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Urban Studio’s Neighborhood Design Initiative at Work

Selma Art Revive board member talking to AU students

Fifth year students in Architecture and second year students in the Masters of Community Planning Program have been engaged with a number of assets-based initiatives during their fall 2013 semester at Urban Studio. Two of these are distinct neighborhoods of larger urban areas:
The Arts Revive Arts District of Selma, and The Ensley Neighborhood of Birmingham.

The Urban Studio’s design methodology in both projects follows the Studio’s Small Town Design Initiative approach of starting with “what’s good” and building a set of strategic and revitalization proposals around these assets. Understanding these components of each community comes from the investigation of key maps, aerials and historic information as well as on-the-ground field studies and, importantly, from the citizens during a town-hall style information gathering meeting. 

The work in Ensley has also engaged directly with REV Birmingham, “an economic development organization established to stimulate business growth and improve the quality of life in Birmingham’s City Center and it s Neighborhood Commercial Centers.” (http://www.revbirmingham.org/) REV has committed to revitalization efforts across Birmingham with a focus on historic town/neighborhood centers like Ensley. Having the capacity of REV positions Ensley to move forward the ideas and recommendations that are coming from the students’ work. Some examples of student ideas include the creation of community building venues that can also host entertainment and special events and bring citizens and visitors to the neighborhood center, the introduction of new food and restaurant, music and entertainment establishments, housing proposals that build on investments made by organizations like the Bethel Ensly Action Task Inc. (BEAT) in the adjacent Sandy Vista area of Ensley, and The City’s Housing Authority in Tuxedo Court, and proposals for leveraging the potential of vacant and underutilized properties particularly at Ensley’s “front door” where first impressions of the neighborhood are formed (These proposals reinforce Birmingham’s new Comprehensive Plan that identifies Ensley as a site for “urban agriculture” as an alternate economy.)

In Selma, students worked with Arts Revive (http://artsrevive.com/), an organization that has committed to the creation of an Arts District in downtown by using the arts as a community building and economic revitalization tool for Selma. During a four day charrette hosted by Arts Revive the students developed several proposals. Student proposals included an artists-in-residence development in a downtown-adjacent neighborhood called Arsenal Place, new studios, galleries, sales and arts incubator locations adjacent to Arts Revive, a comprehensive development strategy for Water Street that engages the entire frontage of the Alabama River, and a concept of connectivity that spanned the River and engaged the Voting Rights Museum (http://nvrmi.com/), located in Selma’s historic district, and the Pettus Bridge, the site of a civil rights conflicts between armed officers and peaceful marchers.

The final presentation made to Arts Revive in Selma on November 7, 2013 was well received by an audience of over sixty people representing an array of the citizens of Selma.

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