Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Louisville: Vice City

UPDATE: A commenter on Broken Sidewalk posted a link to this great video that sums it up beautifully!

I am a believer that in a modern era that has witnessed the fragmentation of the great American common culture, and the relatively small in number but broad in reach institutions that served it, it is important for cities that are not blessed with natural amenities or killer low costs to increase their strategic differentiation. They should try to find market segments they can target more effectively than others. And they should try to build a unique local environment rooted in their history and character, but which is also forward looking, that creates a distinct, unique flavor of urbanity.

I’ve also suggested that Louisville should focus on quality over quantity. It already has fantastic neighborhoods many cities would kill for. Strengthening those, making targeted investments in its downtown, riverfront, and other well-chosen areas, and focusing on strengthening its unique assets are the actions I would take.

I’d like to throw out today a further concept positioning strategy for Louisville that I call “Vice City”. It’s not exactly that, but I couldn’t think of a better name for it. I strongly doubt there would be any local interest in it, but I do think that by studying the idea, it can hopefully generate some interesting thoughts about the city and what it could be. Please view this as a speculative proposal or thought experiment.

In a nutshell, this idea positions Louisville as “New Orleans North”. I can’t help but noticing a few parallels between the two cities.

  • New Orleans is a river city – Louisville is a river city
  • New Orleans has a French heritage – Louisville is named after a French king at least, and has adopted a lot of French symbology
  • New Orleans has great restaurants – Louisville has great restaurants
  • New Orleans has Southern, historic, genteel neighborhoods and traditions – Louisville also has Southern influenced, historic, genteel neighborhoods and traditions.
  • New Orleans has a huge reputation as a haven of vice and partying – Louisville used to have that reputation.

That last bit is interesting. River towns were always rough places. Louisville’s riverside docks were, like waterfronts the world over, rough and rowdy havens of drunkenness and debauchery. “Lively Shively” was historically home to distilleries and strip clubs. Until quite recently Louisville had any number of blue establishments downtown. Reputedly the reason Green St. was renamed Liberty St. long ago was to help eradicate the reputation Green St. had acquired far and wide a home to burlesque establishments. Think about Louisville and Kentucky and what comes to mind? Horse racing (gambling), bourbon (drinking), tobacco (smoking), and coal. We’re talking about a place whose history and brand are already heavily associated with vice.

New Orleans had a similar heritage. The big difference is that New Orleans, probably for cultural reasons, was always proud of its seamy side. Like Las Vegas, it recognized that in a country which is dominated by a strong moral sensitivity, there was an opportunity to carve out a niche – and a highly successful one – catering to, shall we say, a more lax standard. And the party pit in the French Quarter and downtown casinos largely have no ill effect on New Orleans’ neighborhoods, many of which still look like they are fresh from the pages of an Anne Rice novel. Now New Orleans may not be a truly successful metro area for many reasons, but try to imagine it without the tourist industry.

Louisville, by contrast, has long tried to stamp out vice in that city. And today it has largely succeeded. Where long ago you could once have a good time in a burlesque joint on Green St., today your choices in downtown entertainment tend to the extremely generic, such as the heavily subsidized 4th St. Live complex. By stamping out vice, Louisville to a great extent stamped out fun and character from much of its downtown.

One way to envision a successful, unique strategy for Louisville is to do something similar to what New Orleans did, namely creating a great combination out of the best of Mobile and Las Vegas. From Mobile you take the laid back southern charm, aristocratic traditions, gentility, and high culture. From Vegas you take vice, fun, and a certain joie de vivre.

By the way, does this sound familiar? It should, because it is an almost perfect description of the Kentucky Derby. You’ve got the tradition at the pinnacle of horse racing as a sport combined with gambling. You’ve got the fancy dress, fancy hats, and mint juleps of Millionaire’s Row combined with the raucous debauchery of the infield and people sneaking in booze by stuffing double bagged vodka down their trousers in ziplocks (not that I’ve ever done such a thing…..). A great and winning combination.

Extending this to the city as a whole, we start with the fundamental aristocratic character of the civic culture. I’m not going to say this is unique to Louisville. For some reason, it seems to permeate many of the river cities I’ve studied. Talking to someone about Louisville, he offered this insight, “Louisville is provincial, in all the best and worst ways. Louisville likes itself, is proud of itself, hangs on to its institutions, loves its (private, Catholic) high schools in ways I’ve never seen elsewhere”. This is clearly an example of aristocratic thinking, which is about self-regard, rooted in history and the land. This attitude also shows through in the particular contempt Louisville shows for newer cities, as well as the extreme prickliness of Louisvillians when it comes to outside criticism. In a democratic social state like America, aristocracy has a bit of a bad reputation, and it certainly has its downsides. But it also has its good points. Firstly, it generates a bit of unique local character all its own. Secondly, it gives people the cultural fortitude to say no to trends and hold onto local ways and to embrace an agenda that is different from what other people are doing. (I’m also describing Cincinnati here, you might notice).

From that, we take away the fierce pride in unique neighborhoods and historic traditions. We can also take the embrace of certain aspects of high culture, including fine dining (of which Louisville has a great tradition), mint juleps and the bourbon culture, the arts, etc. I definitely think this should be looked at as rooted in a very Southern approach. Again, this distinguishes Louisville. Most Southern cities seem to want to ape Atlanta as the next mega-growth story. This leaves the field clear to a major city that wants to adopt a Charleston/Savannah/Mobile type point of view.

One piece of this that must be rejected, however, is the racial baggage that comes with it. Also in common with New Orleans, Louiville has a marginalized African American community. Southern aristocratic culture is rooted in plantation culture, which has its Not Good points to say the least. As with other cities, it is a clear imperative for Louisville to improve race relations and to make sure that its minority communities share in its success.

On the other side, how can Louisville recapture the fun outside of Derby? There are some ways we might imagine. Again, instead of creating a “climate action plan” just like every other city, or banning smoking just like every other city, why not roll with the fact that Kentucky is a major tobacco producer and has the highest percentage of people who smoke to be the most smoking friendly city in America? You’ve got gambling at Churchill Downs, and already across the river at Caesars/Horseshoe, so why not put a couple of casinos downtown? I normally think this is a disaster of a downtown development approach, but if you are organizing around forbidden fun, why not? Loosen up on liquor licenses to create party zones, and also do something to make sure that the best transportation options for people who have been drinking are available so people can get home safely. Bring back burlesque, baby! Rather than trying to regulate strip clubs out of existence, keep them. Figure out how to become the micro-distillery capital of the United States. There are already great local breweries like New Albanian and BBC, try to make sure there are many, many more. Do whatever you can to make Louisville party central, and create a fun, unique environment you can’t get elsewhere. By the way, much like Vegas and New Orleans, this is also good for conventions if that is a business you really want to be a player in.

Louisville is surrounded by hundreds of miles of mostly not very exciting places in the lower Midwest and upper South, places that are firmly Bible Belt territory in many respects. Why should someone have to fly to New Orleans or Vegas or where ever to have a good time partying when they can just drive or take a short hop to Louisville?

Of course, there is a problem with this. No one in Louisville is likely to want to do it. And the negative consequences might outweigh the positives. Fortunately, as a blogger, I can put crazy ideas on the table to make people think though. And I think Louisville needs to be thinking indeed about what niche it should carve out for itself. Downtown condos, generic bars, a smallish convention center, sports facilities, etc. are not going to distinguish Louisville from peer competitive cities. Particularly when it is facing the headwinds of being regionally smaller and having low educational attainment.

At a minimum, I do think Louisville ought to be thinking about this notion of Southern aristocratic culture and how it can leverage it to best effect locally. That seems to be a no brainer since there are already extensive elements of it present.

Flame away…..

More Louisville

Louisville: An Identity Crisis
Louisville’s Big Plans
Kris Kimel Gets It
Louisville’s Electric Rail System
More Mind Blowing Louisville Historic Transit Pictures
More Louisville Transit Goodness
Modern Architecture, Hoosier Style

Topics: Civic Branding, Strategic Planning, Urban Culture
Cities: Louisville

30 Responses to “Louisville: Vice City”

  1. Danny says:

    Good article built around some nice observations. People that live in Louisville generally do so for the fact that it is a “big small city”. A lot of folks here wouldn’t tolerate much of what you propose. It does make sense to a degree. I’m all for the micro-brewery push as you pointed out we do have some nice establishments in place already. What I get from your suggestion is basically crafting downtown to be tourist friendly while further alienating it from many of the locals. Would that not cause more division rather than serving to create a more cohesive community?

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    Danny, thanks for the comment.

    I’ll restate my position, which I know is unpopular in many circles. Namely, that Louisville’s strength is in its neighborhoods, not downtown. But the focus of civic development and major projects has mostly been on downtown (City of Parks, a project I HUGELY like, and others are exceptions of course).

    What’s more, other than the modern architecture of note, most of the downtown development has been generic, adds little to the attractiveness of Louisville as a city, and does not differentiate it versus peers. Its focus is on the convention center, downtown hotels, an arena, 4th St. Live, City Center, etc. Both those aren’t even best in class regionally, much less nationally.

    Why play a keeping up with the Jones’ game Louisville is not positioned to win? Broken Sidewalk had great coverage of a downtown development panel a while back where someone accurately noted that Louisville needs to come to terms with the tertiary market that it is, rather than the secondary market it thinks it is and the primary market it wants to be. Louisville is certainly no Dayton or Toledo, but it is smaller, less prosperous, and less educated than most surrounding cities. This positions it poorly to compete head on with those cities in games where size and financial heft matter.

    My belief is that Louisville should look at itself like a Gevena – as a smaller, focused, very high quality city with a differentiated focus. My thought experiment here is just one way to think about what that might look like. Of course, it is far from the only one.

    I guess I never thought of the idea I outlined as tourist oriented, but I guess that is a big part of it. I would expect it to attract some residents too who value that sort of thing, both the upscale and downscale sides.

    Just as a pre-emptive warning, I will ruthlessly shut down city-vs-city food fights in this thread.

  3. JG says:

    Interesting post. I have not spent enough time in Lousiville though I hear people speak fondly of it.

    Great ideas. Vice city might be a tough political sell – I don’t know how strong christian conservatives are within the local government. I think the idea of a Charleston/Savannah of the north would progress better politically. However, starting there Louisville might be positioned to incorporate better night life for those who come to relax in a river city, but feel like throwing some dice and having a beer and a smoke. Potentially Louisville should do as Marion County did and control but not ban tobacco use in public.

    Key to this – I think is how the city treats the river. This has been discussed, but the I-64 interstate must be converted to a boulevard much as San Fran did with the Embarcadero. That would make Main St. a very hot destination – and do so organiclly – not at all like 4th St.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Interesting article and will quibble that Louisville is a second tier city just like its neighbor to the north on I-65 and its neighbor to the northeast on I-71 and its neighbor to the south on I-65.

    Agree it should capitalize on some vices…Churchill Downs, Bourbon to name 2. It’s ‘smallish’ downtown convention center should be connected to the ‘largish’ expo center and airport via light rail or e-trolley. That line could run from Clarksville’s colgate clock to downtown with 3-4 stops on to Old Louisville, UL, Churchill Downs, Expo Center and the airport.

    That solidifies it as a major convention/tourist destination and would tie all the ‘vices’ together.

    Agree that focus should be on high quality.

    Completion of the UL arena will create a downtown venue that is unique and will capture its share of 1-2 round NCAA sites beginning in 2010. If the eTrolley thing could also be completed in that timeframe; 86-64 and build the east end bridge…the city would be very well positioned.

    For the money they would save by 86-64 they could easily build the e-trolley/lite rail and still have money left over.

    River Fields of course will never allow this…ironic…since River Fields got all their money from the vices (tobacco, spirits)

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Atlantic City already tried to capitalize on its long history of tourism and develop a vice city image. In principle, it was supposed to create an economic miracle, based on bringing Las Vegas close to where people with money lived. In practice, the city is still mired in poverty and looks completely depressed away from the casinos. City population is still in freefall, and is at a 100-year low.

  6. CARR says:

    I have long thought about this as well. I think it could work. In fact, I know that some in city government and a couple of execs from some large businesses in Louisville have also thought about that idea. The biggest hold up is the state of Kentucky. If the State could ever pass any casino gambling bill I think you would see at least 2 casinos in Louisville. One would be at Churchill Downs and the other would be someplace downtown.

    Churchill Downs owns a lot of land around the track. I know they are just waiting for the state to pass a casino bill. I think they would be ready to go with a full fledge casino in a matter of months. I also wouldn’t surprised in the Cordish Co. didn’t try and recruit a casino downtown as a major tenant for it’s Center City project. When the city council wanted to re-negotiate the agree the city had with Cordish one of the items they wanted to include was a ban on any casinos in the development.

    To some degree I like the idea, and I think it really could work. However, I’m not sure about the political will. I think Louisville should try and make itself the cool progressive artsy city of the midwest. Really invest in independent films, theater companies, galleries, the local music scene and the like. We (Louisville) should make a big fuss about being the greenest city as we possibly can. we should be the first city to adopt light rail, and farmers markets in every neighborhood.

    I think something else Louisville should really look into is getting into the sports scene. Maybe not “pro” sports, but the sporting business. We have a great boxing history. Even out side of ALi. Louisville is home to 3 heavyweight champions. We are a very vibrant MMA community, and we have the largest outdoor extreme sports park. Louisville just needs to learn how to capitalize on these other assets.

    These are things that Louisville is doing already. We are just doing it on a small grassroots level. If we were ever to get any real assistance from the city I think these ideas could really take off.

    I would have to disagree with you on one point. I know Louisville’s strengths are it’s neighborhoods. However, we have to continue to build our downtown. Even if we are building things to keep up with the Jones. For every me too arena that is built, we get an Iron Quarter development. In Louisville it sometimes takes this Me Too stuff to convince the local guys it’s possible.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    The biggest problem with the vice city image is that even it works, which it doesn’t, what’s to stop New York and Chicago from stepping in? Right now, there’s a widespread belief that gambling causes crime, supported by the fact that casinos are usually really seedy. Atlantic City and Las Vegas both have moderate crime rates, but no city wants to look like either of them. The instance a small American city manages to develop with casinos without looking blighted, it’ll encourage every major city to have its own casinos. Las Vegas will survive this, in the same way Monaco survives even though there are casinos all over Europe; but there will be no reason to go gamble in Louisville.

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    By the way, I don’t want to leave the impression I put out a casino centric strategy. Rather, as in New Orleans, a casino would be in a supporting, not a leading role. You don’t want to draw people just for gambling, which is expanding across America to the extent that it is less of a unique draw. Also, unlike Atlantic City, this vision doesn’t mean you orient completely to tourism. Rather, it is a complement to other econdev activities that you do. Louisville is a metro area of over a million people after all.

  9. Radarman says:

    Instead of vice city: Playtime

    as in “It’s Play Time”

    That would incorporate the goings on at Actors Theatre (nationally respected for decades) as well as anything else that gets past the rotten Kentucky legislature and the evangelical mullahs.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Louisville should not be vice-centric. With a metro population approaching 1.3M there is lots more to the metro economy than ‘vices’; in fact ‘vices’ make up less of the economy today than ever (gone are the cigarette companies). There is one casino in the metro area today, Horseshooe, and it is certainly not seedy. If the state were to allow casino gambling there would be 1 or 2 additions and am sure neither would be seedy.

    No reason to gamble in Louisville? Churchill Downs and Horsehoe might suggest otherwise. The Oaks/Derby is an international event held every year and Breeders Cup races, when held at Churchill, always attract the largest crowds vs any other site.

    To compliment the allure of gambling on the horses is the fact that Louisville is in horse country which stretches east to Lexington; in this same general area is the Bourbon Trail…our version of Napa Valley that is attracting increasing numbers of visitors. The natural beauty of this part of the country is not something to be taken for granted.

    Gambling, horse country and distilleries are not for everyone but when combined with the other attractions in the area it makes for a pretty compelling location to spend a long week-end and the region should (and is) capitalize on that fact.

  11. Danny says:

    I’ve lived in Louisville all my 39 years and I love it dearly. The reality of the situation is that we are a one-trick pony. If it wasn’t for the UPS hub Louisville would be a MAJOR ghost town. Practically any and all growth that we have experienced here is based at least partly on us having this hub. All we really do here is warehousing and distribution. The auto industry being in flux doesn’t do us any favors and other than a few corporate headquarters and the Coca Cola IT center there aren’t many technical jobs to be had here. We are losing many of our skilled young people to our nearest ‘competitors’…Indy, Charlotte, Lexington and others. Louisville is built around a lot of old money and we have a lot of well-to-do old people here. They won’t go for the ‘vice’ angle anyway. What we do need though, is a way to keep our young people in town and no better way to do that than have jobs for them. I’d hate to think of a future Louisville as a place where the only jobs you can get are dealing cards or serving drinks.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Danny, UPS does have a large and important presence but you sell short to say it is a one-trick pony. Humana, YUM, Kindred, BF etc are all growing/solid & profitable. Ford will survive and GE may surprise as well. The Louisville economy is very diverse and will come out of the current recession in an even stronger position.

    Don't get me wrong, there are challenges…the competitor cities you cite (and a bunch of others) have similar if not more challenges (Charlotte for one will be sidetracked for a long time due to the financial crisis).

    Finally, the lament "We are losing many of our skilled young people to our nearest 'competitors'"…is commonly said…but the reality is not. Those competitor cities say the same things.

  13. thundermutt says:

    anon 10:32, the college-grad statistics seem to suggest that Louisville is, indeed, losing its best and brightest to other mid-sized and larger cities.

    I think the older Lousville residents probably do not consider smoking and drinking Bourbon as vices the way younger people do, and I suspect many of them have made a wager at the Downs from time to time.

    I commend The Urbanophile for thinking entirely inside the box on this one: build on assets. If your culture was built around smokes, drinks, and bets…play the trifecta.

    It might chase the FFA back north, but Louisville might get the firefighters away from Indy. And they spend more at their conventions.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I like Louisville a lot and share your enthusiasm for its potential. I think your idea is not only true for Louisville, but most other cities as well.

    Every decent-sized city would benefit greatively from it own downtown “Dionysian Zone.” It doesn’t have to be sinful, just a place with a critical mass of classic third places focused on food, music, art and comraderie. Unique shops would also fit into the mix. Ideally, the venues are built around key aspects of the local history, culture and identity. A place mostly for adults, as opposed to families.

    Whenever you look, smell, taste, walk or listen, you know you are in a distincly unique city.

    The Dionysian Zone does’nt have to be large, but it needs to fairly concentrated, at least at first. It should have an urban character and one should to be able to walk the Zone in an evening’s time.

    As the song says, its better to laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints…. at least sometimes.

  15. El Hoosier says:

    You got the wrong city. Take I-64 west to St. Louis and there you have New Orleans II. It has a very strong french influence and already boasts the 2nd largest Mardi Gras in the US (during the first Mardi Gras after Katrina, it was the largest).

    Its obviously a river town and has already embraced its “vice city” elements. Each of its culturally distinct neighborhoods conduct their own public party: Mardi Gras in Soulard, St. Patrick’s Day in Dog Town and Cinco de mayo in South City. Each party comes w/ public street blocked to traffic and open drinking and parades.

    Beer is openly marketed as a reason to visit. And this isn’t limited to Budweiser… there is Schlafly, Lemp, Greisedeck, and many others around town. It probably has the highest bar/resident ratio in midwest. And there are some great hole in the wall type places.

    Beyond this, the region has fully embraced the casino idea. Although I’m not a fan, I’m sitting in the middle of STL right now and I could be at 6 casinos within 30 mins, 2 of them in downtown stl.

    But I don’t necessarily think is is a good plan for any city to follow. You can’t out Vegas… Vegas (look at Atlantic City). And no city will gain the kind of creole cool that New Orleans retains. There are a lot of great partying/vice friendly cities (St. Louis/Memphis/Nashville) but the aren’t something that will grow these cities. Being vice friendly may only allow businesses in these town to attract some younger talent from the generally more attractive/cosmopolitan cities across the country.

    I think your “progressive being business friendly” blog is the true route for cities like STL, IND, LOU, CIN, and NASH to find their future.

  16. Anonymous says:


    google “brain drain” and ‘city name’… it is a lament all over including Chicago, New York. While not ‘statistically accurate’
    …probably more accurate than the statistics.

  17. Jefferey says:

    Louisville. The Sodom of the Ohio Valley. Or is it the Gomorrah? Whatver.

    Actually the vice hasn’t left, it’s just relocated out Seventh Street Road, which pretty much replaced downtown as a site for “sexual tourism” (I always thought some of the patronage is coming in from the country to do farmer business, but staying on for a little bump and grind).

    Otherwise Aaron pretty much picks up on the bon temps roulet aspect of Louisville. Not the sex stuff as much as the festive, party town vibe that has long been a feature of the place (at least since the 1970s). There are just a lot of places to go out, and unlike a lot of cities in the region things stay open till 4 AM…not 24-7 but better than the standard 2 AM closing.

    Though 4th Street Live is “generic”, that it was developed as a cluster of nightspots sets it a bit apart as a concept, which links it to the underlying party town cultural tendancy.

    Another small thing is that BBC place on Theatre Square, where they roll open the garage door windows and have sort of an inside-outside bar. Just very laid back. Very Louisvillesque

    So yeah, I think there is something here, something already going on as a sort of local vibe or scene or attitude. Pretty astute to pick up on it.

  18. Alon Levy says:

    Hoosier: well, St. Louis is a failed city. It’s one of the few metro areas in the US that gets more in federal spending than it pays in taxes and that isn’t a capital, like Albany or Washington. Other cities with this dubious distinction include depressed Buffalo and Providence, and military-dependent San Diego (barely). Even Cleveland and Detroit pay more than they get back once you include their suburbs.

  19. WorldMaker says:

    I’ll emphasize what Jeffery said: Louisville has always had that culture there, and it is still there if you want to seek it, much of it is simply a matter of marketing it.

    For instance, an example from the article, Burlesque:

    They mistakenly think they are the city’s first, but they are doing their thing.

    As Jeffery said, Louisville does have a very late night scene, with most bars closing at 4AM. There are few cities out as late… Additionally, 4th Street may be generic in build/content, but still has some things that it does right. Particularly, the City reopened the stretch of 4th Street passing through the block, but provided the ability for 4th Street to close the street most weekend nights and allow beverages to pass between establishments, providing for one big open air block party. How many other cities have weekly block parties?

    One of the great things about Louisville is there is a good portion of the city’s populace that thinks about this sort of a plan for the city. As I mentioned on Broken Sidewalk, Louisville was an anchor point in the Chicago-French Lick-Louisville vice triangle during Prohibition, and many of us natives have Bootlegger relatives of one sort or another.

    But we Louisvillians will endlessly debate on the subject, as we do have our conservative side as well. Kentucky is the state of great debates and great compromises, so it’s certainly true to the city’s character to keep on debating the points in your article here. As we debate hopefully we’ll keep getting cool compromises like walking around 4th Street, alcohol in hand, on just about any random Friday night you choose, up until about 4AM in the morning.

  20. Branden says:

    Louisville can allow the “opportunity for vice” without becoming an all-out vice city. The point about Louisville’s roots in southern gentility is important; as well as its connections to bourbon, etc. There’s an opportunity here to redefine the modern gentility (and it’s already happening to some extent).

    Take the image of Bourbon, for example. It has become increasingly trendy over time and is attracting entirely new and younger audiences. This changing perspective should help guide the “vice” we’re talking about.

    To some extent, Louisville’s “southernness” has always been tempered by its northern proximity and adds to the confusion about image so often seen in the city. Venues like Proof or even the Maker’s Mark Lounge at 4th Street Live are bridging those culture gaps and could potentially help form a unique identity for Louisville’s own version of vice.

    Right now, it seems there is too much control and fear that any kind of vice could get out of hand. Take for example the block parties at 4SL. The street may have been opened to traffic, but it effectively forms a barrier to pedestrians trying to move up and down the street and hinders growth of the local scene in adjacent areas. If you want to have an open container block party, let it extend on all of Fourth Street, not just one ultra-planned development.

    Part of what makes the idea of vice appealing is its element of unknown. One of the major drawbacks to 4SL, in my opinion, is that it’s entirely planned and has no real spontaneity. Let it mesh with the city and lose its defined edges and it may not seem like the anti-local venue many Louisvillians see.

    Even with its strong neighborhoods, Downtown still holds a special place in the psyche of Louisville. It’s skyline, for example, has become iconic of the city itself and helps to represent a foil to the state of Kentucky: shining city lights vs. rolling bluegrass hills. That doesn’t mean quantity can trump quality.

    In the end, it’s important to note that vice doesn’t mean something is seedy. Louisville has been scrubbed squeaky clean (at least the parts visitors are likely to see), so there’s a new “vice” that can be allowed room as the city collectively learns to relax.

  21. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Honestly, I’m surprised that people kind of like some of these ideas. Great additional suggestions. I like the “Playtime” angle and think the “Dionysian zone” term is something that should be in wider use.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Alon: There you go again….

    “St. Louis is a failed city. It’s one of the few metro areas in the US that gets more in federal spending than it pays in taxes and that isn’t a capital, like Albany or Washington. Other cities with this dubious distinction include depressed Buffalo and Providence, and military-dependent San Diego (barely). Even Cleveland and Detroit pay more than they get back once you include their suburbs.”

    Per capita the Fed spends these amounts:
    Marion County $8699
    St. Louis County $5765

    I would find it hard to believe that St. Louis Metro does not return more than it receives from the Feds…now Indy on the other hand gets $3K more per capita…perhaps it gets more than it returns?

    Snarkily yours – anon

    PS If St. Louis is a ‘failed city’ (which it is not) then Indy is also a ‘failed city (which it is not). St. Louis Metro, if anything, is 1/2 again as large as Indy Metro.

  23. Alon Levy says:

    No, Marion County is a net tax recipient, too. Capital regions often are; some of them can thrive with federal money – especially DC, but also Austin, Albany, Sacramento, etc. The same is true for military cities – the Hampton Roads area gets about $30,000 per capita in spending. The failed cities are those that aren’t centers of government spending, and still get more money than they pay in taxes; this tends to indicative severe poverty.

    The data I’m using is mostly unavailable now. There’s tax data per county here, and spending data here. The problem is that the tax data is as of 2004, and the spending data as of 2007; I did the calculations for StL back when both data sets were as of 2004. I didn’t do calculations for Indy, unfortunately. I did them only for the largest metros, plus Detroit, Cleveland, StL, and a few more in Upstate New York and California.

  24. The Urbanophile says:

    Remember, no city vs. city in this thread. Thank you.

  25. Alon Levy says:

    I’m not trying to do city vs. city, and I apologize if I failed to convey that. I was essentially riffing off of the idea that St. Louis was already a vice city, but is not how a city would want to look like.

  26. The Urbanophile says:

    That’s ok – I just don’t want this to turn into another Indy vs. Louisville flamewar.

  27. Alon Levy says:

    Ah, alright.

    On another note: you can compare the two data sets I link to by multiplying the tax total by 1.327. Indy’s still a net tax recipient – Marion County gets $1.13 in spending per dollar in taxes – but it’s also a state capital, and these get a lot more money than other cities.

  28. CARR says:


    Why would you be surprised about the vice city suggestion? I think you might be surprised just how many people have thought about that same thing. When the governor was pushing for casino gambling it was mentioned several times that Louisville would get a downtown casino to compete with Horseshoe.

    One of the reasons that Churchill Downs expanded was because they think that either casino gambling or at least slots at racetracks will be approved. Churchill doesn’t even use most of the space they have after the renovation.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone remember the Cheyenne Men's Social Club from the late 1960's to early 1980's on Preston where Trixie's is now? If so, does anyone have any photos? My wife was a dancer there in the 70's, and I would pay for photos.

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