Transforming Southtown

Southtown University

The Birmingham Business Journal reports this morning that Southtown Court, a public housing community administered by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, may be transformed into a mixed-income development pending a Federal grant award (Google Streetview above, taken at University Blvd. and 24th Street looking east, with Southtown on the right and the new Veteran’s Administration parking deck to the left). Built in 1941 as temporary housing for working class families, like other similar developments all across the US it has in later years become considered as permanent housing for low-income people. Southtown in particular, with its proximity to wealthier and well-traveled precincts (UAB, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Highland Park), has long been discussed as needing renovation, or even  repurposing. In the past, HABD has resisted wholesale change; now they are leading the effort.

Park Place

Park Place, pictured above looking west from 26th Street and 7th Avenue North, is an example of HABD working with private developers in the mid-2000’s to totally transform the former Metropolitan Gardens housing community in the heart of the CBD. Credited with aiding perceptions of downtown (reduced crime, improved aesthetics) it was also controversial for its displacement of low-income people who could no longer afford to live in the new development, or for whom there was simply no room (fewer units emerged in the new project compared to the old one). With the disappointingly designed Veteran’s Administration Clinic about to finish construction on University–future post about that one–one can only hope that if a new Southtown emerges, it will be more thoughtfully designed (and include commercial/retail components which sadly Park Place did not).

Southtown SA

With all of the generic “urban developer style” projects going up around downtown, could this site pave the way for yet another one (above project in San Antonio, TX)? As the process unfolds, we’ll explore what needs to happen on the Southtown  site in more detail: with 25 acres in such a visible, high traffic area, the possibilities are pretty endless.

(thanks to Google MapsHABD and San Antonio Business Journal for the images)

10 responses to “Transforming Southtown

  1. “Disappointingly designed . . . ” — a modest phrase for a real disaster, if you ask me. The only good thing about it is that it will make life a lot easier for veterans coming to town to the VA, so that mollifies the distress about the scale and general unappealing appearance of the project.
    The parking deck only makes it more likely than any replacement of the present Southtown will probably be gigantic as well– so people can see over it!

  2. I think the ‘urban developer generic’ is preferable to over-wrought contemporary architecture. LIV Parkside, in my estimation, works much better as a background building for Railroad Park than the local architects’ “trying to hard to be different” designs done when ONB had a workshop on the frontage some years ago.

    • Background buildings can work well facing a major public space like RR Park. However, the meanness of exterior materials, lack of retail or even appropriate ground floor detailing/scale are definitely grounds for criticism regarding this current wave of “developer generic.” I think there’s a healthy middle ground we could achieve.

  3. Please take into consideration the Zollie C Montgomery Skate Center that is located in the Southtown projects. Though it may just look like a red flat area with one huge wave extending the whole length of the court— it is a historic landmark for Birmingham and the Birmingham skate community. Professional skateboarders from all over the world travel to Birmingham just to skate it! It has been published in hundreds of magazines for its amazing architecture that is perfect for skateboarding! Built in the early ’70s with no thought of skateboarding in mind. I know this seems trivial, but turning it into a “skate park style skate area” within the new development would make it quite the destination! The Volcom skate team just traveled here yesterday with a half dozen of the worlds top skate athletes just to skate it! I can provide more info and even a site plan if there is interest… Thanks
    Peter K

  4. Peter–absolutely interested. Send me info when you can at Thanks!

  5. Look forward to the post on the va center….. Many questions about this development….. Why a deck facing university? Why is the entrance facing the parking deck on 7th????? I’m no architect by any means but none of this makes sense. I would have envisioned the main building facing university for greater visabiliity (especially for veterans not familiar with downtown) like most of the medical centers on university. Parking deck should have faced 7th with retail along 7th. This could offset the costs to park in the deck for veterans! Lousy planning who did this? Welcome home btw!

  6. Jeremy-Had you heard that the Housing Authority is getting a new Director? He is coming from the Huntsville Housing Authority which as been doing some very creative projects over the past decade or so. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

    Sent from my iPhone

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