Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood is a hodge-podge of densely packed residences and less densely packed industrial sites interspersed by large rail lines cutting through the city grid. Bounded roughly by Oak Street, Cypress Street, Hill Street, and Ninth Street, the neighborhood is bisected by Dixie Highway, much narrower here than out in the suburbs.
Vacant land and unemployment are two issues currently facing the neighborhood, but a new project in the spirit of Tactical Urbanism hopes to improve both by filling a pair of empty lots with shipping containers to teach entrepreneurship.
As first reported by WFPL’s Jacob Ryan on August 20, more than 340 parcels comprising about eight percent of the neighborhood’s area are vacant or abandoned. Compounding that problem, unemployment in the neighborhood is around 22 percent. Ryan cited a 2014 report from the now-defunct Network Center for Community Change.
One of those vacant lots at the corner of Dixie Highway and Wilson Avenue will soon be filled with a shipping container village that could help provide jobs in the neighborhood and give local entrepreneurs a chance to grow their businesses.
Canaan Community Development Corporation (CCDC) is behind the project. The organization’s Executive Director Terra Leavell decided on using shipping containers after meeting with Joshua Watkins, Metro Louisville’s Real Estate Coordinator who also oversaw the city’s Lots of Possibility vacant land competition. She is working with shipping container guru Jeremy Semones of Core Design and Mark Foxworth, principal of Foxworth Architecture, to create the so-called “Opportunity Corner” project.
Foxworth organized the site around a large tree to create a plaza and a small amphitheater. “Ultimately, we’re just holding the lot lines and working with the module of the shipping container unit,” he said. “That dictated how they’re laid out. On the corner, the site naturally dips down, and we thought that was a good opportunity to do a mini amphitheater and stage.”
Foxworth described the shipping containers as “flowers in bloom.” The exteriors will be painted darker colors, but when awnings and doors open up during the day, bright colors will be revealed.
Elsewhere on the site, bright pops of color continue this theme, including on benches, planters, and picnic tables.
Opportunity Corner will operate indefinitely. Foxworth said strings of lights and potentially a light sculpture will allow events to take place after hours and on weekends. The plaza will feature heat lamps during the winter.
The lot will offer space for emerging entrepreneurs to gain legitimacy and grow their businesses, Foxworth said, “It provides an opportunity for people to come and learn skills about small business management.” He described the project as a stepping stone for businesses that are just getting started. “You know, they’re selling tee-shirts out of the back of their car, it is the grandmother who makes the best bowl of chili around,” Leavell told WDRB’s Stephan Johnson. Additionally, a CDCC office, an employment office, and health care providers will also use the space.
Foxworth said the plaza will feature deck construction around the shipping containers with permeable pavers in places. The simple construction will allow volunteers to help with the building process.
The initial phases of work include installing and fitting out four shipping containers and landscaping the parcel. Later, a future phase could add more containers to the site.
The shipping containers will feature simple designs.”We’re trying to keep things as affordable as possible,” Foxworth said. “The trick is keeping the water out and dealing with insulation without losing a lot of floor area.” He explained that the containers would be insulated with spray foam and covered with a layer of drywall on the inside. Each would be heated and cooled and outfitter with operable windows and doors.
Foxworth believes this example could be replicated on other vacant lots in other neighborhoods. “Absolutely it’s replicable. You’re not making a major commitment in terms of bricks and mortar,” he said.
Ryan reported that CDCC signed a lease-to-buy agreement with Louisville Metro’s Land Bank Authority for the two parcels on the corner for about $5,200. Leavell told WFPL the entire budget is estimated at around $80,000, with a third of that already raised.
Fundraising is still going on, but Foxworth hopes to be under construction soon, with a grand opening just after the first of the year. “There seems to be a lot of interest,” he said. If you’d like to contribute financially or by volunteering, Foxworth suggests getting in touch with Terra Leavell at CCDC.
For Foxworth, Opportunity Corner is a chance to use architecture for a higher purpose. “When you think of architecture, a lot of the time we’re concerned with aesthetics,” Foxworth said. “The real power of architecture is being an agent of change. This project has the possibility of making real change in people’s lives.”