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Neighbors Highlight Concerns, Opportunities At Russell Design Meeting

Community members at Russell design meeting

Dozens of community members packed into a room last week at Joshua Tabernacle Baptist Church. They sat in pews and folding chairs, and after a short program they each received nine sticker dots: three green, three red and three blue.

On large maps posted on the walls, they placed their stickers along 18th Street, starting at Broadway — where event sponsor OneWest recently bought property, and where Passport Health Plan recently paused construction on a new campus amid financial troubles — all the way north past Main Street.

A heat map soon emerged. Red dots — which signaled bad — clustered around a liquor store, while greens — which meant good —landed on the African-American Heritage Foundation. And blue dots — which signaled opportunity — filled the historic Quinn Chapel AME Church.

The community members were participating in a free, open design workshop hosted by west Louisville-focused nonprofit OneWest on March 6. Leaders and a team of urban designers were soliciting ideas for the improving neighborhood. It was one of four such workshops organized last week by the Congress for the New Urbanism, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The idea was to produce designs locals could implement.

OneWest CEO and President Evon Smith acknowledged what some African-American communities have felt, that they only find out about changes coming to their neighborhood once plans are set.

"Tonight, you’re on the front end," she said. "You’re being asked: What would you like to see? How would you like the community to look? What would you like to have here? What would you like to create here?"

Resident Nandi Serikali attended the event with 9-month-old Shaka. She said the neighborhood could use some basics, like sidewalks and a chain grocery store. But she had a larger vision, too. She said Broadway could become a commercial strip, like Bardstown Road in the Highlands.

She would like "some main strip that we can go to find some type of businesses where we can eat and things like that," Serikali said.

Kevin Fields, the CEO of the nonprofit Louisville Central Community Center, said he was working with Passport on its planned $130 million headquarters at 18th and Broadway. Now that the project is stalled, he's concerned.

"This whole issue with [the] Passport project being under attack politically and we just believe that that’s a major weakness, if we don’t get through that," he said.

But 15-year-old Josiah, who attends Male High School, said he has hope for the area improving, since it's where he goes to church.

"We’d just like to see a influx of new people, a booming economy, people just walking the streets," he said.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.