Bringing Back Portland
When the average Louisville resident thinks of the Portland neighborhood they imagine rundown houses, drug addicts, and empty streets. Portland residents on the other hand see a neighborhood rich with history that has been built by a diverse working class.
The area, originally settled over 200 years ago, thrived as a river port until 1937 when a flood devastated the area. Much of the neighborhood was submerged for nearly a month and by the time the city provided relief to Portland many industries had already left, taking their owners and workers with them.
For over 70 years the neighborhood has seen a steady decline as residents have moved out, houses have become abandoned, and businesses have shutdown. But in the past few years there has been a revived interest in the Portland neighborhood.
Many Louisville businesses such as Please & Thank You and Hillbilly Tea have or are considering opening new locations in the neighborhood. The Tim Faulkner Gallery led the way, being one of the first Louisville companies to make the move to Portland. McQuixote Book & Coffee followed in toe, abiding inside the Faulkner Gallery with the hopes creating a “haven for the community to display their art, speak their minds, and express themselves.”
Non-profits are also showing interest in the neighborhood, but their missions stretch further than simply trying to aid.
Organizations like Louisville Grows and Seed Capital Louisville are trying to do more than just provide food within the impoverished community. Louisville Grows’s Shippingport Memorial community garden, located on the Compassion Building property, strives to empower the Portland community by teaching residents how to cultivate their own fruits and vegetables.
Seed Capital also has a food centered mission. The organization is planning to develop a 24-acre food enterprise center called FoodPort. FoodPort will be a campus for local farmers, businesses, educators, and community members to invest in local food, sustainability, and education.
Another Portland non-profit will be opening in November, and it’s sure to draw a crowd. The Table Cafe will be a “pay-what-you-can” lunch spot that hopes to cater to locals and non-Portland residence alike. The cafe, which will run like any other restaurant, will offer diners different payment options. People will be able to pay the suggested price for their meal, pay extra to pay-it-forward to someone who can’t afford a meal, or donate their time to pay for their meal or someone else’s. The founders hope to create a space where people in need as well as the average Louisville residents can come get a meal and build relationships.
Judson Kovasckitz is a transplant to the Portland neighborhood. He moved to the neighborhood as part of a non-profit effort and has since invested in a dilapidated shotgun house that he is renovating.
“Portland is definitely poor and there are a lot of people who are addicted to substances, but I think that a common misconception is that poverty equals danger. I think the coolest part of living in the ‘hood’ is getting to meet really good families and see the heart of the community.”
For Judson the move to Portland has been an opportunity to interfuse into the community and rebuild the neglected neighborhood. But in revitalizing the neighborhood there is also the urgency to preserve Portland’s history.
Generations of residence have called Portland home and their history and importance cannot be over looked. According to Judson, “for a true ‘Portland experience’ grab a pie at Annie’s Pizza.” It’s businesses like Annie’s, Shaheen’s, and Jane Bros that represent the heart of Portland. To keep Portland true to its history, revitalization must support these elements of the neighborhood. The goal should not be to push long-time residents out but to invite people in who are willing to acculturate in order to enliven the community as a whole.
If you’re interested in learning more about Portland’s history, be sure to check out the Portland History Museum!