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All roads lead (back) to Louisville

The city and surrounding region’s quality of life is unparalleled
A conceptual master plan shows Phase IV of Waterfront Park, which will expand west of 10th Street, providing a continuation of open space along the river and the prospect for new experiences and activities. Waterfront Park has been a 30-plus-year project and has more than 2 million visitors annually.

By Kevin Gibson

There’s a common saying in Louisville that natives might move away, but they always end up moving back. The city is riddled with such stories, including the journey of David Mattingly. Mattingly moved back in 2017 after a successful journalism career, including a 23-year stint at CNN during which he won an Emmy and countless other awards. He is now an anchor and reporter for WAVE-3 in Louisville.

“After having been so many places throughout the country,” Mattingly said, “I can say without a doubt the quality of life is extraordinary. I can’t tell you how much I missed this place. I am never leaving home again.”

And sometimes non-natives choose Louisville as home.

Annie Pettry, owner and chef at Decca, moved to Louisville in 2012 sight unseen. Obviously, she is heavily involved in the culinary scene, but after a half dozen years, the city means more than that for her.

“The thing I love most about Louisville is the people,” she said. “Everyone is so open – caring, sweet, nice people.”

From a world-class parks department largely designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York City’s Central Park and Asheville’s Biltmore Estate grounds, to a nationally recognized culinary scene, many people find Louisville has what they want in a place to call home.

A staple of Louisville is its vibrant arts scene, which rivals those of larger cities thanks in part to the unifying Fund for the Arts, which ties together everything from the city’s ballet and opera to a thriving Broadway series and performing arts venue.

In addition, since 2011, Louisville has added 72,000 new private-sector jobs, seen the opening of 2,500 new businesses, and reduced unemployment to 3.5 percent. The city has made many lists of most livable U.S. cities, with NerdWallet ranking it No. 19 of America’s most livable cities, Forbes ranking it top 10 for coolest cities, U.S. News calling it a top 50 place to live, and a Yelp study last year ranking it a top 50 city for starting a new business.

“I see a sustainable city, filled with safe and healthy neighborhoods, where good health and prosperity are equally available to every age, race and background,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in his State of the City address in January. “I see a city where every person has the chance to reach their full human potential.”

From a thriving museum district to live music to the ballyhooed Waterfront Park as a magnet for locals and visitors alike, there’s one often-overlooked aspect to the city: its distinctive neighborhoods.

Historic Old Louisville includes America’s largest collection of Victorian mansions, a result of the Southern Exposition, which helped lift Louisville to new heights in the late 19th century. Many of these homes are on the National Register of Historic Places, while the neighborhood itself continues to be a thriving residential area, with many University of Louisville students living there.

For tourists, historic homes such as the Caldwell House help capture Louisville’s legacy as a top Southern city, with Central Park being a centerpiece of the neighborhood as well as the annual home to the nationally lauded St. James Court Art Show.

Meanwhile, Butchertown, so named because of its history of meat processing operations and hard-working people, is finding new life with a rising scene of restaurants and other attractions, such as Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery, Butchertown Social and Butchertown Pizza Hall, which is set in an historic building that once housed the long-lived Hall’s Cafeteria, popular for decades with area workers.

In the east end of the city, neighborhoods like Prospect provide a different perspective, with modern amenities and some of Louisville’s most affluent neighborhoods. Meanwhile, areas like the Highlands maintain a long tradition as a buzzing, diverse hip center of culture, from a vast array of eclectic dining options to dance clubs to music venues. And Crescent Hill features its collection of historic homes, independent businesses and a vaunted Restaurant Row.

But perhaps the most promise has been seen with the city’s investment in Louisville’s West End. Portland has been on the rise for several years as a center of art, culture and technology, and is one of the city’s first Google Fiber neighborhoods. 

The city’s investment in other western neighborhoods is perhaps unprecedented, such as the $220 million revitalization of the Russell neighborhood, a historic area of town that, according to Mayor Greg Fischer, “was hit hard decades ago by discriminatory government and business practices like urban renewal and redlining.”

It’s no wonder people want to come back home – or to claim Louisville as their new home. And with downtown development and real estate flourishing, the future looks bright.

“It is clear, 2018 will be a year of momentum, opportunity, and change for communities across Louisville,” Fischer said.