Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Friday, April 3, 2009

B-Ham Street Grid Grabs Attention

Is downtown Birmingham the South's most "street gridded" city? This writer just returned from a fine two-day trip to the Ham and walked a good bit of both the city's Central Business District and Southside (dominated by UAB and Five Points). After doing so, and thoroughly studying various maps of the city (as only a "map geek" can) during the stay, I concluded the central street grid of Alabama's largest city ranks among the best in the nation.

For the sake of discussion, let's define downtown and Southside as being bordered by 11th Avenue North on the north, Interstate 65 on the west, the Elton Stephens Expressway on the east and 11th Avenue South on the south. With the exception of the four corners of this "box," the streets within it form an almost perfect grid of roughly 360 square blocks. With very few breaks in the grid (a train gulch severing Downtown from Southside being the main example) the opportunities to navigate — by car, foot, bike, DART Circulator, city bus, etc. — and view the city are fabulous. Most vistas are uninterrupted, as the streets (many wide and one way to create proper traffic flow and safety) stretch for many blocks. In fact, there are few "interrupters" within this "built fabric mass." Two key examples are Linn Park and the massive UAB campus, one of the most impresses urban campuses in the country. The diminutive Kelly Ingram Park (the only green space of note downtown and a very nice one at that) somehow manages to avoid distorting the grid. Four viaducts span the railroad tracks and connect the Central Business District to Southside. On this theme, driving north via the Dr. Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard, over the Rainbow Viaduct and marveling at the sea of vintage buildings is a must-do.

More on the built environment highlights of this trip to follow...

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