Inventing “the Greatest”: Constructing Louisville’s Future out of Story and Clay

James A. Throgmorton. 2007. Planning Theory 6, 3 (November): 237-262.

In earlier publications I have argued that planning can be thought of as a form of persuasive and constitutive storytelling about the future. In this article I tell a story about the transformation of Louisville, Kentucky, a city of approximately 700,000 people located in the middle of the United States. The story begins in the early 1950s with a youth named Cassius Marcellus Clay, moves through space and time, weaves together a series of locally grounded common urban narratives, and ends at a new Center in Louisville named after Muhammad Ali. By weaving these tales together, I seek to demonstrate how narrative might be used to generate a more capacious approach to planning, but also to indicate how the physical design of the city-region has to be changed to make space for diverse common urban narratives. I end by suggesting that such an approach might help increase the sustainability of Louisville and other city-regions, and by encouraging Louisvillians to ask: Who are we? What does it mean to be a Louisvillian? Whose story, what culture, what sense of community, and what collective identity does our contemporary planning help sustain? How do we want to live with one another? What should our plans sustain?

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