Grassroots redevelopers buy “the worst house on the worst block.” How’s a self-respecting mayor to wet his beak on THAT?


We have a Strong Towns article featuring Gill Holland in Portland (Louisville) and Jim Fraser in Rochester NY, both of whom sense a degree of push-back from their respective city halls, primarily because their grassroots plans don’t lead directly to (a) mayors or council persons seizing a share of the credit, and (b) campaign finance fattening, like we perused yesterday:

Gahan Money Machine 2017: Tens of thousands from corporate outsiders, who by sheer serendipity get lots and lots of work here.

Mayor Jeff Gahan’s campaign donations for 2017 — a non-municipal election year — came to $56,175.

That’s right: $56,175.

That’s a buck and a half for every man, woman and child in New Albany — and precious little of it actually coming from inside the city proper. This is in addition to what Gahan’s campaign had left over from 2011-2016, and what’s to come in 2018 and 2019.

You know, like Lancaster Lofts, being proposed by Progressive Land Development.

Where have I seen Paul Barber’s name before? He popped up on the Gahan donor list back in 2014, when apparently he worked for Kemp Title Agency.

With $500 more from the boss man to re-elect the Serene Presence.

So far, we’ve only looked at Jeff Gahan’s 2017 omnibus campaign finance report. Neither Barber nor Progressive Land Development are on it, but PLD tossed Jason Applegate a C-note for the primary.

Lancaster Lofts passed muster at the Redevelopment Commission in late April. I’m betting Gahan’s 2018 donor statistics show some gritty greenback love passing from PLD to DL (Dear Leader). If not, it probably means that the same old shakedown hasn’t yet been perfected by whichever bag man replaced David Duggins.

Meanwhile, back to the guys doing it the grassroots way.


Dan Reed is an urban planner and writer sharing today’s guest article on strategic investment to uplift low-income neighborhoods. For more stories and resources on small scale development, visit this page.

“Most of Portland is shotgun house, shotgun house, shotgun house,” Gill Holland says of his home base.

It’s a riverfront community on the far west side of Louisville, Kentucky that may have the nation’s largest collection of these 19th century, one-room-wide houses outside of New Orleans. For over two centuries, the neighborhood — once its own city — was a port of call for Americans traveling west: Lewis and Clark stopped there, as did Abraham Lincoln, Aaron Burr, and Henry Clay. Holland’s office is in a converted Boys and Girls Club where Muhammad Ali used to play.

It was a working-class community, whose residents walked to work at warehouses along the water, but after two catastrophic floods in 1937 and 1945, people and investment sought higher ground. Today, the area has some 1,400 abandoned buildings, many of which are shotgun houses.

So far, Holland’s Portland Investment Initiative (Pii) has renovated 80 abandoned shotgun houses, which he’s renting out as affordable housing. He’s also working with locally renowned architects to build new shotgun houses nearby.

“I talk a lot about urban acupuncture,” Holland says. “The one strategic investment that takes away the negative effect and adds a positive ripple effect.”

The typical urban redevelopment story goes like this: the city decides it wants to “revitalize” a downtrodden neighborhood; assembles a massive piece of land, sometimes by displacing existing residents or businesses; and invites an equally large user to put something there like a sports stadium, a convention center, or a shopping mall.

But in cities and towns around the United States, investors big and small are taking a different path: one house, one block at a time, in neighborhoods where banks won’t venture but residents are willing to put in time and effort to bring these places back. The stakes may seem lower, but the end result is a stronger, more resilient community and local economy.

Fraser couldn’t convince the city’s own bureaucrats to part with a vacant building.

But the city owned the building, and local representatives weren’t receptive to Fraser’s plans to bring it back to life. “We’re still fighting a top-down mindset from City Hall today,” he says. “The City keeps coming up with stuff it wants to come into our neighborhood and do, and it’s not letting us drive it.”

Holland sees wasted infrastructure.

Holland thinks that local governments are missing out on a huge opportunity to work with private sector individuals to leverage the huge public investments they’ve already made. “We own the water company, we own the sewer company, we’ve already invested tens of millions of dollars to service 8,000 vacant properties,” he says.

Now for a new feature: Gahan’s Greatest Hits (2015 edition, featuring the police chief and four public housing demolition appointees).