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Archives & Special Collections (ASC)

Uncovering Racial Logics: Louisville's History of Racial Oppression and Activism

Urban Renewal

Introduction

The idea of “urban renewal” was popular in cities across America in the 1950s and 1960s after the passing of the 1949 American Housing Act that created a federal program to fund the demolition of “decaying” neighborhoods, referred to as “slums,” and the construction of new public housing. In addition, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 sanctioned an elaborate network of interstate highways to connect cities across the country, which added to the demolition of urban and predominantly Black neighborhoods. While the stated goals of these acts were to revitalize American cities, create a decent home for every family, improve transportation, and accommodate suburban sprawl, the results were often very different. In Louisville, “urban renewal” destroyed scores of historic buildings and pushed predominantly Black families from their homes and businesses, intensified housing shortages, and increased segregation by pushing entire communities of Black residents westward and away from downtown, further away from the white neighborhoods on the East end of town. The Urban Renewal Commission planned and oversaw the redevelopment of downtown Louisville with the mission to improve the city by stopping “blight” and “decay,” as well as clear room for the interstate highway I-65. The Economic Development Department of the Urban Renewal Commission documented the locations of buildings set for demolition by block and parcel (lot number). Photographs from this commission are available in the Urban Renewal Photograph collection.

"Blight," Clearance, & Conservation Areas

Houses, lots, and areas designated for “clearance” by the Urban Renewal and Community Development Agency of Louisville were those considered “blighted” or in some way “infected” by poverty, disrepair, or other “social ills” thought to accompany living conditions deemed less than ideal by the Agency. Overwhelmingly, houses and zones designated as “blight” or “clearance” were Black homes and neighborhoods, chosen preferentially for destruction over white zones in the name of progress. The houses pictured here were photographed as part of a report submitted by the Agency in the early 1960s and exemplify both the cold and clinical practice of “clearance” designation and the lack of true distinction between homes destined for preservation and those selected for destruction. 

Clearance Area: South side Magnolia looking west from 32nd Street.

Source: Urban Renewal Photograph collection, Box 36, Folder 1 "R:45 Project Photographs, Southwick II", Photographic Archives, University of Louisville.

A standard, conservable home in the Southwick II Project

Source: Urban Renewal Photograph collection, Box 36, Folder 1 "R:45 Project Photographs, Southwick II", Photographic Archives, University of Louisville.

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