Crowdsourcing vision

When I heard about Mayor Greg Fischer’s “Vision Louisville” project, I was a little skeptical. The online drawing board (at seeks creative ideas from citizens to help plan the city’s next 25 years.

In last week’s LEO, my exceedingly non-surly colleague Steve Shaw weighed in on the out-of-town consultants’ vision for Louisville, but I’m intrigued by the public input part of the project, which has infinite comic potential. For all its virtues, democracy has brought us 50 million cat videos and Mitch McConnell, so people-power’s track record is not really all that great. And by some apparent rule of the Internet, people who comment online are obviously required to be certifiably insane. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would not offer my vision to any city that would listen to ideas from me.

But I am nothing if not a team player, so I rolled up my sleeves and came up with some ideas to help the mayor out. Right off the bat, I had a great idea: Move Louisville to northern Europe.

Another idea I came up with is a local exchange program: People who live in the East End, West End and South End trade places for a month, and antics, as well as cultural enlightenment, ensue. An ancillary idea is “JCPS Roulette” — each morning, kids all over town would spin the wheel to find out where they’d go to school that day. Because every child might have to go to any school, adults would work hard to make sure all schools were equally good.

But maybe those ideas are impractical. Here’s an idea that could have an immediate impact: Louisville could build a time machine and take a recent issue of The Courier-Journal back to 1986 and use it to convince the Binghams not to sell the paper to Gannett. (While we’re there, we could also give Dana Kirk a wedgie.)

My other ideas were equally awesome. I also proposed: a big rock candy mountain, cigarettes that don’t cause cancer, non-addictive heroin and farts that smell like popcorn. Oh, and a world where the leopard can lie down with the goat, and cheese and yoga pants are no longer enemies. After that, my ideas started to become a bit self-serving, such as “Buy A Columnist A Cookie Day.”

Pretty soon it dawned on me that coming up with a vision is hard, and a better use of my time would be to make fun of other people’s visions. So I googled up the Vision Louisville site and scrolled through the suggestions, expecting to have a gigglefest. But to my chagrin, the ideas there were surprisingly good.

Some of them were good ideas that aren’t new, like implementing light rail, improving TARC bus service, adding a downtown grocery, planting more trees, reducing pollution, adding more bike lanes and eighty-sixing 64. Even though those are not new ideas, it’s good to see they have widespread support.

Other ideas were new but not good, such as “Make all of Jefferson County clothing-optional.” Clearly, this proposal was made by someone who is vision impaired. Seriously, we’re hard enough to look at with our clothes on. There are some other chuckle-worthy proposals, including, “Let’s all go over to the Indiana end of the Big Four Bridge and scowl at Jeffersonville with crossed arms until they finish their end of the project.”

But there are some interesting ideas that deserve serious attention. Someone suggested merging the Idea Festival and Forecastle to create a Louisville version of Austin’s South by Southwest. Another creative suggestion was to build a cable-car ride over the Ohio River between the downtown museums and the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Other ideas included growing crops in highway medians instead of mowing grass there, and providing financial incentives for people who go car-free or implement alternative energy in their homes. Lots of people want Google Fiber, which has been successful in drawing high-tech firms and people who enjoy pornography to Kansas City. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether or not the Vision Louisville ideas gain traction, the project is an interesting experiment in city planning. It’s a thought-provoking, if unscientific, glimpse into what other people want for Louisville. It also makes me appreciate the challenges of guiding our city into the future, and in coming up with smart planning that isn’t too expensive, too unwieldy, too controversial or too clothing-optional to work. Plus, it gives us all something to do between cat videos.