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Understanding NuLu, Clarksdale, and Louisville's Politics of Dispossession

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

On Friday, July 24, 2020, Louisville protesters launched a peaceful demonstration in the NuLu business district on East Market Street. Using methods of tactical urbanism to throw an impromptu block party, the city responded with police force, arresting over 75 protesters. In what was described by some NuLu business owners as "mafia tactics," the protesters presented a list of demands to NuLu businesses, one of which was to acknowledge the impact of the demolition of the Clarksdale community in creating NuLu.

In a Courier Journal article from July 30, 2020, Rick Murphy, a partner in Jeb Advertising and president of the NuLu Business Association, disagreed "that NuLu was part of the gentrification that took place with Clarksdale." "Part of the contract they want people to sign is to say they not only know that was gentrification, but that it was done for the purpose of creating NuLu," Murphy said. "It wasn't. Period.""

The Root Cause Research Center received several community requests for research related to the demolition of Clarksdale, but rather than reproduce or summarize existing research, we would like to lift up the work of Dr. Rick Axtell and Dr. Michele Tooley, who produced the definitive qualitative study of the Clarksdale demolition in 2011, The Other Side of Hope: Squandering Social Capital in Louisville’s HOPE VI.

Here are some findings and excerpts from this work.

Abstract: "This qualitative study followed 40 households displaced in Louisville’s HOPE VI redevelopment of Clarksdale public housing. The authors argue that though the goals to alleviate distressed housing and deconcentrate poverty were laudable, Louisville’s housing authority gave insufficient consideration to the effects of policy on poor people in their communities. The processes and results in Louisville disrupted communities, perpetuated disempowerment, and favored deconcentration of poverty over poverty reduction.

Through the lens of a preferential option for the poor, the authors argue that HOPE VI would be more likely to achieve its stated goals if built upon existing foundations of social capital."

On the relationship between Clarksdale & NuLu

"It is important to put the choice of Clarksdale into economic and geographic context. The land that Clarksdale occupied was ripe for developers. The Housing Authority believed that “Clarksdale stands on the precipice of transformation, literally surrounded by economic opportunity.” Encircled by the University of Louisville Medical Center, Jewish Hospital, Louisville Slugger Field, Waterfront Park, and the East Market business corridor, Clarksdale’s continued existence would endanger further economic potential of the area. The city’s Downtown Development Plan envisioned the site as a “mixed income, diverse neighborhood." The application for HUD funding stated that the revitalization will result in “dramatic change for public housing residents” and will “spur new economic development." However, these realities suggest that perhaps the rhetoric of deconcentration and development in Louisville was a fraud. Poor people were pawns in a policy that benefitted developers and investors."

Dr. Michelle Tooley passed away on May 26, 2015 at her home in Berea, Kentucky, surrounded by friends, after a two-year struggle with melanoma. We would like to lift up Dr. Tooley for her lifelong commitment to research justice and praxis by offering this reflection, Remembering Michelle by her collegue and co-author, Dr. Rick Axtell.


Photo courtesy of Matt Stone/Courier Journal

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