Category Archives: Fun

Halloween in Midtown

Some people love Christmas. They go to those strange all-year-round Christmas stores full of the little decorative Santa statues, spend all year planning gift lists and parties, and possess a bewildering array of red and green clothing, some of which may be affixed with three dimensional snowmen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We like Christmas too.

Other people are more into the family gatherings of Thanksgiving. And we even have a few friends that take April Fool’s Day pretty seriously.

Even our cat is into the holiday spirit.

But for us, Halloween is New Year’s Eve multiplied by a year full of birthdays, plus the ethnicity-neutral revelry of St. Patrick’s Day, and the solemnity of Secretary’s Day Administrative Professional’s Day (April 27, 2011) all rolled into one awesome holiday. You don’t have to buy gifts for anyone, there are no awkward coerced family moments, and, oh yeah, there’s candy. And with the fun of costumes, the emergence of nice weather, the relative (and that’s the key word) lack of commercialization, and the beautiful duality of the holiday both being about kids (trick or treating) and adults (late night parties), it’s pretty clear that Halloween is the best holiday.

So, since it’s the start of October (and if you haven’t started preparing for Halloween yet, you’re already behind), here’s a handy users guide to celebration of Halloween in Midtown Montgomery.

Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, leading to a hilarious Facebook status update by the City of Montgomery’s official Facebook page, letting people know:

Halloween is on October 31st and that is the date that will be acknowledged. Neither the City of Montgomery, nor the Mayor will designate a supplemental date for trick-or-treating. Because Halloween is on Sunday this year, many churches can and will use this opportunity to host religious celebrations, in addition to the many secular ways society recognizes Halloween.

Thanks to the city for not bowing to pressure to “designate a supplemental date for trick-or-treating.”

The Montgomery Zoo’s “ZooBoo” – We wanted more information, and were somewhat disappointed to see that the zoo’s website was so lackluster. If you click on through to the calendar of events, you’ll find that, “the Montgomery Zoo presents a safe alternative to Halloween. ZooBoo provides a fun filled evening of games, treats, and costumed characters, education presentations, and the traditional haunted ride.” Things kick off Thursday, October 14th-17th then October 21st-24th, and starting again Thursday, October 28th through Halloween. All we know is that it’s from 6 to 9 each night. No pics. No graphics. Fun? Maybe. It’s unclear what “education presentations” means. And what’s “the traditional haunted ride?”

$10 for adults (ages 13 and older), $7 for kids (ages 3-12), free for toddlers.

Atrox Factory – If you’re more serious about being frightened by professionals, it’s well worth it to make the drive up to Leeds, Alabama. There, you will find the Atrox Factory, a haunted house whose profits all go to assorted childrens’ charities. We went last year and thought it was great – read our review over at Lost in Montgomery.

Friday and Saturdays from 6:30-midnight; Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 6:30 until 10 p.m.

It’s $15 to go through the haunt, but an additional $5 cover charge on the nights when Atrox brings in celebrities (usually stars of horror films) to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

Sloss Furnace – Also in the Birmingham area is the haunt put together out at historic Sloss Furnace. The furnaces themselves are a must-see tourist attraction during the non-haunted times of the year, especially if you are interested in Alabama or industrial history. But the legacy of corporate exploitation of workers adds a little extra creepy air as you wander through the facilities at night with that unreproducible smell of age and decay hanging in the air and various weirdos popping out of dark crevices. Not the scariest haunt around, but probably worth it if you have never been inside an abandoned steel mill. You can tour both haunts for $20.

Netherworld – And then at the top of the easily-drivable heap of area haunted houses is Atlanta’s Netherworld. We are planning to go this year and just can’t wait. We’ll write it up over at Lost in Montgomery when we go, so stay tuned. It’s a little more pricey, but seems like it’d be worth it, with both haunts available for $27.

Stephen scared children at our friends' haunted house last year.

Haunted Hearse – One of the Halloween events we are most excited about checking out here in town is the new haunted hearse. Some enterprising entrepreneurs in town knew that there were folks like us out there who dig spooky things and have evidently somehow acquired an actual hearse and are offering tours. We bet they drive folks through Montgomery’s own Oakwood Cemetery. Of course, you could always go there on your own. Why go pay money to be frightened by theater students in expensive latex at places like Atrox and Netherworld when you can have a genuine communion with the actual dead in Montgomery’s most famous and most awesome cemetery? They do pickups from The Alley downtown and tickets are $10. Check out their Facebook page.

Corn Mazes – Two years ago we went to a corn maze (or “maize,” as they spelled it) out in nearby Titus. That particular one isn’t there anymore, but if you are interested in finding a maze or a pumpkin patch, this helpful website will help you locate either. Honestly, even as adults with no children we had a lot of fun navigating the complex corn maze in the dark. We were only sad we didn’t get to operate the cannon that shoots corn. If you’ve got youngsters, these things are probably even more fun.

Trick Or Treat – Despite the national and local decline of crime, the reality is that we live in communities that are often paralyzed by fear. There’s no better example of that than the decline of trick or treating and the emergence of “safe” indoor activities. There’s nothing wrong with fall festivals. Heck, they’re awesome. But they shouldn’t trade off with the community spirit promoted by going to the doors of strangers and having the audacity to ask for a treat.

Please let us know if there are other Halloween activities that we should be aware of!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with 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.


Filed under Fun, Holidays

Small Town Living in a Midsized City

As I write at my office desk in the heart of Cloverdale, I hear the sound of marching band music  reverberating from the grounds of what was once Cloverdale Junior High School (and before 1929, I understand, Montgomery County High School). The parking lot is filled with school buses from many counties in central Alabama; and the grounds are full of kids in band uniforms, toting instruments, along with their drum majors and majorettes. There must be some kind of competition underway.

The sights and sounds transport me back in time to my childhood and our home in a small town. Our home backed up to the junior high school, and the sound of band practice was a regular occurrence, as was the sound that I considered the harbinger of spring — the crack of a baseball being hit off a wooden Louisville Slugger bat as teams prepared to compete in many different kinds of league play.

Speaking of baseball, earlier today I happened by Huntingdon College where I saw the Huntingdon Hawks conducting what must have been a fall practice. On the streets and sidewalks nearby were bicyclists, runners and walkers, most of whose faces I recognized. In fact, the challenge when one walks or runs around here is that of maintaining the pace as it’s tremendously tempting to keep stopping to chat and catch up!

From my desk, I can look out onto Fairview Avenue and see people coming and going to the Cloverdale Shoe Shop and the boutique M. Bagwell on either side of our office, joining friends or family for lunch at Sinclair’s or Tomatino’s. On Sunday morning when I come to feed our office cat, Halle, I always see folks I know at Café Louisa enjoying their pastries, coffee and newspapers … along with a healthy helping of neighborly conversation.

All this reminds me of what I often tell Montgomery newcomers about life in Midtown:  It’s like living in a small town inside a mid-size city. Whether a patron chooses the Pine Bar in Cloverdale Village, Sinclair’s or Bud’s in Cloverdale Five Points, or Down the Street on Zelda Road, he or she enters a Cheers-like atmosphere where “everybody knows your name.”

Montgomery is said now to have approximately 225,000 people inside the city limits. But in Midtown Montgomery, the population count is a much more manageable (and knowable) 8,500 households. I guess this translates into about 25,000 adults and children, just about the size of the tiny hometown of my youth. And it’s the perfect size for truly getting to know folks and develop meaningful relationships.

Midtown Montgomerians are passionate about our quality of life. We care deeply about what goes on in our midst. A great example is the proposed rezoning of the aforementioned a“Cloverdale Junior High” frontage. As soon as the zoning signs went up, my telephone lit up — as did those of many neighborhood leaders. Folks wanted to know what was being proposed and whether it would it be good for Midtown. (I happen to believe it is a positive step.)

You can easily get from one end of Midtown to the other in less than 15 minutes unless you are caught in morning or afternoon “drive time.” Downtown and the Capitol Complex are only minutes away. We have everything one needs in the way of shopping except a major clothier. And the merchants are, for the most part, local folks who live here, so our dollars stay right here in our tight-knit little community.

All of this is to say that life in Midtown is good … so good, sometimes, that I feel a bit sad for folks who have somehow opted out (or not opted in). If you agree, help spread the word!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

1 Comment

Filed under Fun, Sandra Nickel

Upcoming Fall Fun

Looking for something to do, but tired of researching to indulge your morbid curiosity about the two tired old folks duking it out in the Alabama Governor’s race? Convinced in some sort of deeply buried sliver of your soul that there might be more to life than consumption of a weekly slate of college football games? Feeling as if there’s something missing in your life?

Get out there and experience the reality that most people in the world know and love … or at least tolerate until another morning dawns. “But what to do?” you might be shrieking at your computer screen at this very moment. Never fear, here are some good options for Midtown Montgomery residents looking for weekend fun during coming weeks:

Start a morning at the CIA yard sale. No, no, no the Central Intelligence Agency yard sale, which would be super awesome but probably also a trap. No, we’re talking about the Cloverdale-Idlewild Association yard sale, the 6th annual fundraiser for one of the best neighborhood associations in the city.

It’s October 9th from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. and like most yard sales, the early birds get the bargains. Young people and hipsters who prize the kinds of crap you can find at yard sales are also the most likely to be sleeping in because of long Friday nights. Old people will show up early and buy all the best stuff while the young resign themselves to lolling around on the couch watching ESPN’s College Football Gameday, which features Lee Corso, an old person who has probably already hit 3 yard sales before he dodders on the set each Saturday morning.

The C.I.A. yardsale is pretty great. They have everything from clothing to toys to a whole gardening section (where we sold some of the unfortunate statuary that came with our house when we bought it), all priced to move.

Go see the Springsteen movie at The Capri on September 26th. Bruce Springsteen is sort of like U2: been around forever, couldn’t possibly be more critically acclaimed and totally taken for granted. We’re not huge Springsteen fans. We know people from New Jersey who (while tossing a begrudging bone to that other Garden State musical icon, Mr. Bongiovi) pretty much treat Bruuuuce like The Pope. And he is. He’s sort of the Madonna of white dudes, the American Bono, the working class Mick Jagger, the everything good about the “guy with guitar and kickass band” model of music-making.

If you think you already know what’s up with Bruce Springsteen and don’t like him, you probably haven’t heard enough. One of the bad things about being a musical icon is that people slot you into a box. If your knowledge of Bruce begins and ends with the “Born in the USA” and “Dancin’ in the Dark” stuff from the 1980s, you need to clear your mind and experience the haunting brutality of 1982’s Nebraska or even some of the new stuff like Working on a Dream.

Young people would be making a mistake to lump Bruce in with other middle-aged white guitar rock icons like Tom Petty (who is also awesome) or John (Cougar) Mellencamp (who is less so). Maybe you’re more into John Mayer or Jack Johnson. Or maybe you just don’t think as much about music as you once did because the economy has collapsed and you’re juggling your job (or the search for one) with family obligations and other priorities.

Bruce is the soundtrack to all of this, or could be if you’d listen. Go see this movie. It’s called London Calling, was filmed live in London’s Hyde Park, and opens with the title track being performed (a cover of one of the greatest songs by The Clash). We haven’t seen it, but it is getting rave reviews. It’s a 90-minute live show by Bruce and the E Street Band and if all you’ve ever seen of Bruce live is the Super Bowl halftime show, this movie is sure to blow your doors off.

London Calling is the final of three special programs at the Capri Theatre the week of September 20-26. On Friday, September 24 they’ll be showing one of two showings of the cult classic The Big Lebowski (one of our fave movies ever). Saturday, September 25 brings Alexander City resident and star of Troll 2 George Hardy to the theater to present the documentary Best Worst Movie.

Do Oktoberfest at El Rey. We’ve already explained that we think El Rey Burrito Lounge is one of our very favorite restaurants in the city. That would be true even if they weren’t always having awesome special events like Oktoberfest (Friday, October 1st). We went last year and liked their vegan chorizo dogs so much that we wrote Oktoberfest on our calendar as soon as they announced the date. Of course, they have the meaty kind of chorizo too — and delicious soft pretzels. And beer. Did we mention that there will be lots and lots of beer? Some of it will be kinds you’ve never heard of. All of it will be delicious. And hopefully by then it will not be a million degrees outside.

Go to the Wine Festival. We like wine. It gives us that warm feeling, loquaciousness, and, if consumed in sufficient quantities, it can make us forget about the current political climate here in Alabama (Can you tell that we’re thrilled with the current crop of folks being offered up for election in November?).

On Saturday, October 9, go to the River Walk Wine Festival. It’s noon to 4 p.m. at, well, duh, at the Riverfront. It’s $25 a person with music, wine, food, all the usual festival stuff. We were at the river for the Dragon Boat races and had a blast. And as the weather cools, it’s even better to be taking advantage of one of the best parts of downtown.

While we know a little about wine, we’re far from the readers of the insufferable wine magazines. We don’t go to the wine snob Websites or offer the discriminating curl of the lip if offered something less-than-elite. We know only enough to know what we like. And that’s why it’s fun. We’re actually pretty populist about it, being able to sit on pickup tailgates drinking cheap beer with the good ol’ boys one day, while swilling a Spanish reserva rosé with friends on the patio the next.

The River Walk Wine Festival promises to be a good time. At least 11 distributors are featured on the festival’s Webpage. And we promise to have a designated driver. We are also glad that this is not on the same day as the Oktoberfest because we’re not sure we could mix that much wine and beer.

We know there’s more stuff coming up – just wanted to share these events with anyone looking for stuff to do. And please, as always, if you know of cool upcoming events, drop us a line so we can help spread the word.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fun

Free Wheeling: Biking in Midtown

My love affair with the bicycle began on a cold December 25th in 1960 with Santa’s delivery.

With the help of training wheels I quickly mastered the ride, and by third grade was cycling daily to Bellingrath Elementary. I eventually grew into a “big girl” bike and began to venture into adjacent neighborhoods with other free-wheeling friends and groups such as Girl Scouts. By the time I reached high school, you would have thought I would have grown out of it, but I had transferred my affections to a pre-loved authentic English racing bike that I found in a trash pile discarded by moving military family. That bicycle took me on many adventures exploring neighborhoods around town (which may contribute to my interest in architecture and preservation) including back and forth to a part-time job. In college, I invested in flashy lime green mixte-framed French touring bike that I rode for the next 30 years. I even used the subject of bicycling in college class projects: consumer reports on best bikes to purchase for economics class, bicycling laws for political science class, photographs of bicycles for design class — yes, I was obsessed!

City codes from the mid 1970s specify that bike riders must obey the instructions of official traffic control signals. No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district. No person 14 or more years of age shall ride upon any sidewalk in any district. (I guess that means younger folks can ride on the sidewalk at least in the neighborhoods?) No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than against the curb, in a rack, or against a building, as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrians. And this is my favorite — No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet, except that it cannot be a siren or a whistle. I purchased an obnoxious bell and Wizard-of-Oz-like willow basket for my bike that took advantage of the wheeling revival.

So now in my middle years I find myself continuing to be enamored with this amazing machine and how it has evolved. There are still some of us hardcore cyclers out there and I see us pedaling through Midtown in the afternoons or on weekends. There is a very active Montgomery Bicycle Club that “promotes recreational and competitive cycling in the central Alabama area … and supports bicycle safety and awareness advocacy programs.” The club has some great rural routes to ride on the upcoming autumn days, but I’m more of a non-competitive urban pedaler. I have frustrated more than one companion cycler by just cruising looking at the trees and houses rather than pushing for distance and speed.

The nice fellows at Cloverdale Service Center are fabulous tire-filler-uppers and there are several places around town that purport to sell and repair bikes. Some of our MATS buses sport bike racks on the front for folks who have further to go than the bus routes take them. When I ride, I always must find places to secure my bike because of the lack of available bike racks, although I did see two racks at the Morgan Library downtown. Many of the newest long range plans for neighborhood revitalization and development and the Smart Code are addressing the need for bike lanes to encourage less auto dependency.

So, now that the weather is once again conducive to a pleasant evening ride, I encourage Midtowners to dust off that Schwinn, lube up the tandem and take advantage of the place we call home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

Leave a comment

Filed under Carole King, Fun

The Pine Bar

It’s that special time of the year for sports fans. Even as temperatures hover above 90 degrees, there are slivers of fall in the air. Excitement is building all across the nation as team lineups solidify, old rivalries are rekindled, and places that haven’t seen a championship team in decades begin to dream. Others dare to dream of a repeat.

We are talking, of course, about the impending baseball playoffs. Yes, we know that it’s football season. And we’re plenty into that too. But the Braves are making a bit of a run this year, what with their young Say Hey Kid, super slugging catcher, retiring old school Hall of Fame manager, and killer closer. They just got Derrek Lee off the Cubs! Omar Infante’s looking for a batting title! It’s been a long time since we were this into a Braves team, and we were heartened to see that the Pine Bar over in Old Cloverdale was telling all its hundreds of Facebook fans to come on over for some baseball on big screen high def TVs.

Last week, we did just that, watching the Braves beat the Mets in the cool comfort of what’s got to be one of Montgomery’s best bars. It’s non-smoking, which we love (but there are lots of tables outside for our smoking friends or people just enjoying a cool evening). The bar and tables within are made from reclaimed pine, finished to a smooth and luxurious shine — perfect for resting a drink on while you watch baseball, or football, or just make small talk.

The bartenders know what they’re talking about and can talk about the hops content of various limited-run beers while pouring you a mixed-drink from the well-stocked bar. While there, we were offered the chance to sample a new item we’ve never tried before, a cocktail mixed with elderflower syrup. Was it amazing? Not really. It was fair. But it’s fun to try new things and to talk to bartenders who know a lot about their trade.

Sure, the Pine Bar may close earlier than some places (people live upstairs, so after 11 p.m. it’s not cool to be drinking and talking loudly right underneath them), but it’s got a great selection of delicious beers or tap and in the bottle. Also, they have music most Saturday nights. We’ve been in there before when it’s full with people chatting and nodding their heads to a great jazz trio. And if you’re so inclined, you can get there via the city’s Entertainment Trolley – maybe making it one of several stops in a night on the town. With the Village Kitchen opening in the space next door (where Nancy Paterson’s used to be), Old Cloverdale continues to be a good place for a night on the town.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fun, Municipal business

August Saturday in Midtown

By Kate and Stephen

We just had a great Saturday.

It was one of those days that make you feel really lucky to live in Montgomery. Friday was a late night. Good friends came over. The August heat had finally decided to offer a tease of September. The punishing heat had, if only for a cloudy night, relented. We had mojitos on our patio. Come Saturday, we slept in. But just a little – there was a lot going on in our hometown.

First, we went to the Capri, where the African-American Film Festival was showing from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. It was sponsored by the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University. Admission was free, so the price was right, and the selection of movies was pretty great.

We missed the Lena Horne movie, Cabin in the Sky, but settled in for a civil rights movie called Soundtrack for a Revolution. We both consider ourselves fairly well-informed observers of civil rights history, but we had never heard of this documentary. All we really knew is that it was: A) about civil rights and B) featured music from some of our favorite musical artists. So with The Roots, John Legend, Joss Stone (and others) acting as drawing cards, we went and were happy that we did. It was one of the best movies about the 1950s-1960s American civil rights struggle that we have seen.

The music was on point (Richie Havens performed a stirring version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken?), but the overall arc of the movie brought home the importance of music to the movement. There were great interviews with a number of folks, all of whom seemed to be speaking pretty candidly. The makers of the movie clearly spent a lot of time doing extensive combing over archival footage, and their efforts pay off. There are a few neat cinematic tricks too, like when the camera scans over a full-screen grid comprised entirely of police mugshots, with the grid folding and rotating showing booking photos of more and more of the human faces willing to be arrested for what was right. It covered Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Mississippi, and the march on D.C. without getting bogged down. A great, great film about American history that uplifts but also reminds you of the urgency of unfinished business.

Afterward, we went across the street and had tasty sandwiches from Cafe Louisa. Even if you’re a meat eater, you can still appreciate the portobello mushroom Reuben sandwich. Sauerkraut plus mustard plus heavy sandwich press equals happy post-movie lunch.

Next stop? Montgomery’s riverside dragon boat races. We weren’t really sure what to expect and had never been to this gathering before. We felt lucky to have heard about it and weren’t sure if there’d be much of a crowd downtown or not. Sure enough, after passing through multiple other inexplicable police barricades shutting down the downtown area for totally unrelated reasons, we parked near the Brewpub and saw people milling around.

While walking towards the river, we decided to stop in the Bishop-Parker furniture store in the Schloss-Kahn building across from the Biscuits stadium. We weren’t looking for furniture, but have always wondered what that cool triangle-shaped building was like on the inside. Since it was the kind of day where you do a little exploring, we went inside. It’s pretty amazing in there. The beams throughout feature old graffiti, many of which inveigh against the city porter in some way. We’re not sure what the city porter’s job was, much less how it might have angered the workers at some point in this awesome building’s 105-year history, but it must have been pretty bad. There was also some very nice furniture inside, and the people there were very kind to let us poke around and take pictures.

When we arrived at the river, it was hot. Very hot. Alabama in August hot. But the festival was free and the smart people that were competing in the boat races had planned ahead, bringing football tailgate tents, which reminded us that we were enjoying the last Saturday of the year before football consumes the brains of otherwise well-meaning folks.

The festival featured live music at the city’s cool riverside amphitheater. As we walked up, a local band called The Signals delighted us by playing some Elvis Costello, but floored us by launching into Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” a super-long guitar-heavy dirge about genocide. They smashed it out of the ballpark, producing a stirring version that somehow, oddly, managed to capture the Neil Young anthemic sound while blending into the sunny civic outdoor atmosphere of people cheering for dragon boats.

We enjoyed rooting for the only all-female team entered into the races, “Chics Ahoy,” right before they won their heat. This made us feel better about the announcer’s insulting pre-race comment that they might not be the fastest boat, but they sure would be the cutest. In general, the scene down at the riverfront was bucolic and happy, with everyone enjoying the races while getting their summer fun on.

Our only quibble was that afterwards, when we wanted to go drink something cold and sit in some air conditioning, neither the Alley Bar nor the Brewpub was open. Why not? There’s a festival going on. It’s a Saturday during the summer. People are hot and want to hang out. Also, is this the business plan that’s going to help you out during college football season? We were surprised. So we went home to cool off.

And all of this activity doesn’t give due to the fact that also on this Saturday were the Black Belt Roots Festival in Eutaw and the Okra Festival in Lowndes County. We didn’t make the quick day trips this weekend, but would love to go next year.

First thing in the morning, we’d seen a movie that reminded us that we live in a city that has, throughout its history, been among the most important in influencing the trajectory of our country. We’d been inspired by photos that have inspired the world – and they were taken right here in our town. Then we met some friendly people and saw a building where new furniture graces old floors. Then we heard soaring music while watching hand-paddled boats slide across our beautiful river. Then we had lemonade. Just another lovely Montgomery Saturday.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with 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.


Filed under Fun, Kate and Stephen

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:

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.


Filed under City services, Fun, Government, Legal Issues, Parks, Pets, Real Estate