so forth so.

Jason: And I know you visit some of these, not every year, but what’s been your favorite CNU that you’ve gone to?

David: I enjoyed Chicago a lot. They were revisiting the Burnham Plan-

Greg: Oh.

David: At the time that sort of… I think it was the 100th year of the Daniel Burnham Plan for the city of Chicago. So it was sort of like the whole idea of updating and understanding the plan. So I happened to grow up in the south suburbs of Chicago, or lived a good part of my early life there. I was actually from Western Kentucky, a small town down there, but moved to Chicago area as a kid and I benefited from the Burnham Plan every day of my life. It’s a great city with great planning, and when you think of Chicago you have to understand that before the Burn am Plan, the city had built all the way out to the lake edge. The city burned basically in 1880 or 1870 something and basically was destroyed. They then hosted the World’s Fair, the Great Columbia Exposition that got a lot of people jazzed up. That was the result of American’s going to Paris for the World’s Fair in which the Eiffel Tower was displayed and so America wanted to do a World’s Fair, Chicago was chosen for it, Burnham led the effort, but used people like Olmsted to help him with it and so forth.

And so Chicago decided after they had already grown to two million people, grown back to two million people, that they needed a city plan. And really the beauty of the plan was it’s the thing that created raising the streets of the city to where you got all the utilities underground, and you know they actually as a result of the fire had lots of debris, we wouldn’t be allowed to do this today, but the debris actually was pushed into the lake and created what is those miles and miles of lakefront park now along the edge of the city.

Greg: I didn’t know that.

David: And then they really created a natural system which used people like Olmsted and family that stretched from the center of the city all the way up to the Wisconsin line and parts of that plan are still being completed today. If you can imagine that? I’m told you can actually go in nature now from the center of the city all the way to the Wisconsin line. If you’re a biker or a hiker or whatever else, so it’s kind of interesting, 90 miles away. But it looked at the region and so that’s the other part of what CNU can do. I think we sort of have a tendency to think everything stops at the county line and we really need to look at the whole region in planning and certainly we now have the bridges that connect us and how do we better plan? But also I know there’s systems of greenways and bike trails and the like, we’ve got the hundred mile loop now, but how does that extend into Oldham County or Shelby County and so forth? How do we better plan the whole region?

Jason: So the CNU will do the Legacy Project when they come to Louisville. What else will take place during that time here?

David: Well there will be lots of educational type programming where we, like any other national meeting where you have a subject matter and have a panel quite often to discuss a particular issue. It could be on architecture, it could be on “How do you do a better greenway project?” Or I think in Louisville it would be particularly interesting, I’m hoping to get the 21st Century Parks folks, Dan Jones to make a presentation about the parks plan. I think it’s certainly exciting. I think lots of the issues I know that are going on is, how the land around the parks developed. I’ve always used the model of again learning from history.

You’ve got… Olmsted came here, hundred years, plus years ago, and did the three major parks and the parkway system and when I’ve asked questions about how the edges of the park developed… Olmsted was a great negotiator. He would say quite often, some of the park boundary roads, the boundary roads, to a land owner “You donate that land and you build your houses to where they face the park, okay, and we’ll give you a connection to the park.” And those became highly valuable for then developing the streets and roads behind that land.

So I think those same opportunities exist here with our parks and unfortunately I think much of the argument is about, have no rules around the parks and what gets built and I really think it does need some development that mirrors the types of things we see at the Cherokee Triangle or Shawnee or whatever, those mixed use urban neighborhoods.

Jason: That would be fantastic, cause [crosstalk 00:23:28] no the parks that they’ve got going are just breath, I mean they’re awesome.

David: Oh, they’re incredible parks. They really are. Again you have another great new Urbanist firm work on those park plans so and we’ve had Hargreaves at the Waterfront which is another new Urbanist firm. So we’ve had some of the best minds in the world already working in Louisville.

Greg: But it was interesting to hear you say on the last podcast, about the inherent, I guess, I don’t know if it’s ironic or the inherent conflict between people value the neighborhood around the parks already, at the same time we make it hard to do the same thing going forward.

Jason: Right.

Greg: So the development is not, the rules are not set up in such a way to say that we value that as a society.

Jason: Right.

Greg: Wouldn’t it be neat to say, [crosstalk 00:24:19] sort of change it up a little bit and make it a little bit easier for… [crosstalk 00:24:23] Again not everyone has to live there, but there is a built in demand to live close to parks.

David: And I think there’s this mindset that thinks that density is bad, or that any lot that doesn’t look like my quarter or half acre lot, is a bad lot and shouldn’t be, I don’t want to be anywhere near it. Again, when we were going through the comprehensive plan back 2020, I would show slide of St. James Court and say, ask people what they thought the density was in that and Belgravia and what have you. People would always guess very low density figures, like three, three to the acre or something like that. Well it’s really in the double digits [crosstalk 00:25:16] It’s in the double digits cause you don’t realize how many big apartment buildings there are-

Jason: Right.

David: In each blocks and so forth, so even with the green and so forth, it was, I’ve forgotten now, it was either, I think it was 15 units to the acre in that area. And I’d say “Now do you want, would it be all right to be, to build a new St. James Court?”, “Oh, yeah, we’d love that.” Well okay, give us the opportunity. Course we’ve tried to emulate some of those things here in Norton Commons, in our own version and again our streets will get old and tired and the trees will grow and but our grand meeting street promenade is got the big fountain and so forth. So we learned from some of our best urban neighborhoods.

Jason: That’s good stuff. Well David it’s been fascinating learning all about, I know we could probably go on for hours about this. I guess if somebody wants more information, they can probably go to, we’ll put a link-

David: Right.

Jason: Maybe in our podcast-

David: Right

Jason: To that. And then I guess we’ll stay tuned and maybe as we get a little bit closer we can talk a little bit more about maybe some of the events and how people can get involved-

David: Yeah.

Jason: And learn more about.

David: And just in closing I should say again, this is a team effort and it’s a great effort for the city and I’m just so pleased we got it. It took a lot of work and a lot of people, and I’m just one little part of it, so, but I’m glad we’re here.

Jason: Well I’m super excited that you guys decided to fill out the application. I think it’s, for me I’ve always followed the movement and to see it first hand in Louisville is gonna be pretty, pretty awesome, so-

David: We’ll see the important names in planning all here in our city.

And there you have it. Another episode of the Custom Home Builder Podcast series with Jason Black and Artisan Signature Homes. For more episodes like this one and to find out more about our company and process please visit our website at

And for all sorts of updates and pictures of our newest projects you should be following us on Instagram at ArtisanSignatureHomes. Please make sure to introduce yourself and let us know that you’ve been listening to our podcast. If you have an idea for an upcoming episode, let us know. So goodbye for now and we’ll see you on our next episode.