Tag Archives: Tom Leader

The fraying fabric of Five Points (2)


In the second article about the critical period Five Points South is going through right now, the above image should give everyone pause. It seems not too long ago, this little strip mall on the 1900 block of 11th Avenue South was home to a longtime hairdresser, hot dog stand, and convenience store, as well as an H and R Block. The convenience store remains, but the hot dog stand is closed and cardboard boxes and rear ends of display cases block the plate glass. A vacant storefront has a “This is not parking for restaurants” sign menacingly scrawled, amidst other cheaply done, temporary signage. In fact, the cacophony of old and new signage, “temporary” banners and posters, and the overall complete lack of street presence makes this surely one of the most shameful urban presentations in Five Points.

Worst of all is the new “Bail Bonds” sign, in horrific black and white, with an incredible graphic pasted across the storefront stating “Arrested? Bond, James Bond, Inc. ALWAYS OPEN”. Is this for real? Did it really get approved by Design Review? Here’s a detail of this storefront below:

...and again, really?

If ever there was an example of the need for a redevelopment authority, which years ago could have acquired this property and solicited for redevelopment more appropriate for the neighborhood, this is it. As it is, the property and its tenants have really sunk to a new low, and it’s depressing. I mean, Bail Bonds? In the middle of Five Points? Not exactly the image we’d like to convey in the metro’s center for dining and nightlife.

On a more positive note, the local merchants (and there are many wonderful merchants who keep us optimistic about the place) have formed a committee to address “immediate tasks and long term goals” for the area. There’s a piece in the Birmingham Business Journal on this announcement here.

And on another positive note, unrelated to Five Points but a few blocks south–a friend alerted me to the fact that Tom Leader, the Berkeley, CA-based landscape architect responsible for the design of Railroad Park, now features that park on the front page of his website. Here’s one of the aerial pics you can find on his project page, showing the elegantly layered design of the park from above:

let's densify the edge and connect it with bike paths!

So far the main complaint I have about the park is the lack of sidewalks bordering it on 1st Avenue South (hopefully they are coming soon!?!). Oh, and one more complaint–that greenways/bike lanes aren’t already in place making it easy to reach this incredible space from across the city by bike. Regardless, I’ve been there almost every day or night enjoying it (walking or biking from home), and it looks like the rest of the City is too. That gives me hope after a grim meet-up with “James Bond” up the street.

[Thanks to Tom Leader Studio for the aerial pic]

Anticipation (2)

Is this really downtown Birmingham?

Yesterday evening Katherine Billemeier (Executive Director of the Railroad Park Foundation) took me and a few others on another tour of the Railroad Park, which is now slated to be open Labor Day weekend. Once again, I was dazzled by the promise that this great open space holds.

The transformation continues

As it gets closer to completion, there are two things I’m thinking about:

1. The entire community must embrace this place as its own, using its walking paths, picnic grounds, plazas, play areas, lakes, skate bowls, and flower gardens as often as possible.

2. The City must quickly focus on a short and long-term development plan for the surrounding area, so that this massive investment is leveraged as best as possible.

We can’t wait!

Kudos to Tom Leader

From the cobbled bowl above, with central pond to be planted with water reeds and dotted with misting pipes perfect for summer frolicking, to the smartly designed recycling bins, the details continue to be top-notch. The designer Tom Leader (based in California but with an international practice) has managed to create something at once unique and contextual. As I’ve said before, a rare example of the City embracing high standards of modern design–and implementing it.