Jennifer Chappell’s Three Points initiative aims to transform the intersection of three of Louisville’s most well-known neighborhoods—Germantown, Schnitzelburg, and Shelby Park. The underutilized and largely overlooked area at the foot of Goss Avenue is being cleaned up, landscaped, and outfitted with a new mural by artist Chris Chappell (no relation to Jennifer). Three Points is raising funds from the community to make the project a reality. Contribute to the campaign here.
As Broken Sidewalk noted previously, Three Points represents a ground-up form of community improvement called tactical urbanism—small scale interventions that lead to long-term change. Here, Three Points’ Jennifer Chappell spoke with Andrew Tucker about the project, how it builds community, and the challenges she faced along the way.
Broken Sidewalk: What was your initial inspiration for the project?
Jennifer Chappell: I suppose I was a bit naïve back in December when I thought that big gray wall that I drive past every day deserved a mural. That mural soon turned into a landscape overhaul, new sidewalks, a bench and trash cans…it has become a full time job.
Last Spring, I was enrolled in the Center for Neighborhood’s Neighborhood Institute. Students were responsible for creating a project during the course of the class that impacted their neighborhood. It could be anything from creating a community garden to starting a neighborhood block watch. I already had Three Points rolling, so I made it my project and I was really able to beef it up during the Neighborhood Institute.
Seeing how excited the community is about this venture has really been encouraging.
How does Three Points specifically address the needs of the area?
This area has a lot of development happening. Small businesses are popping up all over the place, 40217 and 40204 are a couple of the hottest real estate markets in Louisville, and our neighborhood pride is second to none—and that shows in the unique events we have throughout the year. I don’t think anyone can deny the momentum our chunk of Louisville has right now. This project seeks to embrace that momentum and pride.
Another huge benefit of this project is connecting the neighborhoods. Shelby Park is literally the other side of the tracks. People have said before that if they could build a wall between Germantown (German-Paristown & Schnitzelburg creates Germantown, FYI) and Shelby Park they would. That way of thinking is not beneficial to anyone.
Sure, you could look at Shelby Park and see drugs, violence, rundown buildings, abandoned properties, and high poverty rates. Or you could look at Shelby Park’s amazing namesake park, the businesses renovating historic buildings along Logan and Shelby streets, a diverse population, and the gorgeous former Carnegie Library that is now a community center. The Shelby Park Neighborhood Association is currently working to put a new library in the community center and get the entire park free wireless internet.
People are bellyaching in Germantown about not having a community center for youth. Hello! It is in Shelby Park—a stone’s throw away! Let’s not build walls, let’s build sidewalks. Let’s help each other.
How have your neighbors responded? Are they engaged in the project currently?
Recently, while we were pressure washing that wall, a guy walked over who lives two doors down from the railroad tracks on Goss. He told me this project was the best thing to happen to the area in the 26 years he has lived here.
Any time I have been at Three Points cleaning up, working on the wall, or meeting with others involved in the project, drivers cruise by and yell things from their window like, “Great job” or “Thank you!” People walking by will stop to thank us or ask how to get involved. It’s those moments when you get the warm and fuzzies and know you are doing something positive that people support.
Our Prep Party was only supposed to last two hours, but ended up lasting over five! Before the Prep Party I was concerned we didn’t have enough for all the volunteers to do—how contraire! It got to the point that we had to stop ourselves and resolve to meet again. Once you get your hands dirty, it’s addicting to keep going.
It was amazing to see people from all over the community come together that Sunday for the Prep Party—most of us were complete strangers. Two of the volunteers weren’t even from German-Paristown, Schnitzelburg, or Shelby Park. They had read about the project online and thought it was a wonderful project to be a part of. It’s great they acknowledged this was a project for Louisville as a whole instead of just a couple neighborhoods. Hopefully, what we are doing here will have a runoff effect for surrounding neighborhoods. I firmly believe when we all come together we can all benefit.
I should also mention it has been great to see people donating to the project on Neighbor.ly. We have perks listed for donors, one of which is getting your name on the wall for a $25 donation. Sure, it’s cool to have your name on the wall, but it is also a visual representation of many of the individuals who came together to make this project a reality.
What local community groups are you working with?
The whole process has been very grassroots, so parts of the project are still coming together, while others are evolving. It was important to me that anyone involved in the project was local—from the landscaper to the paint to the artists.
Of course all the neighborhood organizations are involved. We are trying to collaborate where we can. A local tree company took the overgrowth we tore down and made mulch with it. Hopefully, we can work with a local composter to get compost. We are collaborating with a community bike shop to see how we can make Three Points more bike friendly.
Why do you think this part of Louisville has received so little attention from city government?
Blame it on suburban sprawl? This used to be a booming area with lots of industry, jobs, and people who worked those jobs and lived in these neighborhoods. Over the past couple of decades, employers moved to business parks and wide-spanning new buildings on the outskirts of Louisville. People followed the work. There was no density to support businesses. Our downtown crumbled and so did the areas around it.
Think about how active this area was when the Cotton Mill was still in operation…or Bradford Mills, or the old ice house on Logan. I know of a few old time Germantowner’s who begrudgingly moved to the south end when GE’s Appliance Park opened in the fifties. The city turned a blind eye to its core and the East End was Louisville’s Golden Child. It really hurt our urban areas.
Luckily, focus has shifted and we are starting to build up those neglected areas. People want to live in an area where they can walk to restaurants and shops, build equity in a property, and embrace an area rich in culture and community. You can’t find that with your SUV stuck in traffic all day and in the aisles of Costco.
This area is seeing a lot of young, creative types buying and renting, but we are also seeing a lot of families and empty nesters moving in too. I was just talking to a guy who came to Shotgun Fest because he and his wife were planning to move to Germantown when their daughter graduated from Meade County High School. I am hearing stories similar to this more and more often.
How has local government been supportive of this project?
Local government hasn’t been super involved in this project, to be honest. I mean, we are on a Public Works waiting list to get the sidewalks repaved, but no telling when that will happen. We’ve been trying to find out who to talk to about installing some flagpoles in the median since it’s a state road. You email one person and they give you another person’s email and they give you another person’s email and so on.
I would like to encourage people to not only get to know their Metro Council person, but also get to know their legislative assistants—they are the real movers and shakers. Carrie Peers with Jim King’s office has always been so supportive and helpful with anything I’m doing. She’s always been a phone call or email away and I’ve even gone to her office for help. If I’m in the dark about something, she is right there with a flashlight.
Whose responsibility is it to finance projects and implement projects like this?
Interesting question. Not sure if I can answer it appropriately or well.
For financing, regardless of your political preference, I think we can all agree, as taxpayers, we deserve to have infrastructure, public space, green space, and lifestyle standards that are conducive to living a happy, prosperous, healthy life. Should the government pay to fill potholes? Most definitely. Should the government pay for public art? I don’t think the response would be as unanimous.
I believe a project like Three Points has a huge benefit to the area. It has aesthetic appeal to an otherwise blighted area. It shows that people are invested in their community and that we care to activate the space. We are showing who we are and what we value. I think that has worth for the city to endow.
However, speaking for a project like Three Points that has both public and private funding, there is a benefit to not having the entirety paid for by Louisville Metro. The Neighborhood Development Fund (NDF) grant money we received has a lot of red tape. There’s a ton of paperwork, it takes a while to get the money, money needs to be spent in a certain time frame, there are certain things we can’t spend money on, we’re constantly jumping through hoops and approval processes…
All these rules are understandably put in place to ensure people don’t abuse these funds, but it is a major headache and a deterrent for people who want to do projects like Three Points. The parts of our project that are happening organically are fortunate to be paid for by our fundraising. We raised the money and we have control over how we want to spend it. If we have money left over, we don’t have to give it back, we can reinvest it into other areas of the community. We have control. If we want a tree, we will plant a tree. We don’t need to wait for Metro Council to vote on it and give us money.
Alternatively for implementation, once again, government has a certain responsibility to implement public spaces like Three Points. If they don’t think the community is worth the investment, hopefully they can admire the potential tax revenue from visitors who are one day seeking out our quirky neighborhoods and dump money into our small businesses. But once again, we run into red tape and long waits for anything to get done.
I couldn’t tell you what the intersection of Three Points would look like in five years if we didn’t do anything to it, but I can say that we wanted change and we are the ones making that change happen now. We need to be the voice and action to get things done.
I am a big fan of tactical urbanism. There was a complaint of dog owners not picking up after their dogs in Schnitzelburg, so someone painted old mailboxes, attached a sign advertising to clean up after your pet, filled the mailboxes with Kroger bags, and hung them around the neighborhood. Someone else has been going around putting stenciling in crosswalks in Schnitzelburg. Someone started cutting the grass on an abandoned property neighboring their property because the city wasn’t keeping up with it. Someone else put in some art on a plywood board on the side of a vacant business. It’s amazing to see people working to improve the community and doing things we can all benefit from.
Be the change you want to see in the world.