Yesterday the first Sustainable Smart Cities Symposium was held at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel ballroom (above) with over 300 attendees. Local experts on urban growth, sustainability, and health issues (they’re all interrelated) shared the stage with national and international experts such as former Bogota, Columbia mayor Enrique Penalosa to discuss the potential, and challenges, of transforming Birmingham. Penalosa was treated to a bike tour the previous day through downtown and neighboring districts of the City, where he was shocked by the decline and poverty he witnessed (Birmingham News summary here, and News columnist John Archibald’s take here).
The most exciting thing about the symposium: UAB has just established a Sustainability Research Center, bringing together talent from across academic disciplines to tackle urban livability, design, and health issues in collaboration with the City and community. This sort of “town gown” collaboration is very welcome, and should benefit all of us.
Speaking of town gown collaboration, shown above is the University Square mixed-use development adjacent to University of Wisconsin (Madison), one of a string of well-planned developments that have completely transformed the East Campus Gateway into the university. A combination of university, city, and private dollars have created a pedestrian-friendly, dense environment where students, faculty, retailers, and urban professionals all mingle together. The New York Times profiled this project here. This is a good example of the impact a university can have on the surrounding built environment, with careful planning and collaboration. There’s no reason Birmingham can’t become the “Madison of the South”. UAB’s new Center is a promising start.
The 7-block Gateway, lined with dorms, classroom buildings, retail, and market-rate apartments is shown above. If students and citizens of Madison stroll this place in the long winter months, just think of it’s equivalent in sunny Birmingham…
[PS On a tangent–the DoubleTree hotel needs a good designer to completely overhaul its public areas. For such a well-located, popular hotel its interiors are behind the times.]