Industrial area where the ammonia leak occured (via Lojic)
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Industrial area where the ammonia leak occured (via Lojic)
Industrial area where the ammonia leak occurred. (via Lojic)

In its analysis of the deadly ammonia leak at an industrial site near the University of Louisville this week, LEO‘s FatLip blog brought up a good point (and also advanced one of our own) about the haphazard industrial areas in Louisville: can they be fixed? Large tracts of Louisville’s urban areas are filled with these industrial zones, and they often divide neighborhoods, thwart development, or are generally ugly. There are perfectly logical historical explanations of location for most (we won’t go into that here), but they grew up a long, long time ago in a different era.

Although we’re eager to know just how it started, the fact that the ACS distribution center, which is essentially one gigantic chemical freezer, is located a heartbeat away from homes, businesses, and the University of Louisville Belknap campus is reason enough to question the logic behind the River City’s archaic zones of industry.

Of course, these plants were built at a time when necessity and economic growth outweighed our full understanding of technology’s dark side, as I’m sure there was no real malice intended when the City drew up the zoning ordinances that would put families next to highly volatile chemical-processing units. It’s just a case of the cart being put before the horse, except the cart has been contaminated with ethyl acrylate and the horse—well, let’s just say it’s incontinent.

But we know now, and shouldn’t that be enough to re-examine the ongoing danger that continues to shape the lives lived within all of Louisville’s communities?

The highlighted portion of the map above is the industrial area where the ammonia leak occurred this week. The actual building is near the upper left portion of the red area. You can see several large warehouses in there that are each larger than an entire four acre block in Old Louisville. Most of these industrial zones are leftovers from a heavily industrial past and are located near freight railroads (which slice and dice neighborhoods, too). This one isn’t unique, it’s just timely. Think of the Swift plant and its neighbors, or Park Hill, or much of Shippingport, or Rubbertown. The list goes on and on.

It’s not an easy problem to fix and the jobs in these zones are too valuable to lose, but change can happen. The University of Louisville has been slowly acquiring the rail yards and some industrial properties around its campus for years. The city is engaged in a plan to create a new neighborhood in Park Hill and student housing is filling up land once filled with industry on Shipp Avenue (just above the red blob on the map).

One day this land will be more valuable than the warehouses that sit on top of it and change will be easier, but until then (and that could be a very long time in many cases) it’s just another single-use zone filled with heavy truck traffic in some very centrally located parts of town.

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Branden Klayko

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