Category Archives: City services

Intro to Green Spaces

By Andrew Cole-Tyson

Note: This piece was originally published in an e-mail sent out to members of a young professionals group called Emerge Montgomery. We reprint it here with Mr. Cole-Tyson’s permission.

On the evening of July 27, 2010, I attended the event at MAX Credit Union where Mayor Todd Strange spoke to our group of young professionals. The theme, “The Future of Montgomery,” was very relevant and timely. I believe that we are at a pivotal point in the development of our city where young professionals like ourselves can have a true impact by positively affecting the ways that downtown Montgomery will be further renewed and revitalized.

As a professional designer interested in landscape architecture and urban design working with 2WR Architects, I see that a large part of the future of Montgomery is related to urban design and architectural retrofit and infill projects as coordinated with the SmartCode. Key to these efforts is the creation of green space in our city.

Why is green space important? Some of the top reasons include:

  • economic development including increased property values and an impetus for revitalization near green areas, business and job creation, tourism management and use, and profits from programmatic entertainment events, etc.
  • psychological liberation from pressures of living and/or working in a growing city
  • more opportunities for physical activities that can reduce obesity and other health issues
  • increased programs for entertainment (water sports, hiking, cycling, etc), education, music, and the arts in and near green space
  • environmental benefits in the areas of air, soil, and water management.

It is exciting to be here in Montgomery at a time when, if combined, our voices can call attention to ways our city can become a better place for us to live and work.

EMERGE Montgomery is made of a phenomenal group of young professionals that have the capability to analyze what is good about other cities that have already made revitalization changes, and lobby for these elements to become a reality in Montgomery. In cities across the south like Chattanooga, Charleston, and Savannah, younger generations are becoming increasingly more interested in the economic and social advantages of mixed use living in urban environments — ways of living that immediately bring up the subjects of green space and the need for a connection to nature for psychological freedom from the stresses of life in the city.

Outdoor entertainment and recreation made available through the creation of green space, added to entertainment venues, make living in our city even more attractive. Typically projects like these come to reality through public/private partnerships that start with buy-in from city entities such as the office of the Mayor and the Planning Department. Here are just a few examples of green space projects:

http://www.railroadpark.org/

http://www.millenniumpark.org/

http://www.rosekennedygreenway.org/

http://www.thebattery.org/

http://www.chattanoogachamber.com/gettoknowus/riverfront.asp/

Through involvement in increasing green and open space projects, we can take even more advantage of Montgomery’s downtown and waterfront area. The Amphitheater has gone a long way in improving the number of programmed events, but part of the advantage to a large green space near downtown is the capability to enjoy nature at any time without the confines of a structured program, all close to our offices and homes. Green and open spaces are more than tree lined streets, though we do want tree lined streets as well! Green and open spaces are places to connect with nature, and specifically, places that we want close to our homes and offices for the sake of a quick escape.

One of the most valuable components of any city is its relationship of green space to the built environment. We’ve seen the impact of green space in places we’ve visited, and maybe even in other places we’ve lived. City planners agree that green space is advantageous, not only for the psychological, environmental, and social rewards, but also for the provable increase in the value of property adjacent to green areas and the other aspects of economic development that are a result of adequate green space creation.

When I think of green space, I’m not thinking just about the aesthetics of natural areas, but also about functionality and programming to include all of the things we love to do on a daily basis. Street trees are a good start, but what about interactive spaces and places that we will look forward to embracing on a regular basis? The beauty of having these larger open green spaces in cities is that we can leave our jobs and walk into a nice park that may be programmed for recreation (walking, cycling, hiking, etc.), musical events or other after-hours events.

We understand that there is a lack of public green space in Downtown Montgomery. Perhaps the reason for this is because there’s not a loud enough voice from residents of this city expressing the need for both small and large dedicated green spaces in downtown. Due to the riverfront improvement that sparked more interest in downtown entertainment venues, the perception of downtown Montgomery not being a great place to hang out is rapidly changing.

However, when I look at our parks downtown, I rarely see anyone using them for recreational or nature focused activities. And even though as kids most of us enjoyed cycling, I rarely see people cycling. My suspicion is because while the downtown parks that we do have are nice, they are either designed for sitting or programmed events. A person living or working downtown must drive to parks designed for more active pursuits. While the change that has occurred thus far is excellent, my hope is that we can continue to create more green space in our city and maximize its utilization by taking input about its design from younger residents.

Andrew Cole-Tyson is a landscape architect at 2WR, a 40-person architectural firm with offices in the historic Anderson Block Building on Commerce Street in downtown Montgomery, and in Columbus, GA. He views the landscape as an enormous canvas for experimentation and expression of ideas. A naturalist, he is particularly interested in relationships of people to nature and public park spaces. His work includes environmental and site analysis, site and community master planning, horticultural and planting design, irrigation design, graphic design, horticultural consulting and landscape architectural construction document production.

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Todd Strange Speaks to Emerge

By Kate and Stephen

We first heard about the “Future of Montgomery” program by way of Facebook. Hey, we live in Montgomery! We think about the future! Perfect! The Facebook event told us that the program would be put on by a group called Emerge Montgomery, which we were unfamiliar with, and would be held at a center of civic gathering – the Max Credit Union over near Eastdale Mall. As a sidebar, we learned that Max Credit Union was, according to their conference room’s “Wall of History,” founded with $125 stashed in a cigar box.

As for Emerge Montgomery, we discovered that it is, according to their website, “a program of Leadership Montgomery in partnership with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.” Further:

“EMERGE Montgomery is The organization for young professionals to connect with each other and the community. It is a built-in network of contacts for 22-40 year olds who currently live in the Montgomery area or are considering Montgomery as a place to live.”

Leadership Montgomery? Well, that’s here. And the Chamber? Well, you know what a Chamber of Commerce is.

Being between the ages of 22 and 40, and armed with a healthy interest in the future of the city in which we live, we decided to attend. The Facebook event told us that we would hear from three important Montgomery leaders:

· Todd Strange, Mayor of the City of Montgomery,

· Elton Dean, Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission

· Nim Frazer, Chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dean didn’t show, but the comments by the other two guys were particularly interesting. Most of Frazier’s comments were praise for the members of Emerge and Leadership Montgomery, saying that they were bright leaders of tomorrow, that sort of thing. The people we met were certainly nice enough and very interested in what we did, where we worked, etc. There was a lot of card swapping, name dropping, and conversation about whether so-and-so was the V.P. or the Senior V.P.

Frazier’s comments encouraged the audience to join the Chamber of Commerce and participate in their events. He noted that his father was also the head of the Montgomery chamber, and reminded us all of how CNN drove their giant news bus into Montgomery a few months ago and did some reports.

But the show was really about Mayor Strange, who talked for about 45 minutes to an hour, all off the cuff, unscripted, without notes. He was casual, fairly open, and quite warm. He came off as candid, while excited about the prospects of the city he leads. It was hardly our first exposure to the mayor, but our longest duration of hearing him talk by far. And he saved plenty of time for questions.

Strange began by talking about his arrival in Montgomery at the age of 33 as a regional manager for BellSouth. He said that on his first day of work, he went to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and not only joined, but promptly set out selling memberships. He indicated that he made numerous false promises in order to induce people to join, prompting a great deal of laughter from the audience.

He quickly moved into talking about Hyundai jobs and a state bond issue of $5 million, which the city used to purchase the old Colonial Bank building downtown at 1 Court Square, facing the city’s famous landmark fountain. He ran through an impressive list of items that conveyed in addition to the building: laptops, furniture, art. We’d like to hear more about the city’s plans for these items. Current plans for the building involve making some cosmetic changes to the outside of the building, while leasing the inside space to merchants and businesses.

Mayor Strange stressed the value of inmate labor, saying that the city employed 20 prisoners to tear down the old Riverside Heights properties.

He touched on public schools issues and crime, noting that he himself had been pulled over in the various checkpoints that police officers are employing around town. He mentioned city plans to renovate Cramton Bowl and suggested that the city was in the running to secure a contract for some sort of college football bowl game in coming years. He discussed the future construction of a building designed to attract women’s athletic events and also previewed an upcoming $250,000 public relations branding rollout to tout Montgomery’s new slogan – the “Capital of Dreams.”

Questions from the audience involved the smart code issues discussed regularly here on MML, the city’s plans for green space, the prospects for a downtown grocery store (upshot: deli likely, full grocery store unlikely), and plans for the abandoned Montgomery Mall.

All in all, our first exposure to this whole scene was a positive one. The mayor seemed frank and easy-going. The people from Emerge and Leadership Montgomery were professional and evinced a genuine commitment to  the often unrewarding work of civic engagement. The crowd was racially mixed and seemed to have a real interest in making Montgomery a better place. And on a weeknight during the summer doldrums, you really can’t underestimate how important it is that they were able to fill up the room. We’re hoping to continue to follow the activities of this group of “tomorrow’s leaders” and track the difficult work of charity, community improvement, and civic participation. Groups like this are one of the many driving engines that make democracy work.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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The Ghost of Martha Manor

By Stephen and Kate

Before demolition, Martha Manor in its last days. Photo by SDHA resident Bennie J. Riley.

We were used to them, in a sad kind of way. The Martha Manor Apartments on Wilmington were a kind of neighborhood landmark. And not in a good way. The apartments were long-abandoned, desolate, scary and certainly not the kind of place you’d want to be walking near at night. The words “NO COPPER” were scrawled across one outside surface, discouraging further scavengers from ripping up walls in search of metal. The windows that weren’t boarded up? Broken out. Weeds were knee high and scorch marks were reminders of some previous fire. One friend described it as the perfect place for someone to drag a victim, while another joked that we should nominate it for Montgomery’s Most Likely Corpse Disposal Location.

We didn’t envy our neighbors in South Hull for having to live near such an eyesore. As businesses began to spring back to life at the troubled corner of Norman Bridge and Edgemont, Martha Manor loomed over them like a reminder of civic decay, of the city’s struggle to thrive despite considerable adversity.

And then, one day, they were gone. We were shocked. How did this happen? Who was behind this much-needed masterstroke of neighborhood improvement? The more we looked into the matter, the more impressed we became with the perseverance, over nearly a decade, of our dedicated neighbors in the South Hull District Association (SHDA).

Of course, Martha Manor wasn’t always a creepy blight on the community. No place ever starts out that way. By nearly all accounts, the apartments were well kept for a long time until they went downhill in the 1990s. In December 2001, the city was called out to inspect the property because of a report that water was gushing out of the second story of one of the two buildings. The city’s inspection found that the apartments were extremely dilapidated. The battle to clean up South Hull was joined. Using the City’s formal procedure, a letter was sent to the property owner insisting that the apartments be brought up to code. When the owner failed to take the necessary steps, the City Council began a debate over demolition.

That’s when then-newly-minted City Council Member Martha Roby got involved. When Roby took over from her predecessor, Alice Reynolds, the Council was first beginning to consider authorizing the demolition of the property. Demolition was finally approved in August 2007, but then there was little action because the order was appealed.

“What happens with situations like this is once the city condemns a property, the owner can file a lawsuit in the circuit court to have the decision overturned,” Roby said. “With many of these properties that is what happens. It’s very frustrating from where I sit and where the neighborhood stands because it’s out of our hands.”

The west building was torn down a few years ago, but there was some talk about improving the remaining building. The SDHA reports that the property’s owner even attended an SDHA meeting to talk about plans for renovation. There were some improvements made to the remaining building, but with no property manager on site, they didn’t stick, and once again demolition was on the table. The property owners wanted to sell, so the city gave some time for potential buyers to come forward. None appeared.

Finally, in April, the ruins of Martha Manor came down to great acclaim among the members of SDHA. Even though the property wasn’t technically within the boundaries of their neighborhood, the association had come together to improve their larger community.

“The destruction of Martha Manor will benefit our and neighboring communities by helping to eliminate the foot traffic coming from an area where suspected illegal activities occurred and hopefully decreasing the break-ins in our areas,” said current SDHA President Lauren Dunning.

Roby emphasized the importance of Montgomery residents knowing and using the established city process when they have concerns over properties.

“If there is a piece of property that there is concern over, whether it is structurally unsafe or open and becoming a haven for criminal activity, the neighborhood association needs to contact their City Council Member or the City’s Inspections Department, or even call the city’s 311 number.”

The future of the site is unknown for now. SDHA residents are hoping that there might be some momentum to make the lot a neighborhood park, but everyone agrees that it is better to have a grassy lot than abandoned buildings where trash is dumped or act as a haven for criminal activity.

Download the latest SDHA newsletter here to read more about the story and get the latest news from South Hull.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Independence Day Plans

The beach is an oil-covered dead zone. The mountains (even those with a cheeseball laser show and a “rock man“)? Meh. No, no. The world is big and scary out there — and gasoline costs too much. Add in the risks of car wrecks and state troopers (to say nothing of the horror that the TSA has made the modern experience of flying on an airplane), and it’s best that you probably just spend your Independence Day right here at home. And for those who aren’t going out of town on the Fourth of July weekend, there are a number of events planned here in lovely Montgomery.

The City of Montgomery is planning a Fourth of July “Staycation,” including discounts on food and beverages at downtown establishments and special room rates at the Embassy Suites and Renaissance Hotel and Spa beginning on Friday, July 2nd.

On Saturday, the holiday weekend will continue with the Capital City Downtown Streetfest from 5 pm to 9 pm. It will feature train rides, inflatables, Fun Face Caricatures, temporary tattoos, The Big Green Bus and discounted horse-drawn carriage rides by Capitol City Carriage. According to the city’s press release, the Party Palace will have animated characters that will interact with the public, offering free face-painting and children’s crafts. There will be street vendors on Commerce Street and other activities including water features, and the sale of snacks, such as popcorn, cotton candy and roasted corn. The Groove Factor Band will play at a stage on Tallapoosa Street beside Biscuits Stadium. Admission is free to the Streetfest; however, some of the children’s activities will have a small charge.

The Cloverdale-Idlewild neighborhood in Midtown will have its annual Fourth of July Parade, including a float based on the 1903 model Wright Brothers Flyer (Montgomery has a unique Wright Brothers connection, in case you didn’t know). The fun will start at 2:00 at the corner of Lexington and Plymouth, winding through the neighborhood and finishing at Cloverdale Bottom Park, where there will be what is being described as “a patriotic mini-pageant.” The evening’s entertainment will include a band at the Bottom Park gazebo (at the intersection of Cloverdale Road and Ponce de Leon), from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.  The band will be Charlie C and the Cuzamatics.

The city’s annual Fourth of July Riverfront Celebration will round out the weekend at the Riverwalk Amphitheater. Gates will open at 6 pm. Admission is free and will feature entertainment again by The Groove Factor Band.  Several food vendors, the Big Green Bus, the Splashpad, water slide and inflatables will line the Riverwalk. Attendees can rent a pontoon boat or Seadoo from Captain Hook’s or take a Blues or Fireworks Cruise on the the Harriott II Riverboat. The fireworks spectacular over the Alabama River will begin immediately following the 6:05 first pitch of the Biscuits baseball game.

For more information on the Fourth of July Staycation,  contact Carol Gunter at (334) 241-2726.

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Vaughn Road Park

By Kate and Stephen

At 21 acres, Vaughn Road Park isn’t Montgomery’s biggest park (that would be Lagoon Park, at 410 acres by far the largest of the city’s 90 parks), but it’s got to be one of the very nicest. Even in the most sweltering parts of summer, there are tennis courts that seem to be in use just about every day. Our tennis-playing friends tell us that the folks who play there are pretty intense/talented. There are shelters with benches and grills for cooking out and a well-kept half-mile jogging trail that traces the outline of the park. Along the jogging trail are the sad remains of a decayed Parcourse Fitness Trail (invented by the Swiss!) – the rings are still there (and likely to sear your hand right off if you touch them in summer), but the wooden sit-up planks are rickety and full of splinters. Too bad.

Still, the grass is abundant and well-kept — and there are even nice pockets of shade around the park. On the weekends, Vaughn Park is full of people flying kites, boys practicing gymnastics, tiny children carrying around tinier puppies and being chased by family members balancing hamburgers and red plastic cups of sweet tea.

The real star of the park is its playground. For children of a certain age, this is a paradise. Things that spin in crazy ways sit next to elaborate climbing devices. There are trails winding around the side under big overhanging lilac bushes for hiding and conspiring, floors that are rubber and thus less likely to cause injury, and ramps that make the whole park accessible to children of varying levels of mobility.

Volunteer labor largely built this playground. With the of support New Haven-based Boundless Playgrounds, it opened in September of 2003 and has probably delighted tens of thousands of children since then. We had never heard of Boundless Playgrounds until visiting Vaughn Park, but are really impressed by their beautiful vision and ideas – and it’s so cool that one of these state of the art playgrounds is right here in Montgomery and accessible to the general public. The playground makes a trip to Vaughn Park worth it, even if you don’t take a turn getting a push on a swing.

In an era where people view any municipal services as some kind of crazy Socialist tyranny, a visit to a city park can be a nice reminder of the value of community space. We don’t know enough to comment on how well the city funds its parks and recreation department (or how well that department does with the money it is allotted), but we can say for sure that Vaughn Park is one of the crown jewels of the system and our time in Montgomery is laced with many happy memories of trips there. Here’s hoping that the other parks in the city are one day as great as Vaughn.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Our Public Library

By Kate and Stephen

When we went to the Alabama Book Festival last month we spent some time talking to a librarian in Montgomery’s City-County public library system. She was so persuasive talking to us about the resources available through the library that we turned to each other and said: “Okay, we’ve got to get library cards.”

Inside the Friends of the Library bookstore

That we have lived in Montgomery for two years without getting library cards is bad enough; that we are the biggest book lovers we know and have a house full of books (not to mention that we support the role of government in providing services that improve the common good), well, it seems to make this worse somehow. It took us a little while, but recently we did make our first trip to the Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library on High Street.

An Alabama Historical Association sign outside the library informed us about the library’s namesake. You can read a longer version here. This branch was apparently built in 1991, although to be honest it looks like it might be a little bit older. There is a column outside that seems to have been taken from the building downtown where the order to fire on Fort Sumter was given.

Inside, to the left, is the Friends of the Library used bookstore. This is less a store than a few shelves and a few discount tables. But we were in heaven browsing through the selection and had to tear ourselves away so that we could see the rest of the library while on our lunch break. We bought eleven books for $10.10. Eleven great books in beautiful condition. Shopping for used books is a pastime second only to reading in our house, and one of the few bad things about living in Montgomery is the dearth of used book stores (by our count, your options are basically Trade N Books or New South, the latter’s selection being eclectic and generally unaffordable for our budget). We were thrilled at the selection, condition and prices (paperbacks 25 cents, hardbacks $2) of the books at Friends of the Library. As small as it is, we think it might be Montgomery’s best used bookstore, at least until we finish picking it over.

Inside, the library is cool and open and comfortable. There is snazzy neon over the doors leading to the fiction and children’s sections downstairs and a really neat open-frame spiral staircase leading upstairs to the non-fiction and reference sections, as well as the “micrographics” room. In that room we were pleased to find that the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is still produced in hard copy (told you we’re nerds). Also they still have microfilm readers! In the reference room we found the librarian from the Book Festival who inspired us to visit and we thanked her.

Even though the library system’s website looks like it might have been designed on Geocities, Midtown’s closest branch (the main branch!) is welcoming and warm, with staff eager to help you find just the right book and a used bookstore that just might be the best in the city.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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