The future of this city

When a city embraces its potential

In a great piece written by Kyle Whitmire over in Weld, what happened in Oklahoma City–in part due to the voters’ approval of several MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Strategy) initiatives starting in 1993–is contrasted with what hasn’t happened in Birmingham–in part due to the voters’ rejection of a MAPS initiative in 1998 which was closely modeled on the one in OKC. One of the many downtown improvements that have transformed OKC’s central core after that initial 1993 vote is the SkyDance Bridge (above), a new pedestrian bridge linking a soon-to-be-constructed downtown park with reclaimed riverfront development across I-40. The design by S-X-L collaborative out of Oklahoma City is at once practical and inspirational, a gorgeous new icon on the skyline. [We previously discussed the revitalization of OKC’s Bricktown neighborhood around their new baseball park here.]


Our firm is now working on the feasibility study for a new pedestrian/bike bridge that would connect 16th Street North downtown to Railroad Park and the Southside (projected northern terminus of the bridge, above at First Avenue North and 16th Street looking south). This is an extremely exciting and challenging project, and we are honored to be working on it with the City of Birmingham and MBA Engineers. Our goal is not just to design something practical and beautiful, but also to help link the Park into a network of greenways, bike lanes, and street improvements that will fan out around the adjacent neighborhoods. This bridge will be an important part, but only a part, of a greater plan.

Birmingham has struggled to overcome its troubled past to move forward decisively. Part of this struggle is evidenced by our lack of long-range planning: OKC first took the leap in 1993, and methodically built consensus around early successes to link subsequent initiatives together in a coherent, strategic fashion. Birmingham tends to create a project here, develop a pocket there–but there is no overall strategic plan to bind these together into something greater than its parts. It is our firm belief that Railroad Park, and the upcoming development surrounding it, will break this cycle. This bridge, if indeed proven feasible, will be part of a rejuvenated 16th Street, a revitalized mixed-use Civil Rights District, and a greenway and bike system stretching east, west, north, and south across the City.

So get ready to embrace a new era, Birmingham. A bridge is just the start.

[thanks to tylerokc for the SkyDance bridge pic]

11 responses to “The future of this city

  1. I am very skeptical about this proposal. The Civil Rights District this is supposed to link to falls well beyond the 5-minute walk circle — beyond which people get in their cars. Will the feasibility study investigate whether people in any numbers will use a bridge? They are noted for failure in other places. The OKC bridge crosses a new downtown interstate and works as a symbol for passing traffic. None of that would apply here. This could be a huge waste when more attractive sidewalks and underpasses could be executed for much less.

    • Well, the City shares your healthy skepticism which is why we’re studying it first. Hopefully if it’s indeed proven feasible, that end result will satisfy at least some of your concerns. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves–more to come. Thanks.

  2. While I’m sure your proposal will be both interesting and beautiful, I too am very skeptical. We were recently at Culinard and noticed the intersection for the northern edge of the bridge. There is nothing there but Innovation Depot and an empty corner lot. This seems like a lot of money for a bridge to nowhere!

    • Once you see the bridge in the context of other improvements, I think your opinion may change. Where most see empty buildings and lots today, some see renovations and new construction in the future. Some of the feasibility study will hopefully explain this better. Skepticism is healthy, which is why this is only a feasibility study right now! Thanks.

  3. Jeremy your project sounds exciting. A bridge: what a wonderful metaphor for what B’ham needs in recognizing where it has been and where its future lies. You can make it a reality!

  4. I think this bridge could be a great idea if done right. I share the concern that, given the current state of 16th street, few will use the bridge as an actual means to get anywhere. In short, there is nothing to walk to but the Civil Rights District, which is on the edge of the “walk circle.”

    If the bridge is actually integrated into RR Park, however, I think it could be a great idea. There is room on the north side of the tracks to expand the park. If the bridge becomes a link between two halves of a future, expanded RR park, and 16th Street is redeveloped, then I could see the bridge getting a significant amount of use. I believe the Heaviest Corner blog had a post on this very topic not too long ago.

    • Exactly–the bridge makes sense in conjunction with a rejuvenated 16th Street spine, and new development along Morris/First Avenue. Heaviest Corner has written some great pieces along this subject, agreed. That potential new development, and its ability to link with RR Park, is important to the bridge’s success.

      Even the Civil Rights District is not much more than a park, the Institute, and the Church right now. It alone needs more attractions/destinations to make it worth walking or biking to by more people. So rebuilding that area is important to all this as well. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for introducing us to this wonderful bridge – it is sensational!

    Lack of vision or lack of trust? We have one failed city program and amusement after another. Metropolitan Gardens is a hell hole – you can’t walk through there without being offered drugs. No one in my design circle recommended moving there.

    Some of the lofts are so mismanaged there is constant turnover.

    It took 25 years to get basic good neighbor laws instilled into the mores of property managers and the police on Southside.

    I hear stories about the Birmingham Police everywhere I go – harassing people and failing to catch criminals for fear of a lawsuit.

    Our city officials and services stink. One pathetic embarrassment after another.

    We need new blood in office. We need to change the good old boy culture that exists in old Birmingham city circles.

    I no of no one who trusts our city government and their ability to manage services and provide for a safe, progressive environment. And my circle of friends and colleagues are open-minded professionals who have management and broad-based experience.

    There are two Birminghams. Progressive, thoughtful and peaceful; greedy, short-sighted and parochial.

  6. Pingback: Checking in (4) | Bhamarchitect's Blog

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