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When community leads: Unleashing transformation through community leadership

Recently, we have had the privilege of witnessing in action how community leadership can bring about incredible transformations in neighborhoods. A tangible outcome of that process occured on June 22 when community leaders of the Park Hill/Algonquin Community of Opportunity Advisory Board (COAB) participated in an exciting press conference, where they joined city officials and our client, Re:land Group, the community developer, in announcing the next steps towards turning the long-vacant, brownfield, 17-acre Rhodia property into a community-led mixed-use development.



The Announcement


"LOUISVILLE, KY (June 22, 2023) – Standing on the former Rhodia site with members of the Park Hill/Algonquin Community of Opportunity Advisory Board and developer Re:land Group, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced that next steps toward revisioning the long-vacant brownfield property as a community-led mixed-use development will get underway soon.


In 2022, Metro Council approved the allocation of $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to pay for environmental remediation at the Rhodia site…


“We are excited to finally move forward on the cleanup of this site. The resulting redevelopment project will serve as a cornerstone for much-needed future development in the Park Hill and Algonquin neighborhoods to improve quality of life for area residents and build up neighborhoods that have long been neglected,” said Mayor Greenberg. “Thank you to the members of the Opportunity Advisory Board for their hard work to ensure this project meets the needs and desires of the community and to Re:land Group for putting community first throughout this process...” See full release


With community members standing shoulder-to-shoulder with City officials, and the terrific press coverage the event garnered, the casual observer could not imagine the immense amount of work that had gone into making this a reality.


The true essence of empowering and supporting community leadership lies in the process behind the scenes. This journey begans with the planning and funding of a community engagement project that brought together dynamic equity-based consultants, and built a community-led effort for neighborhood transformation.


Learnings


We are still working to fully appreciate the formula, if there indeed is one, for empowering community leadership for change. If there is, we know it has these elements:

  1. Gathering of experts. Hester Street from New York and BKP Strategies from Louisville together, meticulously planned the community engagement process that spanned from December 2021 through October 2022. Later, YARD & Company stepped in to build upon the community’s insights to help translate them into economic activity and a site plan that was designed to complete the transformation.

  2. Data-driven research and grounding in community assets. The planning process was grounded in data gathering and science-based discovery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the neighborhood and its constituents.

  3. Recruiting a representative community group. Two community residents were hired to assist in recruiting a diverse 40-person community Advisory Board, representing various stakeholders ranging from the neighborhood housing project, churches, educational institutions, and businesses, with members spanning across ages from 6 to 75. The Advisory Board members were compensated for their time and commitment, receiving a stipend of $50 per meeting.

  4. Learning about health equity and power. Over the course of 16 weeks, the Advisory Board held regular meetings, during which they underwent BKP Strategies' Health Equity Learning Academy (HELA) training and engaged in Hester Street's interactive study to define the neighborhood's development needs, encompassing both programs and spaces. This approach empowered the Advisory Board members, and they began to emphasize their own power to bring about change in their neighborhood, especially after power mapping exercises.

  5. Context setting, clarifying goals, and honing infrastructure in a collaborative manner. Encouraged by this sense of empowerment and guided by BKP Strategies' continued leadership, the community embarked on "Part 2" of the project, spanning from November 2022 to September 2023. Six members from the Advisory Board were promoted to "Community Leads" and received a monthly retainer for their dedicated leadership work. These Community Leads played a crucial role in guiding the agenda and action steps through bi-weekly meetings, focusing on advocacy, beautification, economic empowerment, equity and justice, communications, and more.

  6. Publication and celebration of community voices. The impact of the project was evident through the Community's PhotoVoice Exhibit, where residents eloquently expressed the profound changes they wished to see and their experiences in their own words. It's remarkable to witness the transformation from community engagement to community leadership, where individuals are passionate change agents for their neighborhood.

The successes around this journey to date serve as a shining example of what can happen when communities lead the process of development in their own neighborhoods. By investing in genuine community engagement and empowering residents to become leaders, we can unleash the true potential of transformation.


We are honored to be part of this effort. With continued careful planning, dedication, and a genuine commitment to creating opportunities, we can create lasting positive change that will benefit generations to come.

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