Parkland Love: Community Building from the Inside Out
When people have easy access to public spaces for gathering, activity, and play in their own neighborhoods, they feel a greater sense of trust towards their neighbors and more pride in their community (AEI Report). For one West Louisville neighborhood, Parkland Love is about bringing the common space, home.
There is joy, hope, and pride in this captured moment. Neighbors young and old sitting together on benches they made in a space they helped create. On the evening of June 15, about 45 people gathered on a block of Louisville's Parkland Neighborhood. Many came to listen to West Louisville singer, Cadence, perform live. Others came to meet friends and family, to relax in the summer air, and to soak up the crowd’s energy. A powerful collective of many neighbors, local business owners, Center for Neighborhoods staff, volunteers, and community partners spent months organizing, designing, and building the scene. For a whole week (June 8-15, 2019) Parkland and surrounding residents experienced the potential of the neighborhood as a hub of positive activity and youthful energy.
Through the Better Block Louisville program, Center for Neighborhoods supports residents in creating their own vibrant community spaces. Each neighborhood faces different challenges in this work. For Parkland, a nationally-registered historic neighborhood rich in black history but weighted by decades of disinvestment, cultural suppression, and systemic racism, one challenge is to elevate the positive forces within. In neighborhoods, there is sometimes a tangled knot of service-oriented relationships: outside efforts to distribute outside resources, with little effort being done to build up from within the neighborhood itself. When serious issues such as gun violence and incarceration make craters in the social landscape, when the city dialogue is anchored to what is broken, it is easy to focus on fixing problems from the outside. But the Parkland Love Better Block project is a tool for neighbors to have a different kind of focus, to build and create for themselves their own common ground.
When asked about their favorite part of the Parkland Better Block event, the #1 response was "people being out." People congregated across the site in three places: the open-air market (a mix of West Louisville artisans, nonprofits, food vendors, and city departments set up in an underused parking lot), the cultural plaza (a vacant parking lot, decked out with a stage, artificial turf, string lights, shade, and plenty of colorful seating), and the pop-up park (a grassy strip of vacant property with mini-trampolines, a play structure, and shaded seating for families and kids). During the day, neighborhood childcare centers brought kids out to play and to watch demonstrations by groups like River City Drum Core and nearby Arabian Knights Karate-Do Academy. In the evening, the pop-up park and the cultural plaza remained open for all to enjoy. Local restaurant entrepreneurs on the block, Marinations Catering and Meka's Irma Dee's, kept their grills hot and the fresh food coming every day. Residents and visitors even had a chance to soak up some Parkland lore through history tours and a stakeholder-led history project which produced the Parkland Love History Booklet, the latest outcome of our PAINT program. Perhaps most important of all, the Parkland Love Better Block created an inspiring space for activity in a way that really brought the neighborhood youth out to play and to interact with their community, a huge step in the way of improving perception of safety in the community.
Place is a crucial piece of neighborhood pride, health, and strength. By building an open, welcoming place for neighbors to gather, reminisce, dream, play, and enjoy life, the Parkland Love Better Block aimed to shine a light on the neighborhood's enduring willpower and heart. It would not have been possible without the commitment of Parkland leaders and neighbors, who showed dedication and are the origin of the "Parkland Love" energy and purpose.
This is the beginning of a conversation, a new resident-led movement that begins in a place, but comes alive in the people. As the summer days pass, and the praising voices of Calvary's Baptist Church Choir fade to memory, our critical work of engaging, connecting, and organizing with residents continues towards the next steps.