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Will It Go Round in Circles

Holly Houston- Photo by Pinnacle Ten

Holly Houston- Photo by Pinnacle Ten

The weather is cramping my style. As one who loves nothing more than to meet new people out in the thick of it, there are less people out in the Arctic Vortextual temps thus less mixing to be had. No more though! As February is packed with chances to meet and greet and celebrate including on February 1, the 200th anniversary of the Culbertson Mansion, a mere hop and skip across the mighty (frozen) Ohio, great plays and the always fun Lobster Feast for Actors Theatre on February 8, The 2nd annual Gravy Cup for Boys and Girls Haven on February 16, the screening of “Raising Ms. President” by our own Kiley Lane on February 25, Moth Story Slam at Headliner’s with “Vices” for its theme on February 25 and for the lovers and dreamers, “Romeo and Juliet” presented by Kentucky Opera on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Notable for me is Greater Louisville Outstanding Women’s 5th birthday this month, founded by my friend Colleen Mahon and me during the ice storm in 2009. Seven women attended that first meeting, all of whom are thriving in business, I am pleased to report. Museum Plaza, the spot we met for our first meeting, did not fare as well, but 21c Museum + Hotel has more than made up for it by quintupling its profits over the last two years as reported by “Business First.” Which brings me to this month’s topic: urban density and how random meetings on city streets and in and out of hot spots may increase opportunity and innovation for the city dwellers among us.

The basis of the concept known as “superlinear scaling” is as cities grow, residents have greater chances of interacting face to face. With increased interaction there is a likelihood of a proportionate increase in innovation and economic growth, but only if the population increase carries with it a chance for people to actually mix together. Street level interaction that increases rather than lessens chances “for informal contact between people in a given public space at any given time” or “Jacob’s Density” is what matters most for creativity and innovation, according to “Urban Growth: Population Density vs. Creative and Economic Output,” in August 2012 “Urban Times.”

Case in point: a dear friend hosted a going away dinner for a lovely couple. The crowd was a random accumulation of friends the couple met during their several-year stay here. Inevitably, the “how do you know x?” made the rounds and our story is we met at 21c at the bar on New Year’s Eve when they first moved here. The meeting spurred a friendship, support by them of Blessings in a Backpack, the board of which I was a member at the time, numerous civic contributions by the couple, and an annual donation to KIVA by our women’s group, the donations having been established by my friend.

Had we not been out, had we not been actively involved in our communities, had we not been social, we would have missed countless opportunities to contribute and all the ripples created by the other spokes in the wheel comprised of the people we know. That I give 21c credit for so many connections is important on a few levels: 1) it really was the first real downtown meeting spot for the social set when it opened and 2) the guests and visitors at Proof who aren’t from here offer a level of connection for Louisvillians who, like me, are landlocked, yet yearn for new people and experiences and chances to build on foundations established here but need a little shot to soar beyond the 502.

Recently at Proof I met a gentleman who lives in Sandy Hook, New Jersey and maintains a place here. He is the “Mint Julep King,” both self-proclaimed and he says proclaimed by the “New York Times.” Talk between us quickly went from Governor Christie to Sandy Hook rebuilding to the Robin Hood Foundation to disaster relief. Heavy? Yes, but right in line with the human rights section Nima Kulkarni and I just created for the Louisville Bar Association and a goldmine of information for me when and if we get funding to expand to educating lawyers and ultimately the city about disaster preparedness.
My vision for Louisville is that we are able to maximize spaces to manifest “Jacob’s Density” for random meetings to grow our businesses and social networks and nonprofit organizations and fund our ideas and our dreams. My part is a regional women’s effort called “Women Mean Business in Kentucky,” a group we created for business women and leaders in Covington, Lexington, Louisville and places in between to meet and learn what each other do in the world and expand the circle for us individually and for our communities and cities and state.

We learned at the lunch in Lexington in January that Kentucky is one of twelve states that boasts an online portal for business startups at www.onestop.ky.gov, that women-owned businesses increased by 30 percent and that an increase in the minimum wage would lead to 2200 new jobs according to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes. She encouraged the women she spoke to at lunch “to refuse to walk forward and carry the torch only a few stops.” Instead she said, “Think—I’m here today to light the way for others.” So go out there and mix it up, Louisville! Change your stops, break out of your comfort zone, get out of your cars, park farther away to make yourself walk, go to a different end of town to eat or for a concert or a function, fund a new cause, join a new group. Then we can all really go round in circles and fly high like a (cardinal) bird up in the sky.

You can read this article in its original format on the N:Focus website here: http://nfocuslouisville.com/holly-on-the-go-february-2014/