Gown and town

Step in the right direction

Yesterday the first Sustainable Smart Cities Symposium was held at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel ballroom (above) with over 300 attendees. Local experts on urban growth, sustainability, and health issues (they’re all interrelated) shared the stage with national and international experts such as former Bogota, Columbia mayor Enrique Penalosa to discuss the potential, and challenges, of transforming Birmingham. Penalosa was treated to a bike tour the previous day through downtown and neighboring districts of the City, where he was shocked by the decline and poverty he witnessed (Birmingham News summary here, and News columnist John Archibald’s take here).

The most exciting thing about the symposium: UAB has just established a Sustainability Research Center, bringing together talent from across academic disciplines to tackle urban livability, design, and health issues in collaboration with the City and community. This sort of “town gown” collaboration is very welcome, and should benefit all of us.

Appeals to a mixed, urban demographic

Speaking of town gown collaboration, shown above is the University Square mixed-use development adjacent to University of Wisconsin (Madison), one of a string of well-planned developments that have completely transformed the East Campus Gateway into the university. A combination of university, city, and private dollars have created a pedestrian-friendly, dense environment where students, faculty, retailers, and urban professionals all mingle together. The New York Times profiled this project here. This is a good example of the impact a university can have on the surrounding built environment, with careful planning and collaboration. There’s no reason Birmingham can’t become the “Madison of the South”. UAB’s new Center is a promising start.

Still enjoyable even in freezing temperatures

The 7-block Gateway, lined with dorms, classroom buildings, retail, and market-rate apartments is shown above. If students and citizens of Madison stroll this place in the long winter months, just think of it’s equivalent in sunny Birmingham…

[PS On a tangent–the DoubleTree hotel needs a good designer to completely overhaul its public areas. For such a well-located, popular hotel its interiors are behind the times.]

[thanks to beautifulcataya for the U Square pic, and the NYT for the Gateway pedestrian pic]


6 responses to “Gown and town

  1. Well, it may be good for UAB to have a new initiative, but one has to wonder about its effectiveness if the ‘Bogota vision’ is indicative. Rather bad timing for a Pedro Costa/Larry Langford moment when a well-grounded City of Birmingham comprehensive plan is underway.

    • I guess for those who know about the former Bogota mayor, his “get radical” comments were to be expected…I think the Center will be effective if they continue to invite lots of differing viewpoints to the table. We’ve just never had an exchange of ideas on a regular basis around these topics here. Of course linking ideas to substantive work, like the Comp Plan and other initiatives, will be key. Thanks.

  2. I’m really glad that we could have this conference and it wasn’t a moment too soon.
    There are lots of efforts to revive the city right now and I think that most of them have their hearts in the right place, but not everyone is fully aware of all the principles to make an urban revival happen.
    For example, Main Street Birmingham wants to revive Lakewood as a “commercial/arts district,” but I don’t think it can fully come to fruition with just a few concentrated uses. I can’t complain, but I do think they should focus on-
    1) adding some more residential/loft space. If people aren’t living nearby or within it, then they can always just go somewhere else and it’s not in the district’s interest.
    2)adding some light industrial uses- mixing it up and keeping it alive and safe without adding too much noise or traffic
    3)adding onstreet parking and/or expanding the sidewalks in an attempt to make it more walkable-the streets in that area are really wide and it’s discouraging to pedestrianism.
    Hopefully this symposium gave our leaders a bit more guidance. Not that they’re too far from the mark, but I think that people can always afford to learn more about complete neighborhoods.

  3. By the way, great post. It reminds me of an article I read not too long ago.

    If you haven’t read it then I think you’d enjoy it, it’s very relevant.

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