“Opposition grows to suburban-style design in Birmingham neighborhoods”

The Birmingham News reported on May 27:

Officials say the uprising against the sameness of suburban design threatening the uniqueness of some of Birmingham’s established downtown neighborhoods is not a temporary bristling that will die down.

Instead, it’s a fundamental shift they say has been a long time in the making as more young professionals and longtime residents recognize what’s special about their community and are willing to unite and fight for it…

The City of Birmingham Design Review Committee has also been a catalyst in the recent movement. It rejected Chick-fil-A’s plan for not being in keeping with the character of Five Points South. Chick-fil-A is preparing an appeal…

“The real issue is you have a choice. When a chain store developer – whether it’s a McDonald’s or a Chick-fil-A or a Walgreens – comes to town, they generally have three designs: A, B or C, ranging from Anywhere, U.S.A., to unique, and by that I mean sensitive to local community character,” McMahon said [Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute]. “Which one gets built depends completely on how much pushback the company gets from local residents and officials about design and its importance…”

“What’s the most important concept in economic development today? It’s called community differentiation,” he said. “If you can’t differentiate your community from any other community in America, you have no competitive advantage.”

He said competition for industry today focuses on the knowledge-based industries like technology, biotechnology, life sciences and research. That requires attracting young professionals to your city and to do that, a city has to be able to offer them a diverse and vibrant community…

“The truth is, if you develop the right way, the environmentally sensitive way, you will always make more money than if you do it the dumb, off-the-shelf, stupid way.”
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See also:

I Believe in Birmingham

Our Ad in Today’s Gazette: A Review of Our Objections to the Kohl Condo Proposal (1/22/09; see latest version of the condo proposal)
True Smart Growth preserves a community’s character, unlike development that “bears little relationship to a community’s history, culture, or geography.” ULI says homebuyers are increasingly attracted to vernacular and historical house styles that characterize their immediate area or region. Quoting Jim Constantine, a market specialist who does “curb appeal” surveys for developers, “Consumers are turned off by cookie-cutter subdivisions and the homogenous look of houses.”

Gazette: “Housing slump for some, but not all” (2/16/09)
[Contrasting an unsold house at 310 Old Wilson Road with a house that just sold at 88 Sylvester Road:]
…So how does it happen that one house drops its price by 18 percent, and remains unsold, while another sells quickly for 6 percent above its asking price?

…The second house “has a certain character,” said [Larry] Miller [of the Jones Group]. “It’s a house you can’t find over again. The one on Old Wilson Road, in some variety you can find it over and over…” 

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?
If a trend towards dense, monotonous developments gains momentum, we can expect to see larger effects on Ward 3, such as higher temperaturesmore air pollutionmore traffic congestion, a greater risk of flooding from the spread of impervious surface and encroachment on wetlands, and an overall reduction in charm and beauty. This is not inevitable, but it appears we need to adjust our zoning to preserve what’s good about where we live. Let your city councilors know how you feel.

Smart Growth with Balance: The American Planning Association [emphasis added]
Core principles of Smart Growth include:

…CREATION OR PRESERVATION OF A “SENSE OF PLACE”. A “sense of place” results when design and development protect and incorporate the distinctive character of a community and the particular place in which it is located. Geography, natural features, climate, culture, historical resources, and ecology each contribute to the distinctive character of a region…

Portland Infill Design Strategies: Best Practices for Context-Sensitive Infill Design

Springfield Works on Infill Housing Design Guidelines; Residential Design Presentation by Dietz & Company
“Community image: homes which are architecturally related to older homes in Springfield enhance the neighborhood identity”