A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Communities around Kentucky making push to transform outdoor space, social distancing

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

One neighborhood in Louisville’s south end is working to reimagine a public corridor in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to balance public health and safety while allowing local businesses the opportunity to thrive.

The Beechmont Neighborhood Association has received a $31,000 Community Challenge grant from AARP to create a more pedestrian-friendly main street, public-space seating and street lighting.

Beechmont Bombshell’s hair solon located on Woodlawn Avenue in Louisville’s Beechmont Neighborhood (Photo from Beechmont Neighborhood Association)

Mellone F. Long, executive director at the Center for Neighborhoods, has been working with Beechmont residents on community and economic development efforts. She said the area is one of the only intact mid-century modern blocks in Louisville, littered with independent coffee shops, bookstores and other small businesses.

“We’re trying to make sure the restaurants and businesses can be more active during this time of COVID. We’re trying to make space outside so the restaurants can have customers outside. And we’re trying to make it more pedestrian-friendly,” Long said.

In Lexington, residents and urban planners are also working to tailor the city’s open spaces for a pandemic future, and held a public webinar last week to discuss plans for local parks, trails and other public areas.

President of the Louisville’s Beechmont Neighborhood Association, Terry O’Mahoney, pointed out while walkable streets always have been good for local economies, small businesses will rely even more on well-designed public spaces to stay afloat during and after the pandemic. He said many of Beechmont’s shops and restaurants are immigrant-owned.

“We have apartment complexes where refugees from other countries – Somalia, Cuba, Vietnam – have been relocated,” O’Mahoney said. “So we have a large immigrant population.”

Long noted as state and local funding sources dry up, communities will have to creatively come up with ways to keep neighborhoods vibrant while ensuring residents have a say in the process.

“We don’t in go with a pre-designed idea of what should go there,” Long said. “So we spend a lot of time talking to the people in the neighborhood and finding out what they want and how they want things done.”

According to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outdoor spaces that allow people to remain six feet apart combined with mask-wearing is the most effective way to curb spread of the coronavirus.

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