Sustainable Smart Cities Symposium seeks ways to make Birmingham thrive
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Ideas as simple as changing light bulbs to razing 30 blighted city blocks to make way for a new city adjacent to downtown were floated at the inaugural Sustainable Smart Cities Symposium, which was organized by UAB and open to the public.
Featuring international experts and UAB faculty, the daylong gathering at the Doubletree Hotel explored ways others cities have revived urban life and how those ideas of more walkable, compact places to live and work might be applied in Birmingham. More than 340 people attended.
The former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, an international advocate for better urban design and Cathy Crenshaw, the long laboring champion of downtown redevelopment in Birmingham, both saw Birmingham as being at a point of historic opportunity for rebirth of the city center.
Penalosa, the visiting big thinker and former mayor of a city of 7.3 million, saw the potential for buying up a massive amount of land in the depressed neighborhoods west of I-65 and building a new model city.
Crenshaw said that might be something to consider if people were flooding into the city as they are in developing countries such as Colombia. Instead, she saw Birmingham’s opportunity as being in developing a greater density of population in existing urban communities, where there is a large stock of historic buildings available for redevelopment.
Both agreed that after decades of outward pressure, cities should benefit from a return to the inner city if the right steps are taken to capitalize on the trend. And both saw a key improvement being how to move people through the city by emphasizing improved accommodations for walkers and bicyclists and the establishment of a modern, efficient and effective transit system, one that will connect the more densely populated and revitalized downtown and other urban centers such as Ensley, Avondale and Woodlawn.
Mona Fouad, director of UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine, said this was the first of what will be a continuing effort by UAB to stimulate discussion in the wider community about the best way for cities to grow.
UAB has just established a Sustainability Research Center, a new initiative designed to bring together efforts across disciplines to make the city healthier, smarter and more efficient. The center’s research might involve engineering faculty working on environmentally-friendly building techniques or more efficient transportation systems. Or it could be the medical faculty advocating for communities where people can walk and eat and work in a healthful environment so they don’t need to visit UAB for medical treatment.
“We know we need to put our expertise to work for Birmingham,” said Richard Marchase, UAB’s vice president of research and economic development. “We want to move our research from University Boulevard to Main Street, Birmingham.”
Mayor William Bell opened the conference, and several members of the city staff attended. Bell highlighted some of the city’s initiatives, such as the innovative program to recycle tornado debris rather than burying it in landfills. He said the city is also exploring retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and using alternative fuels to power the city’s vehicle fleet.
Article from AL.com