Tag Archives: Pratt City

Healthy fun: it’s coming

Affecting real change

This past weekend saw the national professional organization for design, AIGA, hold a workshop in Birmingham (one of three nationwide) as part of their Design for Good initiative. Joined by local partners such as Alabama Engine and UAB’s Edge of Chaos, community stakeholders and local designers (including your author) shared an intense 2-day brainstorming session revolving around issues of public health, a major concern in our region. The specific topics were supporting the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, and encouraging better food choices among vulnerable populations in the metro area. Exercise and better eating: how do we get more of each in our area?

Avenue W before

Avenue W after

It’s easy to visualize how the Red Rock system can transform how we use our neighborhoods, travel between them, and get a little physical activity. Above is one proposed portion of the system (Village Creek Corridor) that passes along Avenue W in Pratt City. Why choose walking or biking over a car when there is no sidewalk, bike lane, or mileage/directional signage? The plan takes care of that.

Richard Arrington Blvd before

Richard Arrington Blvd after

Because of a recent federal TIGER grant the City won recently, part of the trail will be completed soon; it will link into other future portions such as the improvements shown above leading from the City Center up to Vulcan Park. Pepsico, as part of its initiative to make its brands healthier and to encourage wellness among its customer base, helped sponsor this design summit as well as the other two in New York City and Seattle. Why Birmingham, you may ask? We, and the state generally, have terrible statistics for obesity, hypertension, heart issues, diabetes, etc. If we can turn things around here, we can do it anywhere. Thanks to the sponsors for putting this event together–and everybody, please support the Red Rock system in your own community and across the metro. It not only could transform our health, but the entire concept of moving around Jefferson County.

Who knows: someday soon, we will bike safely from Vulcan Park to Pratt City (or even jog, as the gentleman in the renderings above demonstrates). We’re ready!

[thanks to AIGA for the logo and to Red Rock for the renderings]




Higher public standards

Public space will be key

As the Pratt City neighborhood charrette wrapped up last night with a public presentation, it’s clear that while the citizens and private property owners (including US Steel) should play a major role in rebuilding, the City itself owns or controls a lot of key property in the neighborhood, making its participation vital.  The neighborhood, while heavily damaged, still retains solid urban building blocks: historic bungalows, walkable commercial centers, interesting view corridors, large old trees. When you think of public buildings and spaces in this City, the last 50 years or so have been mainly disappointing. Reflecting a national trend, the public got used to government-sponsored projects as lowest-common-denominator affairs. Functional, but with little care given to creative, inspired design, these buildings are often fraught with ongoing maintenance issues, further diminishing their already ambiguous stature.

Now if someone could just bring back the streetcars

Above is the intersection of Carline Avenue and Avenue U in Pratt City, showing nicely scaled historic buildings that originally responded to a major streetcar line that connected the neighborhood to downtown. Any eye attuned to urban sense-of-place can see potential here. How can the City best direct planning and investment from a design standpoint here and elsewhere in the project area?

Creative design, human scale

There have been several recent articles discussing New York City’s recent renaissance in public architecture, including today’s New York Times (discussing the new children’s library in Queens, by 1100 architect, above) and Architectural Record (showcasing a series of mainly smaller scale, thoughtful public projects). A big part of this new direction for public buildings comes from the city’s Department of Design and Construction, which has revamped the way it does business. Gone are the days of just accepting low bids for projects. Now the city has a competitive fee structure that encourages younger, smaller firms to take on projects under a certain dollar limit; mandated standards of sustainability and design excellence have made public projects exciting to architects to bid on again.

Not your father's public housing in the Bronx

This commitment to design excellence is reflected in an affordable housing project in the Bronx, Via Verde (pictured above). Designed by Grimshaw Architects and Dattner Architects, the quality of the massing, detailing, and street engagement are refreshing and inspiring to see in a part of the City not normally on the receiving end of design “frills”. The thoughtful layout includes cross-ventilation, rooftop vegetable gardens, a large fitness center facing outdoor play space, and other “healthy design” items to encourage its population to lead healthier lifestyles.

Good design can inspire users and neighborhoods alike; it can also be a great way for cities to get national recognition. Birmingham would be wise to reconsider the design standards for public projects, and a more selective process tied to these standards. Maybe we need our own Department of Design and Construction, charged with setting a new tone for tax-payer investment in public projects. And Pratt City could maybe..become a national model for neighborhood rebirth through good design.

[thanks to the Birmingham News for the Pratt City pic;  Architectural Record for the Library pic; archdaily for the Via Verde pic]

Planning for progress

Hope rising from devastation

The April 27 tornado ravaged the Birmingham neighborhood of Pratt City (pictured above) and emptied out this historic, working-class community that was originally tied to mining and steel production in the area. Today and over the weekend, a national team of design, economic development, and planning consultants joins up with residents, local professionals, and Auburn architecture students, in an intensive “charrette” process to formulate initial recommendations for the rebuilding of the neighborhood. The American Institute of Architects Communities by Design program is sponsoring the event. I will be participating and hope to share some results next week.

Holistic planning in downtown Montgomery yields dividends

Another exciting event on the urban planning front, this time in Montogmery: their local Hampstead Institute is sponsoring the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual Council meeting next week. Montgomery has aggressively implemented “new urbanist” principles recommended in their recent downtown master plan with some encouraging results (Alley Station is pictured above).

Having national and international designers in Birmingham and Montgomery engaged with local citizens and professionals bodes well for our future. We need to be more accepting of fresh, outside ideas which, when meshed with local expertise, can provide the best collaborative solutions we need to move our cities forward.

[thanks to alabamaema for the Pratt City pic; euby1 for the Alley Station pic]