I am a proud member of Class XXX of Leadership Greater Little Rock. It was an awesome experience, and even though I was born and raised in Little Rock, I learned a lot about our town. During the program, my fellow Triple Xers and I discussed the prominent challenges that face Little Rock and ideas to combat those challenges. The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."
I grew up in Southwest Little Rock and am a proud graduate of John L. McClellan High School. But until I enrolled in the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, I did not realize my level of ignorance in regard to Little Rock's neighborhoods. Growing up, I have no memory of ever going north of Park Plaza. I did not know that neighborhoods called the Heights and Hillcrest existed. I remember multiple conversations with my law school classmates about where they grew up, and the places that they frequented that were completely foreign to me. It was almost embarrassing to say, "I do not know how to get to Kavanaugh [Boulevard]." The embarrassment decreased when I realized that many people who did not grow up in Southwest Little Rock were ignorant of life south of Interstate 630, in the same manner that I was unfamiliar with life north of 630.
I often hear people who live in one part of town explain why they never travel to a different part of town. In one respect, this is a compliment to the growth and development of some of Little Rock's neighborhoods, in the sense that some neighborhoods have become self-sustaining and include all of the amenities (restaurants, grocery stores, bars, workout facilities, parks) that a person/family could need. On the other hand, it reinforces the insulation (or segregation) of the neighborhoods and the lack of engagement among Little Rock's citizens.
As a result of our neighborhood segregation, when I graduated from high school, I did not know many white people. I do not remember having the telephone number of any non-black person in my age range. But after enrolling in law school, I've been able to gain a thorough appreciation of and level of comfort with all of Little Rock. I believe that a concerted effort to encourage intracity tourism could decrease division and ensure that we engage and interact with all our city has to offer.
I want to see efforts to encourage our citizens to visit neighborhoods beyond where they live. We are making progress in the right direction; the examples are endless: Visit Southwest Little Rock for authentic Mexican food or shopping at the outlet mall; visit West Little Rock for shopping at the Promenade; visit the newly named East Village for a local microbrewery; visit Midtown Little Rock to support the Little Rock Trojans; visit the Heights/Hillcrest for pedestrian-friendly dining; or visit SoMa [the South of Main neighborhood] for the cornbread festival.
I would be remiss not to mention that we need to be intentional about investing in our neighborhoods to make all neighborhoods "places of interest."
We also need to be intentional about increasing intracity tourism. For example, I think we can expand the concept of an awesome event like Taste of the Rock to include visits to select restaurants and bars in areas of the city that often get overlooked. This event could also include riding Rock Region Metro buses to reach those select restaurants and bars. For a reasonable fee, we could engage in intracity tourism and increase exposure to our city's main public transportation system. This is just one idea. If you have others to help negate neighborhood segregation, please share with me.
Every great town has great neighborhoods, and the greatness of Little Rock's neighborhoods is relatively untapped. Let's spend time visiting and investing in all of Little Rock.
Antwan Phillips is a lawyer with the Wright Lindsey Jennings firm.