In Louisville, Compassion Is a Resilience Quality

Talk to Mayor Greg Fischer and you will have no doubt that Louisville is “a city with a distinct culture of innovation, collaboration and compassion.” That ethos has been aptly applied to the city’s resilience journey as well. As Louisville works toward developing its first-ever Resilience Strategy, it will be underpinned by an emphasis on cultivating compassion and trust.

In terms of building urban resilience, a rich culture of compassion can have tangible benefits. When paired with a series of concrete, actionable initiatives, the city hopes to see greater transparency among municipal entities, more effective communication with stakeholders and communities, and a new wave of inclusion and social cohesion.

The city is already acting upon its commitment. In a strong signal to urban centers across the country, Louisville was recently recognized as Certified Welcoming, a certification for cities and counties developed in 2017 by the nonprofit Welcoming America. Home to a host of innovative programs and policies to help immigrants and new members of the community integrate into the fabric of the city, Louisville is a model of how residents of all backgrounds can together contribute to a dynamic culture and strong urban economy.

Situated on the Ohio River, Louisville boasts the rich history of a city built on immigration and a strong maritime tradition. The city was first a shipping hub en route to the Gulf of Mexico, later a major player in the tobacco industry and, today, Louisville is the home to critical manufacturing hubs for Ford and General Electric Appliances. In addition to these economic powerhouses, Louisville is also home to United Parcel Service’s international air hub, Jim Beam Whiskey, and the legendary Kentucky Derby.

Since the city’s inception, immigration has played an integral role in the booming economy, with waves of German and Irish immigrants accounting for large portions of the city’s population in the nineteenth century. Today, immigration is critical to sustaining the city’s growth and economic prosperity. From 2009 to 2014, the city’s foreign-born population grew 42% and the city estimates that by 2025, 10.4% of the larger Jefferson County’s population will be foreign-born.

Chief Resilience Officer Eric Friedlander explained to us that Louisville is committed to becoming more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.  How do we become more resilient?  We must make certain that our neighborhoods, institutions, businesses, systems and each individual have the capacity to survive, adapt, grow, and thrive no matter what kind of challenges are experienced now and in the future.  To ensure we achieve this, we must first understand how our community is performing now and what issues matter most to Louisvillians.

Building resilience in Louisville requires engagement with and input from all members of community. To make the process as inclusive as possible, outreach flyers and surveys were translated in 5 languages, and the Louisville Resilience team conducted engagement with over 3,000 community stakeholders.  During Phase I, the Louisville Resilience team heard from the community about Louisville’s existing strengths, issues of concern, and the greatest threat of shocks and stresses, and produced the Preliminary Resilience Assessment that represents those voices.

In Phase II, discovery area work groups will convene to better understand Louisville’s risk of shocks and stresses by evaluating their relationship, collecting data, performing an analysis, and identifying strategies to increase Louisville’s resilience.  Their work will help close the gaps that make Louisville vulnerable to the impact of stresses and shocks. Louisville Resilience intends to incorporate a community version of the LouieStat approach into its strategy document that will be a report out to the community on our performance as a city.