My family and I live about three blocks from Madison-Kipp Corp.

Not close enough to have our backyard contaminated by Kipp's old solvents or our quiet marred by its industrial fans and clanking machinery.

Close enough, though, to be worried that the 109-year-old manufacturer's past operations might contaminate our groundwater.

In other words, I have a stake in how Kipp is held to account for its long-discontinued use of then-legal industrial chemicals, if not as much stake as some others.

But I'm less interested in the threat posed by Kipp than in what that threat means for a part of Madison that is keen to localism and "sustainability" — as opposed to, say, a lifestyle built around carbon-spewing trips between the subdivision and the mall.

Because whatever Kipp's sins, it provides local jobs, help for local nonprofits and taxes that are as much about localism and sustaining neighborhoods as backyard compost piles and chicken coops.

Sometimes, it seems as if Madison doesn't get this.

It's not the first time Kipp has clashed with neighbors. There have been longstanding complaints about the noise from those whirring fans.

Vocal neighborhood opposition two years ago to the Willy Street Co-op's plan to add a second driveway to its parking lot was a textbook case of a distinctly Madisonish tendency to miss the forest for the trees.

And Lynch Auto Body on Atwood Avenue — a 56-year-old family business — has been engaged in a long-running, complaint-driven dispute with the city about parking customers' cars on property it owns just down the street.

In fact, the company's owner, Timothy Lynch, told me he thinks the city would prefer to see his business replaced with something less intense. "They want the coffee shops," he said. "They want the law offices. They want the barber shops."

City zoning administrator Matt Tucker told me that "no one's trying to push him out" and that the dispute over the lot has to do with rules against using the property to store badly damaged vehicles.

But the fight is indicative of what happens when an aging, urban, formerly industrial area like Madison's East Side attracts socially and environmentally conscious urbanites.

The question is whether those urbanites and the industries that pre-date them can respect one another enough to sustain both.

Twink Jan-McMahon, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Atwood, thinks they can.

She points to efforts by Schoep's Ice Cream plant to work with residential neighbors on truck traffic problems.

Sure, she'd rather the trucks weren't there, but with longstanding businesses, "we need to do everything we can to be good neighbors with each other."

Lynch isn't so sure that's what city officials want, though he's always felt welcomed by the neighborhood.

"Kipp, us and the next one to go will be Schoep's," he said.

I hope he's wrong. Old, diverse, urban neighborhoods are not only more sustainable, they're also a heck of lot more interesting than malls and subdivisions.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.