Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bye, Bye Beautiful

Two sad neighborhood occurrences happened this week (and the last part of the one before):
  • The awesome thrift store that first brought me to the neighborhood closed for good.
  • Two more historic shotgun houses were torn down by Metro (I presume).
A couple of months ago, I attended a meeting with city officials to remove my house from the abandoned properties list. I had no problems and was applauded for being an owner-occupant. The people who helped me were gracious and kind and very much pro-revitalization of the hard hit West End of Louisville. Sadly, however, I learned then that the wonderful building that housed the thrift store was bought and plans were in store to demolish it (note to self: Take photos this week). I also heard that plans included a(nother) dollar store to be built in its place.
Then, I saw a town hall meeting to approve a Family Dollar. At first I had plans to attend and voice opposition to the plan. However, a week or so later I saw a woman walking on a very cold day from the General Dollar which is further away. I thought maybe we (as in neighbors without transportation or means to get to shopping centers) might need a Family Dollar. Of course, I have since changed my mind again and regret not going to the meeting. The Dollar General is actually only a few more blocks away, near businesses and other retail, and why is it this is the only type of business investors will bring to us. How about an Aldi's or Walgreens or other chains if this is the way it has to go? How about a sit down restaurant? Why another blessed dollar store?
When I first decided to move into this neighborhood, I was smitten with the historic houses and businesses (albeit too many of them boarded up and decaying). I loved that it is near the river and the oldest part of Louisville. It was once a busy steamboat port, the last unboarding/boarding before heading on to the mighty Mississippi. John James Audubon even once lived here and owned a mercantile with a friend.
Sadly, technology came and the choice was made to build a lock and dam further to the east. This essentially gave Louisville the steam to become a full fledged city. The neighborhood I live in began its decent into ghost-town-hood soon after it opened. Yes, Louisville killed the steamboat port town (sing to the tune 'Video Killed the Radio Star').
But, even with the demise of the port town, things were still hopping in the West End of Louisville. Just to the south, Louisville had it's own version of Harlem. Businesses, restaurateurs, artists African-American weathy and free slaves were building a thriving, prosperous and colorful community. Then, a man came along, sold Louisville on a plan to turn it into a white cake donut (sound familiar?) and killed Louisville's Harlem as well. They built a highway that cut off the main routes into these historic neighborhoods and funds were diverted to the east side of Louisville. The ghost-town disease spread.
Now, with other cities revitalizing their historic neighborhoods, Metro Louisville supposedly has a strategic plan to turn the west end around. However, their plan seems to be 'contain the impoverished and build warehouses and dollar stores everywhere else'. Many are proposing other ideas (Portland Orchard Project and Urban Louisville are both visionaries outside the usual box). What saddens me the most is that houses that are highly sought after and selling for $100K elsewhere in the city are just being torn down by heavy equipment in mine. At least one of the houses (the one pictured above) still had life and gorgeous original character. Why did no one at least salvage the wood, windows and other details? And, to make it more poignant, these two houses are located just off the major highway exit and the first houses visitors to the area would see if they headed west. Now they will get to see a Shell station and a effing dollar store.
I really think my neighborhood (and the others in the West End) are perfect for the type of revitalization seen in other Louisville neighborhoods like Highlands, St. Matthew's and 'NuLu'. I don't understand why small businesses, artisans and niche entrepreneurs are not flocking to this historic area. Is it just the stigma of urban decay? Is is the Metro? Is it just that people are more interested in McMansions and such? Maybe people are just consumed with their everyday crisis and lack interest or means to change the plan? Where are the artists, the visionaries, the hipsters, the lovers of old houses? Why does the city ignore all these investor and bank owned neglected properties until they can't be saved?
I'm not sure I am going to find any valid answers to all my questions, but I intend to at least ask. Meanwhile, I am mourning my neighborhood's latest casualties.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me sad to see all these old houses torn down. The houses nowadays are all so boring, no character, no history.
    Revitalizing an old rundown neighborhood is a slippery slope. On one hand you hope for things to be done that will enhance the neighborhood, but on the otherhand, you don't want things that change the face of the neighborhood. You need a good planning comity, people who live in the community and care about it, otherwise outside investors will do what they will.