With Better Block project, a nonprofit aims to show what Shelby Park could be

The 1200 block of South Logan Street and the 500 block of East Oak Street in Shelby Park were spruced up Thursday as part of a visioning project.

Louisville nonprofit Center for Neighborhoods installed benches, trees, flowers, a parklet, colorful picnic tables and a small performance stage where it will host food trucks and music this weekend, May 12-13. The event, called Better Block — Shelby Park, isn’t simply supposed to be fun; it also aims to show residents, business owners and visitors what the neighborhood could look like with a little effort.

Shelby Park has had some strong wins lately with new businesses moving into the neighborhood and houses starting to sell, but there are still plenty of vacant buildings and dilapidated homes that make it difficult to tell if it’s up-and-coming just yet.

Lynn Gould, the owner of Yesternook — which just moved to South Logan Street recently, has lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years. She told Insider that she’s seen Shelby Park start to come up and then plateau. But now that groups such as the Center for Neighborhoods and Access Ventures are working together in Shelby Park, she said, the neighborhood is changing.

“It seems like it’s coming together now,” she said.

Tom Stephens, executive director of Center for Neighborhoods, hopes Better Block — Shelby Park, which is a temporary installation, will encourage investment in the neighborhood.

“We really want to start pushing neighborhoods to permanent changes and seeing the tangible change, plans in action,” he said.

The Center for Neighborhoods chose Shelby Park because it is a neighborhood in the urban core and has strong neighborhood leadership. “There are a lot of good things happening but there are a lot of challenges, too,” Stephens said.

The idea came from Jason Roberts, founder of the Better Block Foundation, who did a similar event in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood several years ago. The event is a test in a way for possible future changes to the neighborhood.

“The things that don’t work, ‘Well, great. We didn’t spend a lot of money on it,’ ” Stephens said. “The things that do work, ‘Great. Let’s figure out how to make it permanent.’ We do see this having a long-term impact.”

In Oak Cliff, for example, Roberts, a former web developer, created a website for Oak Cliff Transit Authority — a fictitious organization — and media picked up the story because the city was looking at bringing back streetcars, Stephens said. A few years ago, Dallas ended up receiving federal funding for a streetcar system and included Oak Cliff on the route. Now, it’s a rising shopping and dining destination.

“Did they know that was going to happen? No, but they had a vision, and they got people together, and they made it happen,” he said.

Volunteers to set up the block improvements included neighborhood residents, business owners and nonprofits.

Shelby Park-based nonprofit Access Ventures was one of the groups volunteering at the setup. The nonprofit regularly partners with others on different initiatives and has been working to revitalize the Shelby Park neighborhood for years.

“Anytime you are bringing attention to potential, that’s exactly where we want to be,” said Emily Brandon, program manager with Access Ventures. “Trying to plant a seed of ‘Hey, look. This could be more livable, more friendly to small businesses.’ If this corridor were like this permanently, how that would change traffic flows, how that would change livability, how that would change property values for homeowners, just the perception of the neighborhood.”

The nonprofit wants to make Shelby Park a better and healthier community for the residents who live there and business owners, she added. By showing people what the streetscape could look like with the temporary benches and plants, it could spur thinking and investment that would lead to more permanent changes.

“Ultimately, what we’d love to see is this whole neighborhood be a destination, a part of town where people want to be,” Brandon said. “You need to have not just bleed over from Germantown, but you need to have solutions that are growing up from within the community.”

The challenge is doing that without pricing long-time residents out.

“We are about building healthy strong neighborhoods, beautiful neighborhoods, attractive neighborhoods, safe neighborhoods — with the people who live there,” Stephens said.

The Center for Neighborhoods tries to achieve that by reaching out first to the neighborhood association and speaking to longtime active residents and business owners who’ve been trying to improve the neighborhood for years. For the Better Block event, Stephens hosted a meeting with about 50 residents to gather input on what the block should look like.

Business owner Jason Stevenson said he wanted to get involved because he earns part of his living flipping homes, many in the Shelby Park neighborhood.

“We figure with the income we develop off the community we should give back,” said Stevenson, who also owns Automated Living, which installs security systems and home theater systems, among other things.

Stevenson is bullish on Shelby Park, noting that new businesses have been moving in and there are vacant buildings that offer opportunities for various developments.

“Germantown, Highlands and Cherokee Park are kind of out of reach for a lot of people financially. This is a good next step for them, still get them into that community …but not have to break the bank,” Stevenson said.

While some home buyers may be concerned about crime rates in the neighborhood, he said that “as people continue to invest and clean the community up, the good will stay and the bad will either catch on or move on.”

Two of the more recent businesses to open in Shelby Park are Studio Kremer Architects and Great Flood Brewing Co. And while Yesternook owner Gould isn’t new to the neighborhood, she did recently move her antique store from Germantown to Shelby Park where it’s now in the midst of the Better Block project.

“It’s amazing. We’ve been watching them out the window all morning,” Gould said. “I’m going to be sad when they take it away though.”

Better Block — Shelby Park is at 1200 S. Logan St. It will run from 4:30 to 8:45 p.m. Friday, May 12, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 13. For more information, check out the event details online.