So, a techie, a data analyst and an urban planner walk into a bar.
No, no. … How many geniuses does it take to do something big?
For years, even generations, Louisville has sought big projects. Whether it be a basketball arena and NBA team, bridges, Museum Plaza or a light-rail public transit system, this community has always had its eyes set on big projects. More recently, Mayor Greg Fischer proposed a 1 percent sales tax for the sole purpose of raising revenue to fund big projects.
In late 2012, Fischer addressed the city council about the proposal, saying, “Imagine having the resources every year to be building projects the scope of Waterfront Park.” Yet, while the dreams for “big” may still shine, the patience seems to be fading; the era of big may have already been replaced by the era of do.
The modern, post-recession paradigm of business, public works, philanthropy and most any facet of society appears to be evolving into a “git-‘er-done” mentality. This means a multi-dimensional reassessment of potential undertakings, from feasibility to scalability and achievability — particularly not-for-profit and public works projects.
But in a town plagued by a lot of talk, some people are out ONLY to get things done. Enter Resurfaced. Resurfaced is a “pop-up plaza” — a 1,440-square-foot vacant property sandwiched between the 600 block of West Main Street and Washington Street, formerly part of the Museum Plaza development site — a vacant concrete lot that has been repurposed as a destination attraction for the community. Open Thursday through Sunday from September 19 through October 25, Resurfaced is the converging point of local art, music, technology, innovation, food and beverage, as well as interactive and educational programming. And while on the “surface” this temporary nucleus of entertainment appears to be all fun and games, serious lessons of consequence prevail beneath the facade, which hold major ramifications for the entire city.
Just like water will find a way through, in the new world of start-up endeavors, the crack in the wall is collaboration. Public-private partnerships seem to be the natural course of development, since most governmental institutions — in particular, local municipalities and city governments — took enormous budget blows with only moderate recovery. Businesses, nonprofits and governments have been forced into the same boat, to see if they can ever sail again.
City Collaborative exemplifies this paradigm shift in name, mission and action. Since its inception in mid-2013, City Collaborative has sought to undertake projects that can bear tangible results for the city. Dave Durand, president of Forest Giant, Patrick Piuma, director of Urban Design Studio, and Patrick Smith of REACH Evaluation and NextBus — self-described “explorers of opportunity” — exclusively pursue achievable projects that will enrich the Louisville community, and inspire others to consider innovative opportunities for improving their communities. As stated on the organization’s website (citycollaborative.org), “We are a group of innovators focused on bringing community ideas to life. By working closely with the public, we collectively generate ideas that create positive transformation in many sectors of the community, quickly and effectively.”
Resurfaced is not City Collaborative’s first undertaking, but it exemplifies the modern model for bringing a public works project to fruition in an economically viable manner — at a sprinter’s pace.
Bigger than a beer garden
Louisville and Louisville “originals” are showing up at or near the top of several lists of national acclaim: one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Cities” by Entrepreneur.com, and Lonely Planet’s Top U.S. Destination for 2013. In 2012, the Derby City took honors for “Most Livable City in America” (large city category) by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and one of the “Best Foodie Getaways Around the World” by Zagat, as well as “Manliest Town in America” by “GQ Magazine.”
However, Louisville has also dominated all other U.S. cities in one unbearable, sometimes deadly way: urban heat islands. Urban heat islands are geographic city areas that exhibit elevated temperatures versus surrounding areas, primarily not exclusively due to city size, urbanization density, inefficient heat/energy waste, and heat-trapping structures from buildings to natural barriers — in this case, the Ohio Valley.
One key determining factor can also be land-cover types and predominant surface materials — for instance, trees and green spaces versus concrete. Louisville is plagued by surface parking lots. According to City Collaborative’s website, “Louisville Metro has an estimated 14.2 square miles of surface parking,” measured by paved areas of one acre or greater. The website also cites that this area is approximately the size of Kentucky’s capitol city, Frankfort — enough space to accommodate 1,134,347 cars — and that surface lots cover over 3 square miles more of Louisville than its public parks.
The sizable, scattered concrete intervals also impede other community development opportunities. The connectivity of neighborhoods with other residential and commercial areas, scenic and social destinations, as well as the overall walkability of the community, are all hampered by these man-made obstacles. Further issues include intensifying the Ohio Valley’s already poor air quality and risk of flood.
Resurfaced is not just a clever name, nor is its purpose to simply provide a six-week downtown attraction. Resurfaced is a project about inspiring innovation. It is about “resurfacing” how we look at our city. Through a “resurfaced” lens, we can take fresh looks at urban design and layout, wasted spaces, bridging and strengthening communities, as well as begin to solve some of the massive problems facing this community.
And before the cynics criticize the Resurfaced initiative as a sort of pet project, and the idea of a heat island is discarded as something out of our control, or marginalized as inconsequential — simply uncomfortable — the national science community has facts. According to a study from Georgia Institute of Technology, Louisville’s temperature has been rising at a faster rate than any other city in the country since the 1960s, and over twice as fast as the warming rate of the planet as a whole. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a prevention guide in 2006 (last reviewed in 2012), citing 8,015 heat-exposure-related deaths in the United States between 1979 and 2003. As stated in the guide, “During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.”
Louisville is the leading (worst) city in the nation in urban heat increase related to surrounding areas by almost twice the next-worst city, Phoenix, Ariz. The good news is that one of the primary causes is a lack of a tree canopy in the downtown area — something that can be remedied. According to a study by Brian Stone of the aforementioned Georgia Institute of Technology, while the city’s total tree canopy is most likely in the mid-20 percent range, the downtown business district is closer to around 8 percent, and that there is room to add approximately 1.2 million trees. Stone said in a presentation of his study, “The city cannot do this alone. It is a relatively slow-moving problem, but it is something that needs to be worked on year after year from this point on.”
On City Collaborative’s website, there is specific attention given to the idea of “One brick at a time.” It says, “Today, small-scale changes are adding up in a big way. By exposing these opportunities rapidly within the community, we will create mass awareness and inspire a collective energy to move our cities and communities forward.”
Now, having received its official IRS designation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, City Collaborative has its sights set on discovering more innovative ways to redevelop and repurpose wasted space — to activate otherwise dead or dormant property, to connect communities by breaking the man-made obstacles. By laying each brick one at a time, we will discover that our collaborative efforts have “resurfaced” our community, made Louisville a model for urban cooling and not urban heating, and motivate other cities to follow our lead.
Piuma has been the director of Urban Design Studios for over seven years. By trade, the urban designer studies the spatial relationship among building design, layout and the experience of those who interact with them. As part of his job — and passion — Piuma has always looked to other cities for ideas, trends and innovative concepts that can be considered for Louisville. One such trip in May took him to Memphis, Tennessee, where a colleague was working on a project called Tennessee Brewery Untapped.
The motivation behind the Untapped project was to save the historic, yet abandoned, Tennessee Brewery from demolition by bringing attention to the neglected property — a “pre-vitalization” effort. What ensued was a six-week, pop-up plaza in the spring of 2014. The remaining bones of the Brewery provided the platform for a beer garden, food trucks, retail merchants, live music and entertainment. By demonstrating the unorthodox, innovative potential of the property — at a price short of multiple millions of dollars — potential investors could be inspired to take a chance on the Brewery. Consideration was also given to the possibility that investors keep the newly activated event space, and reconstruct the remaining building around it — maintaining Untapped beyond the six-week program … hint, wink, nudge.
Back in Louisville, it was a casual conversation with Chris Poynter, communications director for the Mayor’s Office, that sparked discussions of a pop-up beer garden and event space. Piuma explains, “Chris Poynter was asking me, ‘What are we going to do this year for Parking Day?’ because last year we did Parking Week. … How can we do something even bigger working with the city? And I said, ‘I’ve got an idea.’” Co-Collaborator Smith recommended the open space behind the facades of 615–621 W. Main St., which is owned by Louisville Metro Government. Given the green light to pursue plans at that site, City Collaborative went to work.
According to the Resurfaced website, “The idea focuses on the city as the ultimate user interface, where the community can not only enjoy a unique event space, but experiment with the city and begin dialogue about how we can pre-vitalize the current location, as well as the multitude of surface lots and underutilized spaces in Louisville.”
The vision required a rapid expansion of collaborators — from visionaries, supporters and participants.
The Indulging Attraction
Husband and wife James Gunnoe and Heather Burks, owners of Louisville food-and-libation staples Nachbar and Eiderdown, were tapped to bring the indulgences. The formulated plan was to refurbish and repurpose shipping containers as the primary concession fixtures — bars. With Nachbar leading the charge, in collaboration with Against the Grain Brewery and the Smokehouse, the beer garden will feature an exclusive, local concoction, specifically brewed for Resurfaced. Heine Brothers is also onsite daily, providing the caffeine required for this six-week sprint.
Additionally, a variety of local food trucks will there at varying times each day, providing options for food and dinner. And, of course, Gunnoe and Burks will bring some of Eiderdown’s flavor to the cuisine offerings.
The Technological Attraction
The ingenious, innovative and technical talents of Louisville have possibly been the city’s best-kept secret of recent years … since the world apparently just discovered bourbon. Now it will be on display, with the collaborative efforts of Forest Giant, Blue Sky Network and Interaction Design Association Louisville (IxDA).
Durand and Forest Giant have been a part of the Resurfaced endeavor from the beginning. The array of talent that comprises the Forest Giant team brought to the venture marketing, design, project management and event planning. Additionally, through City Collaborative, they released a re-imagined Louisville Love. Louisville Love is a mobile app designed to “give the citizens of Louisville a chance to show their love and pride for this city, their neighborhoods, and the people that they care about” (forestgiant.com).
The Blue Sky Network is a natural partner for City Collaborative and Resurfaced. An atypical “venture philanthropy organization,” Blue Sky will “make investments (loans and equity) in for-profit companies as well as grants and loans to nonprofit organizations.” In addition to some urgent funding at a critical time in the project, Blue Sky, in conjunction with Velocity, TechShop, Samtec and the Paul Ogle Foundation, will be introducing MakerMobile, “the first mini tech shop, laboratory, classroom, workshop and art studio on wheels in this region.” The mobile lab will bring 3-D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, computers and electronics stations, and offer a unique educational experience and original interaction with emerging technologies, as well as original, productive problem-solving tasks and competitions. The MakerMobile will be at Resurfaced this Friday, Sept. 26.
IxDA Louisville is bringing an interactive design, and a truly unique entertainment technology, to Resurfaced by playing with lasers. This is not the laser that you’re not supposed to shine in someone’s eyes, although I can’t imagine you want these near your eyes. IxDA is an international “un-organization,” relying on committed individuals to gather in pursuit of advancing the human condition through positive experiences with interactive design. While the entirety of the IxDA organization includes over 60,000 members and more than 150 local groups around the world, IxDA Louisville is leaving its fingerprints on the Resurfaced experience, where the interactive design concept enables individuals or groups to play motion-detected laser video games projected on the side of one of the bordering buildings. Similarly, while you dance to the tunes of that night’s performing bands or artists, a laser shadow of you dancing can be cast for all to enjoy.
Finally, thanks to the support of BluegrassNet, free public Wi-Fi will be offered at the Resurfaced site for the duration of the program.
The Music, Arts and Entertainment Attraction
While the opening weekend has come and gone, along with performances by Junk Yard Dogs and Night Visions Radio DJs, as well as Wild and Wooly Video’s “Brew and View Movie Night,” there are still five weeks of shows, concerts, speakers and exhibitions.
This Thursday through Sunday, The Kentucky Center has composed an incredible lineup of shows, musical and poetic performances, dance sessions, and hands-on art creation experiences. (See sidebar for full schedule.)
Several other Louisville bands have signed up for concerts, including Afrophysicists, Jalin Roze, Small Time Napoleon, and the Young Widows, plus performances from DJ Deuce and DJ Jason Clark.
Other programs on the ever-expanding schedule include shows from the Squallis Puppeteers — a collection of local artists and performers who use their craft to tell stories that invite creative, critical thought — to Pecha Kucha — a presentation performance, connecting the spoken delivery of ideas and the unexpected with a series of 20 photographs that display for 20 seconds per image. Also on tap is a hangout and special performance from Kentucky Opera; Kentucky Shakespeare’s reading of “Macbeth”; and multiple productions by the Walden Theatre; among film festival previews, other movies and film showings, art productions and exhibitions, and speakers. At night, even the buildings become part of the show, with the laser games and displays, as well as the lighting design; when the sun goes down, the wall behind the facades transforms into a big-city club or concert spectacle — but you have to venture beyond the facades.
And if the formal agenda items don’t appeal to your senses, there is free Wi-Fi, local food and beverages, and newly sodded knolls for a simple siesta in the sun. Through the collaborative efforts of Henry-McGalliard landscape design studios and Porter Paints, as well as countless hours of volunteers who committed to seeing the project to fruition, simply stepping foot on the Resurfaced lot, for even a moment, will instill an inspirational sentiment. Perhaps you will be energized to “resurface” a parking lot in your neighborhood.