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.