George W. Norton was a pioneer. His pioneering spirit in the first half of the 20th century included his investment in a fledgling technology called television. Very few American homes had television sets in 1948 when George Norton put WAVE-TV on the air and joined the embryonic NBC network.
This visionary and progressive community leader was also passionate about the challenges of modern farming. The blend of his love of farming and interest in experimental agricultural methods and his commitment to serve the public good through broadcast resulted in a unique piece of Kentucky history – the WAVE farm. Programs produced by WAVE television and radio featured demonstrations, exhibits, interviews, and current events that pertained to Kentuckiana farmers. A small television studio near the original farm house was at one time a focal point for the entire region’s farming community.
As late as the 1980’s, eastern Jefferson County was still primarily large tract farm land. Spawned by the extension of road and utility infrastructure, these pastoral properties gave way to the highest rate of suburban growth and development in the county during the 90’s. It became obvious to Mr. Norton’s heirs that the old WAVE farm was rapidly becoming a lonely oasis in a sea of housing and commercial development. It was time for this idyllic, gently rolling expanse of greenery to make way for some sort of development.
In keeping with the progressive nature of the late George Norton, his daughter, Mrs. Mary Norton Shands, began to explore a higher and better use of the property than simply turning it into another east Louisville subdivision. During this exploratory process, local developers Charles Osborn and David Tomes were becoming devotees of a unique concept in community planning called New Urbanism. Approaching Mrs. Shands with their innovative ideas about suburban growth, the two quickly gained Shands’ support and approval of their vision for the 595 acre site.
Forming a venture with the Norton Trust, the group hired the renowned new urbanist, Andres Duany, a Miami-based town planner at the center of this architectural and environmental movement. His company, Duany Plater-Zyberk, was involved in the design of some of America’s most famous and successful communities. Now his talents were sought to shape the pristine WAVE farmland into a community that would compare to such desirable developments as Florida’s Celebration and Seaside, and the Kentlands near Washington, D.C. Duany was charged with designing a place for the ages – one which would stress healthy living, walkability and sensitivity to protecting the environment and character of the area. Duany’s goal was to produce an environment with the historical significance of Lake Forest in Chicago, Mariemont in Cincinnati and our own St. James Court and Cherokee Triangle neighborhoods right here in Louisville.
To accomplish this task, Duany assembled a team of planners in Louisville for a ten-day design charrette. This public design process gathered input from all segments of the community including government agencies, utility companies, planning officials, educators, business leaders, media and residents of neighboring properties.
At the conclusion of this forum, Andres Duany made a public presentation of the plan that incorporated the input from these diverse interests. The Courier Journal reported, “Mr. Duany believes we need to get back to what neighborhoods used to be; places where the old and young, the rich and poor, worked, shopped and went to school…Certainly their ideas won’t solve all the world’s problems – or even all of Louisville’s. But they’re an exciting start.”
These principles create long lasting communities and allow the vision of George Norton to continue. He understood that land should be used wisely both in the short term and the long term. Norton Commons is a magnificent tribute to this great civic leader and innovator – a vital link between future generations and the traditions of Louisville’s glorious past.