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New District 21 council member says she plans to push for sustainability

A group of council members pose for a photo. Most are wearing black.
Roberto Roldan
Betsy Ruhe, center, was sworn in to Louisville Metro Council as the District 21 representative earlier this month.

Betsy Ruhe, a retired teacher and advocate for public green spaces, says she will use her background in sustainability work to push for change as District 21’s Metro Council member.

Ruhe was sworn in earlier this month, taking over fromNicole George, who didn’t run for re-election and now oversees public health for Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration. District 21 includes neighborhoods around Iroquois Park and the Fairground, such as Beechmont and Oakdale.

Prior to running for office, Ruhe spent a lot of her time picking up trash in Iroquois Park and working to create a public orchard on a vacant lot in the South End, she said. As a Metro Council member she plans to push the city to improve the look and feel of neighborhoods.

“If you feel good in your neighborhood, you’re going to take care of it,” she said. “The more you feel good about it, the more you’re going to take care of it. So you have to start at the bottom with the most basic things.”

Ruhe also wants to encourage city leaders to make environmental sustainability a larger focus of local government. She said she was one of the first people to graduate from the University of Louisville with a Master’s Degree in sustainability, which she believes gives her a valuable perspective.

“I want to make sure that we are making rapid, concrete steps toward being carbon neutral,” she said.

Louisville Public Media’s Roberto Roldan recently sat down with Ruhe to discuss her background and what her priorities will be over the next four years. An excerpt of that interview, edited for length and clarity, is below:

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what it was about your prior work that made you want to run for Metro Council?

I'm a retired teacher. I've also done numerous projects in our community, including a public orchard that's on Third Street. I've been very active in the community. I was on our neighborhood association board for a decade.

You’ve mentioned the Orchards of Beechmont, an organization that you founded. Can you tell me a little bit about what their focus is?

We have an orchard on a vacant lot at the corner of Southern Heights and Third Street. I used to pull up there in my car on my way to school and I'd see this empty lot. There's nothing but grass. It just bothered me. And then [I thought], ‘Wouldn't it be so nice to have that full of flowering trees? It'd be so pretty.’ And it took me well over a decade because the property is owned by the state highway department and I came to learn that it could not be developed because you couldn't put in a driveway. So I was very thrilled in December of 2021 when we got the trees planted.

And what does that space look like now?

There is a parking lot. There's a walking path around it with crushed gravel, and there's, I want to say, 28 fruit trees, apples, peaches, cherries. There's a vegetable garden. There's pecan trees.

It sounds like public parks and environmental sustainability are important to you. What would you like to accomplish in that space on Metro Council?

First things first, I want to make sure our Metro parks are adequately funded. Right now they're horribly underfunded. And that means there's a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be done. I also want to make sure that we are making concrete, fairly rapid steps towards being carbon neutral, making sure people recycle. Make sure people pick up trash.

Your district, District 21, includes neighborhoods around the Fairgrounds and Iroquois Park, like Beechmont and Wilder Park. When you were out knocking on doors during your campaign, what were the biggest issues that you heard from residents?

The number one biggest issue was the number of unhoused people we have in our community Basically, ‘What are you going to do about it?” And that is a big lift, it really bothers me to think as a society that we've let it get to this point, people in the wealthiest nation on Earth should not be living on the street. And it's going to take time to get adequate housing. There's trust issues with these folks who are living out on the street, that they may not want to go into housing, because they don't trust the people who are trying to help them, because they've had too many negative experiences. It's going to be a hard lift. It's going to take time. But we can do it. We weren't at this place five years ago. We won't be at this place five years from now.

What do you think Metro Council and Louisville Metro Government can do?

Number one is to get adequate affordable housing, so that people are not put out of their homes, we need to make sure that we can put pressure on the property management groups to make sure that these properties are maintained and habitable. We need to do things like Hotel Louisville. There's actually a hotel on Fern Valley Road that I would like to do a similar thing with. So if we can at least get those things and get the supports in place to help them move out and get a job and become independent.

This is your first time holding elected office. But do you have any legislation in mind that you would like to get started working on immediately once Metro Council starts having meetings in February? 

Well, I had the good fortune of being the first graduate of the University of Louisville with a Master's in sustainability. And that background, I think I've got an important perspective to bring to development as well as to the parks and to make sure that our long term needs as a planet are being met.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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