Directly west of Downtown Louisville, acres of land in the Shippingport neighborhood sit barren and unused, trapped between a floodwall and an expressway. You can access the land from the levee trail that runs along the riverfront and Portland Canal, but most never venture into the sea of weeds and rubble. You can still make out the old street pattern of cobblestone and yellow bricks. In some places, there are still sidewalks and steel rails, a reminder that long ago, the area roughly stretching from 9th Street to the 14th Street elevated rail line was industrial and housed many rail yards.
That’s fitting to the history of Shippingport as a center of industrial and commercial trade and movement along the canal and Falls of the Ohio. Many years ago, the area was abandoned and sits empty still to this day. When you look around the swath of open space, easily walkable from Downtown Louisville, it’s easy to be amazed at how the waterfront land directly adjacent to the heart of the city is utterly forgotten.
As many have pointed out, movement along the river has defined Louisville’s early growth, especially in this area. Before the Portland Canal was built, boats were unloaded in Shippingport and freighted to Portland below the falls. After the opening of the canal, the area remained strong with industry and warehousing. This movement of goods helped Louisville and especially the area around the Falls grow.
Some have claimed recently that the elevated Interstate fulfills this historical function of movement along the Ohio River in a modern way. It’s simply not true. How are the neighborhoods here benefiting from the highway when they look like this? At most, you can look up and see the trade and commerce passing you by. Now, the highway’s exit structure provides only two links to the area at 22nd and 9th Streets. Replacing the elevated road with an urban boulevard would change this predicament as locals travelling on a local street will be directly linked with the neighborhood. A boulevard would provide connections at more frequent intervals. Good for congestion and for the neighborhood.
But imagine if we could reuse this space for parks and development. This is one of those areas where the elevated Interstate 64 really demonstrates its ability to be a barrier, but with 8664.org‘s plan to create an urban boulevard at street level, you can imagine how the land suddenly is opened up to the water and the additional access to Louisville’s street grid could spur development. The river trail would certainly benefit as well with the addition of “Waterfront Park West.”
It’s a long way off, but not out of reach. There’s enormous potential in Shippingport that could help to expand our Downtown’s western boundaries and create a vibrant canal-front neighborhood. There are issues to be dealt, of course, with such as the flood plain, but there is no shortage of creative solutions that could make it work. We must first resolve to fix our urban transportation problems in a responsible way and the possibilities will unfold in time. Just imagine what Shippingport could be for the city.