Mayor Greg Fischer and Google Fiber helped open Love City Inc., a community center and business and technology incubation area, on Wednesday morning.
“This is what entrepreneurship looks like, this is what justice looks like, this is what love looks like, when a community comes together and says, ‘We are here to support each other, day in and day out’,” Mayor Greg Fischer told the crowd. “It’s really not that complicated, right? We’re here to help each other. And this is what it looks like.”
Love City’s mission is to “simply love our neighbors and community,” it says in the brochure. That means the building has open gym after school and summer camps for kids, education programs for adults and more.
To sustain itself, Love City runs a weekly fish fry and recently opened Porkland BBQ, at 2519 St. Cecilia St., and it has partnerships with more than 30 other businesses and nonprofit organizations.
One key partnership is with Google. Google Fiber hosted the event along with Love City because it provided ultra-high-speed internet to the organization at no cost as part of its Community Connections program, which provides Google Fiber’s highest speeds to community centers, libraries and nonprofits, said Jess George, community impact manager at Google.
“And it’s always a good news case,” George said. “What can someone do with the internet that’s going to build the organization and the community around it? I always find it really exciting when we can do good with our product. Figuring out how you can take what you do and make the world a better place with it, is to me the most exciting part of doing this work.”
Fischer said the partnership with Google Fiber and the Portland neighborhood shows the commitment of the city and Google to create digital inclusion.
“A critical component in the 21st century is having access to ultra-high-speed internet,” Fischer said to the crowd. “It’s as critical as water, sewer or telephone, both today and in days past, and if you don’t have that in your home, or in your neighborhood or in your life, you’re not going to have the chances to realize your human potential.”
Fischer added that there are 82,000 homes in Louisville that do not have a computer and internet access, except through a cellphone.
“Put yourself in their shoes and say, ‘How do I apply for a job? How does my daughter or son do their homework and compete with kids on the other side of town with all the advantages?’ That’s not the kind of city we want to have, and so we’re doing something about it.”
Fischer, who often touts Louisville as a compassionate city, said digital inclusiveness goes hand-in-hand with compassion.
“What we’re demonstrating as a city is that you can be both innovative and compassionate,” he said. “So you need both. You need everybody feeling like they’re connected to a bright and hopeful future, but you need the tools for them to do that. So when you bring in ultra-high-speed internet into the middle of the community and have a digital inclusion center like this that’s clearly pointing toward 21st century jobs and innovation, that’s the best of both worlds when you put that together.”
Austin Lopesilvero, director of the Love City Social Impact Incubator, said he originally met Shawn and Inga Arvin, owners of Love City, at a bonfire and overheard them talking about the project. He met them and was so excited, he wanted to be a part of the project. The next day, he came down to check out a block party, where they expected to have about 50 people — and 800 showed up.
When he saw that the talk was turning to action, he got really fired up. He eventually quit his job as a web designer and developer and moved to Portland with the Arvins. “And we just started doing it — loving our neighbors,” Lopesilvero said.
They call the campus spaces — the Mackin Building at 334 N. 26th St. and the St. Cecilia Campus — their living rooms, because they see the buildings as rooms where they can host their neighbors.
The Mackin building was the home of the Mackin Young Men’s Institute, a Catholic organization based out of St. Cecilia. It hosted organizational meetings and basketball tournaments in the early 20th century.
Lopesilvero, who is one of the organizers of Startup Weekend, is looking forward to helping young businesses thrive. The Arvins also have executive MBAs from Bellarmine and will lend their expertise, too. Lopesilvero said there will be a multiweek program in which they will teach the basics of business, similar to University of Louisville’s Launch-It program.
“But we’re also looking at a multiyear approach, to walk with them, hand-in-hand to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone in this venture.’ We want to equip these people with the tools they need to be successful.”