To the rest of the outside world, we talk about Louisville as though it’s the greatest city anywhere. But when we talk among ourselves, we lament that Louisville should be more like Portland, Nashville or Charlotte. We say we need to be younger, healthier and better educated and have better mass transit and roads.
That’s pretty much what Greater Louisville Inc., or GLI, Louisville metro’s chamber of commerce, told us after its annual Idea Development Expedition, known as GLIDE. The motivation behind the GLIDE trip was certainly genuine. But another trip, one that took over the news last week — a trip taken by people from local law firms, financial agencies, educational institutions and city — was more of a vanity project than investment in Louisville’s future.
To be fair, GLI should be lauded for its decision to visit Austin — a trip originally slated for Charlotte, but moved as a result of North Carolina’s passage of House Bill 2, the transgender-oppression-bathroom bill. GLI deserves credit for doing the right thing and relocating the trip to Austin.
That said, the 123 participants didn’t need to visit Austin — or Charlotte — to “discover” what countless studies, organizations, agencies and other institutions have been telling Louisville for years.
For instance, as reported in the Courier-Journal, the participants “came away with fresh inspiration … [and] talked up reconstituting the state’s now-dormant Bucks for Brains program that used bond funding to bring top researchers to the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.” I don’t mean to self-promote, but I wrote in April about the need for investments in education, just like Bucks for Brains. A trip to Austin sounds great, but LEO is free! (GLI also said we need to explore ways of promoting ourselves, so … you can also find the article on leoweekly.com).
So now — to save GLI and our city’s civic and political leaders another trip that sends hundreds of thousands of dollars to another city — here is some “fresh inspiration” for Louisville’s leaders: The city needs its major university to be more interested in developing state-of-the-art research and development labs and classrooms, and attracting elite students (not just elite student-athletes). It does not need more athletic centers, stadium expansions or real estate developments.
Second, start looking to solve the puzzle with the pieces we already have.
For as long as I can remember, the leaders of this community seem obsessed with looking outward to find Louisville’s future, instead of looking within.
How long have we heard about how transformative light rail would be for our community? They say it would improve traffic and air quality by decreasing the number of cars on the road, which would help attract young professionals to the city. That may be true, but the future of transportation is changing too rapidly to know if light rail would have the intended impact by the time it were complete. Just this week the federal government endorsed the future of self-driving cars.
Hey, Louisville leaders, want to attract younger, future generations? Start developing an infrastructure plan that’s ready for the future. Instead of looking at what other cities did in 20 years, start working to be the national model of urban design for driverless cars.
Louisville’s greatness, as with any city, comes from its cultural and natural advantages. Louisville has great hospitals, arts and restaurants. It has plenty of land ready to be developed and redeveloped. We have great water, which is not a given in all cities. We have a great riverfront. And while the 8664 project would have been great, the revitalization of Waterfront Park has been a remarkable attraction for the entire community.
Developer Gill Holland may have been inspired by neighborhoods in other cities, including SoHo in Manhattan. But it was his vision and leadership that sparked the revitalization of East Market Street, the restaurant, art and commerce borough we now call NuLu. The point is, it is important to look outside and learn from the world around us. But the answers are, and always have come from within. It’s our community, and only we can create its future.
And if you think that it’s not possible because we have a lunatic governor (who Tweets like a teenager) … just remember, Austin had George Bush followed by Rick Perry.