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First Avenue South Public Realm Charrette

The Urban Studio’s Small Town Design Initiative often leads to long-term engagment with communities, neighborhoods or clients. The Urban Studio worked with the Lakeview District in the early 1990’s; twenty years later, District stakeholders came back to the Urban Studio for an update to their plan. Concepts from the studio project led one stakeholder - the Pepper Place Farmers Market - to seek out the Urban Studio for a more focused look at one part of the plan. 

First Avenue South in the Lakeview/Pepper Place District of downtown Birmingham is becoming increasingly important in the city and region. In the last three years there are significant new anchors/attractions to the west along this corridor with the addition of Railroad Park and Regions Baseball Park.  Both projects have won national honors: Regions Park (HKS Architects) – Best New Ball Park in the Country; Railroad Park (Tom Leader Studio) – ULI Open Space Award (beating out the High Line in NYC) and cover of this Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Lakeview/Pepper Place is rightfully known as the Design District of our city, with over 300 constructors, vendors/suppliers and architects, planners, landscape architects and graphic designers, and Pepper Place Farmers Market has put this area “on the map” drawing over 10,000 visitors a week. Apart from the Market, Pepper Place is home to three restaurants, two cafes/coffee shops, a brewery, a beer (and wine) shop/bar, a repertory theater (TNT,) Birmingham’s professional ballet and Ona’s Jazz Club making this one of our city’s true destinations. 

Across the tracks from Pepper Place a new visitors’ center is under construction for the National Historic Landmark at Sloss Furnaces. First South is part of the County’s new Red Rock Trail system and the first 50 miles of this 500+ mile network of sidewalks, complete streets and greenways includes this area of First South. The funding for these improvements is part of a Department of Transportation Tiger Grant. Also in development and scheduled to open in the coming year is a $4 million park – Rotary Trail –  along First South between 20th and 25th. Rotary Trail will celebrate Birmingham’s Downtown Rotary Club’s, the largest in the world, 100th anniversary.
An Auburn Urban Studio 2011 master plan of Lakeview reinforces the importance and potential of this area as a “downtown adjacent district” and recommends expanding the array of destination activities that are already part of Pepper Place. This study also identifies housing as the most significant missing component of this part of our city.

In this context the Urban Studio organized a charrette and recruited local design professions across diciplines to participate. Participants included: Walter Hood, landscape designer, Berkeley, CA; David Pearson, landscape architect and professor at Clemson University, SC; Deborah Frieden, cultural facilities specialist, San Francisco, CA; as well as faculty and students from the programs of Landscape Architecture and Planning from the main campus. Prof. John Pittari, of the Community Planning Program and Prof. David Hill of the Landscape Architecture Program led teams. Students and professionals across disciplines - architecture, planning and landscape architecture worked together during the two day charrette to explore a wide array of opportunities and design directions for a critical area of interest/investment in Birmingham along the First Avenue South Corridor. Contributors were asked to charrette and consider the evolution of this District and in particular the “public realm” as this district is the logical “next piece” in the eastward development of the Railroad Park Corridor and was imagined as the eastern anchor to the Corridor in Tom Leader’s original studies in the development of Railroad Park. The work was supported by a Hugh Kaul Grant.