I was sauntering down main street in sultry weather into a hip fried chicken shack, chock-full of young folks. The cashier steps up, a 6’ 4” portly dude, pale white skin, with purple lip stick on, sea green painted nails and a pride shirt on.
If you expected this to be Los Angeles or Miami or San Francisco, guess again. This is Louisville, Kentucky.
Generalizations about the South
Let’s clear up one thing about my preconceptions.
I understand the South is not a monolith. I understand while less-than-desirable institutions might be more pervasive than we’d like, they should not be a starting point with the South. I understand that assuming these sorts of stereotypical issues of the South don’t exist in the North is silly. Boston is notorious for racism. Those sentiments have not been solely sequestered on any particular side of the Mason Dixon.
I understand places like Charleston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham all have liberal pockets, very different from the deep red counties you see on maps. I understand that generalizations have hard limitations.
That being said, everyone has preconceived notions. They’re unavoidable. Every single moment in your life has led to you observing from a certain viewpoint, the one you currently possess. We’re all changing and learning. I haven’t been to the South an awful lot, outside of soccer trips, so of course I don’t know much beyond what I’ve read and watched: literature, TV, magazines and so on.
I took a road trip to Louisville with a certain understanding. And yet–
I expected, I urged those notions to be rewired. I yearn to have my preconceived notions shattered on every journey I take. That’s why I travel: to learn.
So while I knew these were mere stereotypes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have to say: what I saw in Louisville changes some of my conceptions of the South.
Louisville Changes What I Expected on the South
I went to Louisville in the first place to visit one of my best friends from college who’s in med school at the moment. Full disclosure, my experience of the city was from that of young, left-leaning young people.
My view of Louisville can be summarily expressed this way: “Anyone from within several miles of the city who is even remotely left leaning is moving to Louisville.” This is both what I was told and witnessed.
The LGBT+ community in Louisville is strong, with bars and restaurants in the center of the city more than welcoming to such patrons. There were clean, green parks everywhere abutting walkable streets. There were trendy concept restaurants every 50 yards, with farm-to-table joints outnumbering everything else it seemed.
There was urban sprawl, but with a mostly clutter free interstate layout and a reasonable bus system. There was a large central park with folks walking about, playing in a water park, traversing old train bridges turned pedestrian paths.
There were wood-paneled art galleries transformed into bars serving local craft beer showing random World Cup games between two arbitrary European nations. There was even chatter about the local club, Louisville City FC.
This is not the description of New York City. This is Louisville, Kentucky.
Tangible Assets for the City
Local governments trying to promote their city tout the municipality’s greatest assets, the most exportable, easily relatable. Because of this, they often want sport teams. It’s easy to latch onto a sports team. There are many other fans, bringing the citizenry together. And it’s highly brandable. It’s a no brainer (maybe, if you don’t consider the finances).
In my exceedingly humble opinion, one of the greatest assets of Louisville is the waterfront.
The park is rather expansive, extending wider than the four central bridges spanning the river. It’s super accessible with parking nearby or a semi-reasonable walk to city center. You can literally walk to Indiana, the state over the river, in minutes.
There’s ice cream and food and drinks. There’s a mini water park. There’s an Abe Lincoln monument. There’s space for sports. There’s running and biking paths. There’s security aplenty. There’s a stage for entertainment.
Having a space like this for young professional and other millennials is highly attractive. It makes a youthful labor force move in, as opposed to New York or Chicago, maintaining Southern-ness.
As young people change cities forever (naturally, as we are the future for better or worse), we demand space like this.
The Louisville Waterfront Park is incredible. It’s not Central Park, but it doesn’t need to be.
I think even more incredible, is how Louisville developed this way in post-industrial times. But we’ll save that for another chronicle in two days’ time.
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This is a multi-part series on a road trip to West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Check out the other pieces here.
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