Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Russell Partnership: an Alternative to the Hollow City

Here’s yet another example from Louisville on urban regeneration, one that is 180 degrees opposite of the demolish and land-bank approach being considered for Dayton.

Russell was probably the worst neighborhood in Louisville, if you could even call it a neighborhood. It was nearly abandoned. Lots of empty land, abandoned houses and stores, a partially boarded-up Section 8 housing project, and a derelict cemetery as the only park. The place had high crime, high vacancy (20% in some tracts), and high unemployment, with a very high labor force non-participation rates.

Yet, as early as the mid 1980s there was some small movement toward revival. This really kicked off during the 1990s. with the development of a partnership between University of Louisville and a collection of non-profits and churches in the neighborhood. Other colleges were brought in, including the University of Kentucky’s architecture school, some government agencies, and the local construction industry, in a coalition of sorts to redevelop the neighborhood.

This differs from the UD efforts in Dayton, as this neighborhood was distant from UofL, and the agenda was not gentrification, but affordable housing (at first), community building, and neighborhood revival. Maybe a better comparison would be Wright-Dunbar, but there was no university involvement with that project as far as I know, and I don't think there was a social services component.

Below is an aerial showing Russell’s’ location vis a vis downtown Louisville and the west urban renewal area. Since Russell had some of the oldest housing remaining in the city and was significant to local black history it was made a historic district, which required State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) review of infill designs.
The map also shows the Village West section 8 project, which was a half-vacant crack den, and the Phillip Morris redevelopment. Phillip Morris is closed cigarette factory (Kool, Marlboro) site that is going to be a mixed used development. The same architecture/engineering/planning firm that did The Greene and Easton is doing this planning/design for this.

Housing redevelopment started off at the eastern end of the Western Cemetery (renamed Pioneer Park). This was called “Graves End”. This development is about 10 years old now. These houses went from $49,000 to $59,000 back in the mid 1990s but are being resold for $85,000 or more. All the units have garages in back and some have full basements.
For some floor and site plans and more pix see the SUN (Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods) Graves End web page (on a personal note, two former classmates of mine where involved with this project, one as a professor at UofK, the other as a grad student). The original concept was to redesign the park and put in a modern version of a Louisville pedestrian street for the houses, but there was no money for that.

More housing facing the cemetery, mostly new but also with some of the original houses on the site. I guess these are examples of non-shotgun house urban housing in the city, possibly from the 1870s or 1880s.

A close up of the infill, showing the attention to detail, like the use of stone as an accent, and “gingerbread” at the gable (but not an “archeological” copy of gingerbread trim). Here’s another SUN project, away from the park showing how parts of the neighborhood had to be replatted to provide useable lot sizes, the mix of new and old housing, streetscape composition, and the conversion of a liquor store and neighboring crack house into apartments.

I can see something like this being done in Dayton, but what I really like is that they did something nice with that concrete block thing next to the corner store.

And another SUN project, showing a floor plan and elevation. Note there is always an interest in making the houses “fit” in terms of aesthetics.

Some other examples of new infill housing in Russell. There is new construction and remodels all over the neighborhood now. Its remarkable to see this area come back if one knew it before.
This is I think a pro-bono project from a local developer and architect in partnership with the Louisville Urban League: Project Rebound. Not too much a fan of this design, though i like the front porch idea. Yet more infill. These are all brick, rather than just the brick facade like in the earlier pix.
Apparently this project really is working. A news report from the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator:

Urban areas see biggest gains in property value
Public initiatives spurring private investment, officials say

Businessman Argie Dale, however, believes the market is driving some of the new growth.

Dale said he began developing homes in Russell for low-income families in the late 1990s using tax credits. But over the past three years, he has developed five properties there worth around $300,000 without such incentives. "It just shows you that there are people who are able to afford these types of homes," and there is a market for them, said Dale, who lives in Russell. "And if we had more land, we could build more."

Brockton Edwards, a general contractor who also lives in the neighborhood and has built homes in Russell, agreed there is a demand for houses costing more than $125,000 that didn't exist a decade ago.

People with ties to the neighborhood are choosing to move there and want a house similar to what they can buy in other parts of Louisville, he said.

James Freeman said he and his wife moved into one of those houses about two years ago from the Shawnee neighborhood after considering houses in eastern Jefferson County and Southern Indiana.
"I liked the location," said Freeman, 60, a retired Colgate employee. "It kind of puts you in the middle of everything."

Finally the Village West project. Amazingly enough this rather barracks-esque design won an award when built (design was selected via a juried competition). One has to wonder about architects sometimes.
It was brought back via a $37M renewal project,. Though not in Russell proper, it was seen as a gateway to the neighborhood, thus the Russell Partnership got involved in helping facilitate a renewal. The mayor also played a part.

We've seen it before, but here it is again: Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, which should be pretty interesting when the get the exhibits set up.
The Russell story by one of the players, who lays out the failures (and there were failures) and the successes of the effort (the B/W pix and drawings above are from the book) Available at the Wright State University library (WSU gets a brief mention in the book). One of the things that you don’t physically see (but is in the book) was there was a big social services/education/capacity building component to this, including how-to sessions about homeownership, mortgages, saving for down payments, etc, as well as other things like education, job training, apprenticeship programs, entrepreneurship and business skill training etc.

This was not seen at first as strictly a bricks-and-mortar effort. Reading about this it sounds like how the military approaches new fighters or tanks, as a weapons system, developed via a systems/program management approach. In this case applied to community development, but without an overarching program manager.

Which was a big lesson, too. This was not a top down, centralized approach, but more of a partnership.
Interesting stuff, and in Louisville's case it seems to be working, but I wonder how applicable in Dayton?


Anonymous said...

Jeff, I'm going to have to read the book. Sounds interesting.

Indirectly, I'd like to tie this in with your discussion of the Man and Women of the Year post. You speak of Dayton's biggest problem being apathy (and even unfounded fear)from the suburbs as well as a "tear it down" mentality. I couldn't agree with you more; but could this mentality be linked to the "We are an island" mindset fostered by the fragmented political and economic balkanization of the area? Louisville adopted a metro government in the 90s, and I don't believe the adoption was by public acclamation. It took political courage at the state and local level. Once unity was in place--with the government, with the schools, with the planning, with the resources--then citizens perhaps started taking an interest in the center city and realized its well-being was their well-being. There are a few in the Dayton area--like Leon,Jo,and Maribeth--who "get it." But it'll take a seismic shift--the likes of Louisville--to get everyone (or most everyone)on the same sheet of music saying we all are Daytonians and we are concerned about what happens in all corners of our city.

Jefferey said...

The book will be back at WSU this week, but one can order it from Amazon, too.

I should note that it is really more about the concept of university partnerships, with Russell as the case study. The story appears to extend beyond UofL involvement, but thats not in the book.

I wasn't thinking about city/suburb relations when I posted this, as it was inteded to show a different approach to inner city abandonment, as well as using a contextual approach for urban infill.

The Russell revitalization predates merger...what you see here happened in the 1990s and the merger refendum was in 2000. It may have started as a bottom-up grass-roots thing to rebuild and restore, and then UofL was brought in 1992.

The larger issue of merger isn't directly comparable to Dayton for various historical, political and legal reasons, due to differences between Kentucky and Ohio in local governement and services.

Then there is that perceptual or cultural issue you talk about.

I probably should do a post on Louisville/Jefferson County just to talk about this.