All Activity is Not Created Equal

The Birmingham News is reporting that the land swap deal between UAB and the City of Birmingham is going forward.  Details of the arrangement are here; in short, UAB is trading a series of parcels near the Railroad Park for parcels around the UAB campus that the City owns. The City also pledged to help UAB move forward with a series of street closures.

[Side note: street closures (also called vacated streets) are often irreversible losses of valuable public networks, and so should be approached with caution. As usual, Portland has a solid explanation of how they handle a vacated street proposal. And as usual, Birmingham will likely not have an explanation until after the fact.]

It’s nice to see the City taking such an active role in shaping redevelopment in the city core. Many of us who care about Birmingham’s future have been championing the idea of a more forward-thinking, active role for the City for a while now. Yet it’s also tragic that such leadership and energy is being squandered on redundant showpieces rather than the systemic improvements or “steady as she goes” developments that would actually ail two of the biggest problems in the central city: a lack of quality amenities/activities, and unsatisfactory public service provision (read: schools, transportation networks, municipal solvency).

Yes, there will be more activity with the baseball stadium there. And yes, it will bring people into the City to spend their money. But these will be short bursts of activity: such is the nature of such complexes. This alone cannot sustain or revitalize a district. It cannot create a sense of safety on the streets.