The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Plan for Bessemer

Last night the Auburn University Urban Studio architecture grad students' plan for downtown Bessemer was unveiled.


I have high hopes that some of the ideas put forth will become reality, more so than with previous attempts to revive our city center. Part of the reason for this is because five of our seven city council members attended last night and each received a copy of the plan. Past attempts at reviving our city have not garnered this kind of attention from elected officials.

Another reason is the strong showing last night by members of the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association. While rebuilding downtown for the most part is not about preserving old homes, we (BHHA members) see the value in downtown development and how our historic neighbohoods connect to this area. (Especially now that we have seen the plan). BHHA has a diverse membership from throughout the city (and beyond) that will talk this plan up among friends, business leaders and neighbors to increase support.

This plan is not going to be put on a shelf and forgotten. The Bessemer Downtown Redevelopment Authority and the Bessemer Development Board are going to continue presenting the plan to civic groups, associations, schools and any other group that is interested.

Urban Studio has done these projects in over 40 communities around the state. In the past, their presentation has been in the form of an informative map that shows potential improvements and such. But for Bessemer, for the first time, they decided to use both sides of the poster, one for the traditional plan for the future, and on the back side is proposed neighborhood development for several areas and some proposals about Greenways and Trail connections.

We have been trying to get the city interested in connecting to Red Mountain Park for years with little response. This plan shows how it could be done. The land to the west of Red Mountain Park, extending into Bessemer is largely under one ownership, and if this land could be acquired to (or beyond) highway 150, the old rail bed leading to the city along 150 could be made into a connecting trail. This railway passes over the Avenues that enter the historic southside and leads to the (also historic) elevated trestle near Carolina Avenue, which could be part of an extended walkway leading to the proposed RailRoad Park between Carolina and First Avenues. In my opinion this would be the crown jewel of the expanded park system proposed. And it would link Bessemer not only to Birmingham but also to Mountain Brook's Jemison Trail, the Vulcan Trail and Homewood's Shades Creek Greenway that we see when we drive on Lakeshore Drive.

There are people who would love to run such a trail, or ride a bike from Bessemer to Vulcan. Me, me!!!

Other trail connections include extending the Valley Creek Trail from its proposed end in Brighton into Bessemer, along the creek to Powder Plant road and the Alabama Adventure and new high school area. There are other rails to trails type proposals in the plan as well.

My column in The Western Tribune today is about this plan also. Here it is for those of you who do not read the paper (shame on you...just kidding).

On Tuesday the Master Plan for Downtown Bessemer as envisioned by the Auburn University Urban Studio graduate students was unveiled. The public was invited to the reception, and I hope it was well attended.

While our Administration and City Council can not seem to find the wherewithal to work as a team to improve our city, at least those outside of Bessemer can see that its potential lies not only in areas known to the council and local developers by their exit numbers but also in its historic downtown.

As in science where one must work with the evidence that one has in spite of the realization that future findings may lead one down a different path, in historic preservation we do the same. An entire block of historic buildings was destroyed to make way for what looks to be a very ugly courthouse being built. Don’t get me wrong, the courthouse is needed but I have not seen anything that leads me to believe the new building will add to the collection of architectural gems that we have in our city. We need to take advantage of what we still have, before other historic buildings come down.

The Auburn graduate students who designed this plan understand the value of preserving our history, so they have taken that into account as they worked to create this plan. No one will agree with everything they proposed, we already know that from comments made at the meetings where preliminary ideas were discussed. But we can all agree that without a plan, the city center will continue to decline, more buildings will crumble, and customers will leave.

These are not ideas put forth by city leaders; in fact few of them attended the earlier sessions to give input. This is a plan for citizens to embrace and then we must persuade our elected officials to work toward the portions that we as individuals or civic groups choose. Several years ago a plan for our city was developed with community input and that plan has been completely ignored. Let’s not ignore this one.

The Urban Studio Master Plan raises my level of excitement about Downtown Bessemer. Having seen how their plans have helped other cities to take advantage of their forgotten resources gives me hope that Bessemer can do the same.

If you have not seen the plans go by the Bessemer Chamber of Commerce or attend a Bessemer Neighborhood Association meeting to view them. Then get involved.

Other places to see the plan or get a copy include the Bessemer Development Board or give me a call or email. We will get a copy to you.

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