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Ludlow Seeks to Grow Economy By Cleaning Itself Up

The City of Ludlow has made sprucing up its community a top priority since Elishia Chamberlain became city administrator last year.

“When I first came to the city, one of the major issues we needed to address was obviously that of economic development,” Chamberlain said. “We have a plethora of businesses, however, we have room for more and in my position, I'm looking at how to grow a tax base so I can provide better services and more services to my residents and businesses. Plus, we want to attract tourists and people visiting the city.”

To make that a reality, a multi-pronged approach was made to update city services in order to make Ludlow a tidier place where young families and individuals choose to live.

“Looking at that, the most obvious things we saw were that the housing stock was not in the best condition, and the overall aesthetics of the city were kind of downtrodden. We knew to bring in businesses, we need to have people in homes instead of having so many vacant homes and we also knew that with especially young people these days, they like to see clean, pretty spaces. They like to see green space, they like clean cities. Young professionals like to go out and walk and run and play on their breaks and after work, so to attract businesses we knew we had to start taking care of some of these issues.”

The first step toward improving the housing stock in Ludlow was enforcing city codes that would address blighted properties. The city hired part-time code enforcement officer Tom Garner who went to work addressing the properties that were not up to code.

“Of course, our first approach immediately was code enforcement and we targeted that by hiring a code enforcement officer part-time who will actually become full-time this next fiscal year. He brought with him a wealth of knowledge from having worked with the City of Covington and over 20 years of experience. So we started to look at how to ensure that properties were cleaned up and looking nice. We're making sure that any vacant properties look nice and he's been tracking all of that. We've been using various methods of code enforcement to take a look at that,” Chamberlain said.

Once code enforcement was addressed, the next area that the city decided to re-examine was Public Works. Once previous director John Knuf resigned to take a similar job in Cincinnati, Chamberlain and the rest of the city staff decided to take the opportunity to firm up the responsibilities they felt should be more part of the job description.

“I worked with city council and with the mayor to try to figure out what we could do differently with public works to better the city, and one thing was for us to focus on our parks restoration and bringing those up to par and what we could do for real investment that would have a really high impact," Chamberlain said. "We're still trying to build up the city coffers and have some reserves to work with, but at the same time, we have to make certain investments. So now our Public Works has worked to improve our parks. They're working with Mike Ionna of PDS. We're looking at prioritizing what parks serves what demographic, what we can do to make things safer and look nicer. Our Public Works is also working on cleaning up our downtown business district area on Elm Street. We're really focusing on not having litter issues, and working toward litter abatement. We do have new garbage cans coming. When you have more trash receptacles, more people are prone to actually throw things away as opposed to throwing them on the ground. It seems like something small, but it makes a huge difference.”

Once it became evident that Ludlow was moving in a more proactive direction in terms of cleaning up the place, resident groups took notice and got into the spring-cleaning spirit.

“I think when the residents saw that we were making a concerted effort as part of the city to clean things up, our civic groups started to make the effort and that's where you saw the Tidy Up Ludlow Day. They wanted to call it Tidy Up and not Clean Up because it's more like, 'let's take what we have and improve upon it'. Not that we have this huge mess, it just takes a little work, so I really like the choice of Tidy Up instead of Clean Up,” Chamberlain said. “That was led by the Ludlow Historic Society and they kind of took the reigns on that and they got other specific groups involved as well. They focused on alley clean up and in our parks. There were people cleaning up in their yards and to see all of that happening in one day was kind of an amazing thing. It was a really large effort put in by so many people in the community. It was really great to see.”

Another element to all of this is the new waste management contract that the city is negotiating after joining with four other Northern Kentucky cities in a joint-bid to lower costs for its trash collection. In a previous city council meeting, Chamberlain said that Ludlow produces more garbage than the other cities involved in the joint bid but as to why that is remains difficult to pinpoint. 

“I know that the City of Ludlow has been working for the past three to six years on educating the public on the value of recycling, but we still have a fairly low recycle rate in Ludlow which is probably why we're seeing so much trash in and of itself,” said Chamberlain. “We haven't negotiated our contracts yet, but we're hoping to have the larger recycling receptacles that can be wheeled out. It seems like something small but sometimes the effort of just carrying a tub full of recyclables out can be taxing for a person, especially if they're elderly or have any kind of disability. So by having these receptacles provided to each resident, they will have the ability just to wheel it out, it holds more so that it's not overflowing, and we're hoping something small like that can make a little bit of a difference. Of course, we will continue our education to what you can and cannot recycle and that we will benefit the community as a whole by recycling.”

Because of the large elderly population in Ludlow, the ability to upkeep their properties can be physically challenging and demanding. A resident may have the best interest of Ludlow in mind and want to be more driven to clean up their surroundings, but a lack of physical ability may prevent them from following through on necessary improvements.

"We have a large aging population in Ludlow and I think that's one thing that as they were devising the schematics of the day for Tidy Up Ludlow Day, they targeted individuals who may need help cleaning up their personal property,” Chamberlain said. “They were taking into the account the idea that we do have an aging population and we have disabled people living in the community, so I think they were really trying to make sure that there were people there to help them if they wanted help with their personal property.”

There are certainly few drawbacks to a cleaner city, though there is concern that the influx of updated services to the quaint community of Ludlow could potentially reduce the old-school charm of this river city. Chamberlain sees it in a different light.

“I think people fear that it will be an issue. Maybe over the past few years, the city hasn't attempted to make certain changes just out of fear that we may not have buy-in from the community as a whole, but really I think the big thing is just educating the community. The change in services, or added services aren't going to make their lives more difficult, it will make their lives better,” she said. “It improves their quality of living in the community and also, their investment in the community by being a resident or by having a business will allow them to benefit from the services by actually raising their property value. It should ensure that their neighbors are taking pride in their own homes because we all know the whole theory of if you have one house on the street that kind of fails as far as cleanliness and aesthetics, all the other houses tend to follow suit, so by making these efforts and the city taking strides to ensure the clean up of the city, it's going to have a positive effect. It's really just letting them know what the plans are and why. I think that's one failure in government is sometimes we make changes and we don't explain to people why we're making them. When we explain, a lot of times that clears up any confusion or fear that residents and business owners may have.”

Outside of the residents, businesses, too, are expected to do their part to ensure a cleaner and more vibrant community and the City has adopted facade programs that give guidelines to Ludlow business owners on how to keep up with the vision of the city.

“We want to spur economic development. I think showing an investment into businesses in itself will have a positive effect, but of course, the facade program is designed to help businesses clean up the front of their building,” Chamberlain explained. “There are historic guidelines that they have to follow so it's there to create a sense of continuity among all the businesses. They don't all have to look the same, but there is a point where we want them to have a cohesive look. So the facade program is a part of the clean up effort. It's a little different but it is a facet of the clean up.”

One of the projects that has helped spur this multi-faceted effort is the Riverfront Commons project that will stretch along the Ohio River into all of Northern Kentucky's river cities from Dayton to Ludlow. Movement on the project in Ludlow was initially expected to begin this spring, but there have been delays on that front. Nonetheless, Riverfront Commons is coming to Ludlow sooner than later and having the parks and the other areas of the city clean and ready to go turned into another priority for the City.

“Because Riverfront Commons is attached to Memorial Park—it's going to run right through that and it is a tie that binds all of the river cities—we want to ensure that our parks are cleaned up so this was another element and another catalyst for us looking at these changes that we need to make,” Chamberlain said. “As far as why you haven't seen any movement yet, if you have ever dealt with grant dollars coming from the federal or state level, there is always this clearinghouse aspect. We have to go through various agencies to make sure that we're compliant with the rules and regulations, and we had to have an architectural study done on the riverbank. That's actually fairly typical. It took a little bit longer than I think anybody anticipated. As far as I know, that is complete, we're just waiting on the report to get the go-ahead for the project and the ground breaking.”

The effort is clear in Ludlow: it will become a cleaner city in 2015. The need to polish up a city that is treasured by its residents and government is evident and seemingly most who live and work there are doing their fair share. 

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor