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In Louisville's Russell Neighborhood, Prince Charles To Find Struggles, Signs of Hope

Few topics go unmentioned at the beauty salon on the corner of 18th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Louisville's Russell neighborhood.

"We talk about everything," owner Harriet "Chic" Patrick said Thursday, over the buzzing of blow driers and snipping scissors.

The women at Scruples By Chic chat about world events, celebrities and goings on in Russell.

On Friday, these conversations converge just outside the door.

Prince Charles, the 66-year-old heir to the British throne, will be just steps away at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage during a visit to Louisville.

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will spend much of Friday in Louisville visiting various sites and will attend a cultural festival across the street from the salon.

 

A day before the visit, the six women inside the salon didn't know what to make of the visit. What does it mean? What's the importance? Will it have an impact?

"Who benefits?" Patrick wondered.

Patrick noted the juxtaposition that the visit presents. Royalty is rare in Russell, a neighborhood that, like others in West Louisville, struggles with poverty.

"I guarantee you the people who go are not from our economic social class," Patrick said.

Janice Shahid, a salon employee, said perhaps the royal visit is something of a "sightseeing trip."

"Maybe he just wants to see how we live," Shahid said.

Prince Charles' agenda includes stops across the city, from Portland to Churchill Downs. The Duchess of Cornwall is slated to visit the Neighborhood House, a community center. Among the issues they'll address or inquire about: the environment, health, air quality.

Discussions about how people live in the Russell neighborhood are at the forefront of many efforts geared towards revitalizing the area.

When it comes to life in Russell, there are some things that residents want Prince Charles to know.

Nearly 62 percent of Russell residents live in poverty and 40 percent live in subsidized housing, according to the federal department Housing and Urban Development.

Earlier this year, HUD awarded a $425,000 planning grant to the Louisville Housing Authority to assist in crafting a plan for redeveloping the neighborhood, which spans the blocks west of 9th to 32nd streets and from Broadway to Market Street.

Gretchen Milliken, director of Louisville Metro's office of advanced planning, said the process of developing the redevelopment plan for Russell is still in a state of "incubation."

"Getting together our task force, collecting all our data, looking at the strategic plan moving forward, working with our consultant in Washington, the things that you do when you're starting off the project," she said.

Tim Barry, director of the housing authority, said representatives from across the Russell neighborhood are included in the process.

"We're trying to touch everybody in the Russell neighborhood," he said.

Milliken said it's too early to tell what the exact changes are that will come to the neighborhood—though one aspect is certain.

"The people here want to be involved," she said.

She said people have expressed a need for accessibility to fresh food, retail, swimming pools, parks, community centers.

These are some of the same issues Prince Charles is interested in.

When asked about what Prince Charles should takeaway from his visit to Russell—a neighborhood poised for possible  change in coming years—Milliken said "the reality of the situation."

"You've got a strong community, with lots of assets, that's facing a quite a bit of challenges," she said.

One of those challenges, both Milliken and Barry point out, is securing funding to ensure the plan being developed becomes a reality.

Barry said he couldn't begin to speculate how much an entire neighborhood redevelopment could cost.

At New T and B Classic Cuts, a barbershop next door to Scruples by Chic, the chatter is more about what the heir to the British throne should leave behind.

Gary Turner, who works at the shop, hopes the royal visit will leave Russell better off, at least in some way. But how? Turner isn't sure.

"What really can he do besides come and visit and go back?"

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.