Remembering an Influential Community Figure through Music in a Community-Driven Park

Parks are often seen as places purely for play or sporting events, but a growing movement in Kentucky is showcasing just how vital parks can be in underpinning a strong social fabric.

The Parks Alliance of Louisville is a charitable organization that drives equitable investment in the city's public parks to improve the health and wellbeing of the entire community. Their 'Parks For All' initiative is championing equitable investment in public parks that have been neglected, most located in high-need neighborhoods. Phase 1 of their first new park construction project, Alberta O. Jones Park, was recently completed and serves as a blueprint for how public spaces can be utilized to improve residents' quality of life, prioritizing wellbeing and connectedness.

Located in Louisville, Kentucky, and 2 miles from downtown, this new park came about after a flood in 2009 that destroyed homes in a residential area. After a disaster was declared, properties sat vacant, and the Parks Alliance became involved to help rejuvenate the area. Raising more than $5.5 million, the Alliance transformed the 20 acres of vacant property and created Alberta O. Jones Park.

With a history of disinvestment, the area has a predominantly black community that has long been underserved. The Alliance was acutely aware of this and set about providing the best-quality park. They invited the community to contribute their views on what they would like to see. The Parks Alliance Director of Special Projects, Alice Bridges, says, "Each neighborhood is unique, so we centered the community's voice in designing and developing this park. We went to many local events, mailed out questionnaires, and hosted activities at the site to find out what residents wanted most in this new greenspace."

The community decided everything, including the theme of the park. Alice says, “The park had to reflect the culture of the area, and an influential community figure was chosen for the park to be named after. Alberta Odell Jones was one of the first black women admitted to the Kentucky bar, and in 1965, became Louisville's first female prosecutor. She also helped to educate and register black voters, and she negotiated a contract for boxer Cassius Clay, her neighbor, who would become Muhammad Ali. She was murdered in 1965 but is still an important community figure who is admired and not forgotten.”

And so, the park features a portrait of Alberta – a photo mosaic mural made up of more than a thousand photographs of people in the community. People can see themselves reflected in the park, giving them ownership of the space.

The overarching theme of culture had to include music. The landscape architecture firm Human Nature designed phase 1 of the park, and they suggested to the Alliance that they should include outdoor musical instruments.

The firm discovered Percussion Play, and the CEO of the Alliance did her own research and believed these were the highest quality instruments around. Alice says, “This is an underserved community that often doesn't get the best of the best. When we looked at the Percussion Play website, we fell in love with the quality and how interactive they are. They are extremely durable, too, which is very important. The instruments won’t break and hurt somebody.“

The Alliance ordered the Street Quartet, which includes the Large Babel Drum, the Handpipes, Emperor Chimes, and a Cajon Drum. Alice says, “Even though Percussion Play is based in the UK, it was totally seamless getting them shipped and in the ground.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony in November 2023, three hundred people turned up to test out the park, including the Street Quartet. A local council member got on to the drums and began jamming with his children. Alice says, “It’s a truly intergenerational product, and we continue to see both adults and children engage in play together. We’ve been surprised by how much the park has been used in the cold and grey winter months, but the instruments really draw people to the park. We’re getting rave reviews!”