“New ideas need old buildings,” says Gill Holland, quoting Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” In the ’60s, Jacobs took city planners to task for not understanding the sociology that needed to be embraced by their profession; she also introduced terms like “mixed primary uses” and “social capital.”
Yesterday Holland took a bus full of inquisitive people on a tour of the Portland neighborhood. The tour lasted almost two hours with the Q&A session afterward at the Tim Faulkner Gallery. The outing was a “class” offered by IdeaFestU called: “From Nulu to Portland: A Lesson in Small Business, the Arts, and Sustainability.”
The basic narrative of the class was how private capital and creative minds can create a “proof of concept” for a neighborhood. This can drive more capital investment and public funds that will lead to the revitalization of a neighborhood. In short: Holland wants to prove what can be done in Portland so that others will follow behind.
As a non-native Louisvillian, much of what I heard on the tour was news to me. But a lot of what we heard and saw on the tour was news to everyone — even people who grew up in the neighborhood.
Below are some highlights:
• “Portland already has a great brand,” says Gill Holland. “We don’t have to create a ‘NuPo.'”
• During the 1937 flood, Portland was underwater in the most extreme way for the longest period of time. Many people chose not to move back. The building of the highways also displaced and uprooted many families.
• There are 1,400 vacant or abandoned properties in Portland.
• Holland talks about his practice of performing “urban acupuncture” where you target the worst house on a block for total transformation. Sometimes rehabbing that worst house will lead to the block being revitalized.
• Waterfront Park West is happening, Holland stresses. MKSK, the Columbus, Ohio-based urban design firm behind the designs for Waterfront Park, are also working up designs for the 22-acre park, which will start at 10th street on the river and stretch westward.
• Many people don’t know that Portland is home to an Olmsted Park. Boone Square needs some TLC these days. It was one of the first parks Olmsted designed for Louisville. It’s located at 20th and Rowen. According to the Olmsted Park Conservancy:
Boone Square Park offers space for recreation, including two basketball courts, two playgrounds (one for older children and one for toddlers), a spray fountain, an open field for games of all kinds, and a picnic shelter. It is named for the original owners of the property, Mr. and Mrs. William Boone, who resided there in a Georgian mansion in the early 1850s. The mansion deteriorated during the Civil War, and eventually was lost altogether. The land was deeded to the City of Louisville in 1891 by Eliza Boone.
• Gary Watrous, vice president of Portland Now, told us that Oct. 11 will mark the first Portland Art Fair. It will be an all-day event that will span several locations in the Portland neighborhood, including the Tim Faulkner Gallery, the Marine Hospital building, the Louisville Film Society building and Nelligan Hall. There will also be music, food trucks, a juried art show, a photography show and a trolley tour highlighting Portland’s history.
• The Boys and Girls Club on Portland Avenue is now Holland’s HQ. He bought the building with architect Kulapat Yantrasast (Speed Museum expansion) and NYC financier Lionel Leventhal. They’ve renamed it the Anchor Building (a nod to its status as his HQ and to the symbol of the Portland neighborhood).
• Holland predicts that once the tolls on the eastern bridges start, it will drive a lot of traffic into Portland to take the Sherman-Minton Bridge. (corrected 4:47 p.m.)
• Portland students have the lowest rate of first grade preparedness of any neighborhood in the city.
• Holland encouraged everyone to commit a portion of their investments to investing locally. He said that often when we don’t manage our own portfolios, we could end up investing in something that directly conflicts with where our philanthropic efforts are. (Holland said he looked into his children’s college fund investments and discovered there was money invested in Raytheon, which makes missiles and bombs.)
• Louisville’s own Paul Hornung grew up in the Portland neighborhood. He attended Flaget High School and lettered all four years in football, basketball and baseball. The “Golden Boy” went on to win the Heisman Trophy while he was at Notre Dame. He was the first draft selection in 1957 and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He was on the team when it won the first Super Bowl, but he didn’t play in the game. He was sidelined with a career-ending neck injury.
• What’s up with the Compassion Building these days? Holland and his investors are working on raising money to put in an HVAC system. There was some flooding in the building, which also delayed renovation. Holland said there’s basically been “160 years of deferred maintenance” on the old school building.
• Bernheim Arboretum and Forest gave Louisville Grows a grant to build a “free play area” on the grounds of the Compassion Building, which is now open to the community. This was part of Bernheim’s “Children at Play” initiative.
• Also on the grounds of the Compassion Building is Louisville Grow’s Shippingport Memorial Gardens, a community garden shared by 30 local farmers.
• Holland also has plans for an outdoor sculpture garden/gallery where some sculptures will be permanent and some will be for sale.
• Two words that we need to know more about… Bourbon. Motel. What? We’ll let you know when we know more.