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Irony or Evolution?

September 26, 2009 Guest 2 Comments

I grew up in Louisville, KY.  Like St. Louis, it’s a city that has its roots along a major river, with its economy based on manufacturing and trade.  And, like St. Louis, it’s a city of historic neighborhoods.

One of them is Butchertown, which, not surprisingly, got its name from the stockyards and packing plants that located there.  The neighborhood is the home of Stockyards Bank.  It’s also a neighborhood that’s seeing reinvestment and gentrification, and one that’s increasing in desirability.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but a recent case illustrates the tension that exists anytime change happens.  As with many traditional industries, the meat packing industry has been shrinking in Louisville.  The stockyards shut down in 1999, and there’s only one packing plant left now, but it’s been there for decades.  Recently, that plant was cited for zoning violations, and some of its neighbors were pushing the city to shut it down:

“In this day and age … it’s not an appropriate use here,” said Jon Salomon, an attorney who lives in Butchertown and represents the Butchertown Neighborhood Association. (Source)

Not surprisingly, the company “won”.  The combination of relatively-minor zoning violations and the potential for losing 1,300 jobs likely directly influenced the outcome:

After a 10-hour hearing Monday, the board approved JBS Swift’s request to modify its zoning permit to allow the expansions, after it illegally started construction on an enclosure for a hog-unloading area last fall. (Source)

The reality is that the plant generates truck traffic and some interesting odors.  When the area was primarily industrial, and the only residential uses were the workers’ shotgun cottages, these issues were the smell of money.  Now that many of the residents, especially the new ones, are no longer associated with the industry, the odors and the traffic are being viewed more and more as real negatives, especially to the further “revitalization” of the neighborhood.  This gets down to one of the fundamental challenges of urban living – when does being a historical use become a negative one?  When do the interests of new residents, especially well-educated ones with new and better ideas, start to take priority?

So what does all this have to do with St. Louis?  Simple – given our industrial base, we have the potential for similar conflicts.  The questions in Louisville really aren’t unique.  Was the decision correct?  Be careful of what you ask for? Don’t move somewhere and expect to change things to fit your definition of urban living?  Is NIMBY a good thing or a bad thing?  How do we balance reinvestment with retaining a diverse economic base?  How much gentrification is too much?

– Jim Zavist

UPDATE: 9/26/09 @ 7:45PM – comment section opened.


Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Btowner says:

    You forgot one very important element to the story, the residents went after the company for BREAKING THE LAW! This was not a calibrated witch hunt, it was the citizens- both new and old who stood up against an international mega-slaughter house facility who cares not of our community. We love our homes and our neighbors, but we are ALL expected to follow the laws that govern Louisville.

  2. Shimmy says:

    I don’t know of the legal situation of the Louisville example, but in general, it reminds me of people who move out to the country and then complain because of farm smells.


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