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DruidCity

B'ham south-suburban sprawl-o-rama

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In modern times, metro Birmingham has been characterized by slow growth in comparison to peer cities. This has contributed to some of the preserved urban character and so forth. Sure, there has been a suburban shift, mainly to the I-459 corridor, but B'ham has been lucky to have avoided some of the "extreme sprawl" of giant outlying armies of residential subdivisions (as seen in larger metro areas like Atlanta and Nashville).

Well, B'ham metro growth appears to be picking up (Honda and Mercedes expansions contributing some), plus low interest rates are resulting in record metro home sales this year.

All of the sudden, developers are going hog-wild proposing and developing large-scale subdivisions in the southern part of the metro, mostly following I-459.

Granted, some of these use catch words like "mixed-use" and "smart-growth," and even look pretty nice for suburban development, but no matter how you slice it, if all these developments go through, we're talking a pretty major impact on the metro area's development pattern.

Here are some of those developments (suburb name in parentheses):

http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/inde...29478236970.xml

* Hillsboro South (Helena) - Proposed 3,800 homes on 1,530 acres

Construction could begin in 2004.

* Ballantrae (Pelham) - 4,000-home subdivision (largest in Alabama), built around a golf course, which opens spring 2004.

The club house mimics a Scottish castle :

Club-House.jpg

* Chelsea Park (Chelsea) - Planned 3,000 homes

* Lake Cyrus North (Hoover) - $2-billion, 1,000-acre mixed-use project, inlcuding 2,000 homes

* Waterford (Calera) - First phase includes 960 homes near the suburb's municipal golf course, but the developer homes to have a total of 3,000-4,000 homes in 15 years.

* Ross Bridge (Hoover) - Under-construction 1,600-acre development featuring 1,778 homes + 600 multi-family residences, plus office and retail and parks, plus the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship Course and $55-million, Retirement Systems of Alabama-financed, 6-story hotel and conference center, patterned after a resort in Banff, Canada. Opens mid-2005.

* Letson Farms (McCalla) - Many of the 1,000 or so homes already open. Typical suburban clear-cutting-for-cookie-cutter-homes development. Just 20 miles from Mercedes.

I'm probably missing some, too, but those give a pretty good idea of how much suburban activity is going on in Birmingham's southern suburbs.

Only time will tell what effect all that stuff will have on the central city.

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Horrible... just horrible :( These patterns are responsible for the demise of good quality urban life, yet the developers continue to sprawl the cities even more. This is typical of ALL cities, but it sounds like B'ham is about to receive a crash course in suburban, sprawling development. I am sick and tired of all those labels (smart-growth, mixed-use, etc.) that developers use to grab the attention and receive approval; yet, they end up building the same sprawling crap that pollutes the quality of our lives. I hope that at least some of them turn out to be good suburban projects, with mixed-use and walkability in mind. When we talk about 1000-4000 homes, we talk about building a whole town; they can definitely afford to make it a place for human beings and not for cars. Best of luck to B'ham.

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"but it sounds like B'ham is about to receive a crash course in suburban, sprawling development."

Yep. I don't know that they realize what they're in for, especially since metro Birmingham ranked dead last for mass transit in one survey a couple of years ago among 1-million-plus metro areas.

My only hope is that the central city can gain some momentum of its own, building from UAB and so forth.

monsoon, that is one problem Birmingham and Atlanta share - dozens of competing little municipalities, each with its own zoning.

What's really bad is when some of the suburbs shell out significant sums to compete for run-of-the-mill retail developments. Birmingham itself gave away millions just to get a freaking Wal-Mart, instead of it going to a suburb.

I'm a big fan of Birmingham, but they have their work cut out to figure out how to slow the suburban exodus.

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Well, whether you like it or not, there will always be people who prefer low-density living. Sprawl isn't always bad, especially if there is a balance of urban development in the central city. People should have the choice of an urban, dense environment or a suburban environment.

From my experience with Birmingham, I see these developments as further strain on a highway system already operating over capacity. I-65 and US Hwy 280 from the south should've been widenned a long time ago. They both could use 2 more lanes of traffic in each direction. I-465 could probably use another lane of traffic. In fact, the entire interstate system could probably use an overhaul metrowide. A rail system would be nice. The terrain, one of the area's biggest assets, probably works as an enemy to the transportation system, but it can be worked around.

As for the central city, I think UAB is the key to the revival and sustainability of the city. If and when the biotech research industry really takes off, the young singles, who generally prefer city living, will start to file in.

I really like Birmingham. I hope that Convention Center expansion happens, and the expansion of the airport (the area over there needs some road infrastructure and new development as well). The city has so much potential.

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"There will always be people who prefer low-density living. Sprawl isn't always bad, especially if there is a balance of urban development in the central city."

True, but my concern is that such a large number of suburban developments all at once could upset that balance. I'd really, really like to see some new residential towers in downtown B'ham to maintain some balance.

"People should have the choice of an urban, dense environment or a suburban environment."

I agree, but Birmingham proper has lost residents every decade for over half a century now, so my concern is that they'd better stop the hemorrhaging in order to maintain and improve their urban choices.

It's not really that I have a problem with suburban development in and of itself, so much as it is that Birmingham has a cool urban framework that I'd like to see grow and prosper.

I also agree re: UAB, which has proposed an "urban biotech research park" that sounds quite promising.

The current B'ham mayor was recently reelected & has expressed strong support for the convention center/dome. Of particular interest to me is the proposed "entertainment and retail district" that would be a part of the project, with $37 M in public cost to leverage an estimated $150 M in private developments.

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Well, whether you like it or not, there will always be people who prefer low-density living. Sprawl isn't always bad, especially if there is a balance of urban development in the central city. People should have the choice of an urban, dense environment or a suburban environment.

I disagree. People should have choices between urban living, which includes traditional neighborhood developments like our old streetcar suburbs, and rural living. We can't sustain this la-la land development pattern in which everyone thinks they're entitled to a country estate in the middle of an urban metro area.

From my experience with Birmingham, I see these developments as further strain on a highway system already operating over capacity. I-65 and US Hwy 280 from the south should've been widenned a long time ago. They both could use 2 more lanes of traffic in each direction. I-465 could probably use another lane of traffic. In fact, the entire interstate system could probably use an overhaul metrowide. A rail system would be nice. The terrain, one of the area's biggest assets, probably works as an enemy to the transportation system, but it can be worked around.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The interstate highway system created the problem to begin with. I-65 and 20/59 gutted the old urban neighborhoods of the city in the 1970s and turned them into ghettos. I-459 opened in the mid-80s and set off this monstrous stampede into the southern hinterland. The planned northern bypass, another ridiculous abomination, will further accelerate the exodus into the northern countryside. Widening roads and building new roads results in nothing but more sprawl and the accompanying traffic.

It's time for an urban transportation system in Birmingham. Bring back the streetcars, put in light rail, and stop subsidizing bad development.

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I agree, this is horrible.  Too many people in Birmingham want the city to be just like Atlanta. Downtown revitalization is on a roll in B'ham, but that one step forward is being followed up my ten steps back into runaway sprawl fantasy-land.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Most progressive cities in the South want to avoid Atlanta's mistakes. That's really sad about Birmingham.

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Birmingham isnt nearly so sprawl-acious as Atlanta, but Birmingham is starting to have significant sprawl. Most of Jefferson Co is highly urbanized (particularly in the southern half of the county). Once I-22 is completed and the northern beltline work continues and encloses the northern portions of Jefferson Co, the entire county will become pretty densely urbanized. Now if we could just get a better bus system, HOV lanes, streetcars/light rail, etc... we'll really be cooking then. Wonder what the latest is on the proposed streetcars for downtown.

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This is terrible.  You would have hoped they would have learned from their very large neighbor to he East.  I hate it when cities allow any kind of growth for growth's sake.  I guess the local MB plant will have plenty of market for their SUVs.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'd like to know what is so bad about Atlanta? I happen to live here and It's a great city. It semms like all of the southeastern cities dont want to end up like Atlanta. Sure, Atlanta has its problems, but its still a great city with character, Will somebody please explain this to me?

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I agree that Atlanta is a wonderful city, but it is wise for other Southeastern cities to avoid some of the mistsakes it made with sprawl, traffic, etc. Hopefully Bham won't end up like ATL.

We discuss this a lot in the Atlanta forum here at UP.

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I agree that Atlanta is a wonderful city, but it is wise for other Southeastern cities to avoid some of the mistsakes it made with sprawl, traffic, etc. Hopefully Bham won't end up like ATL.

We discuss this a lot in the Atlanta forum here at UP.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I guess you have a point. The sprawl and Traffic in ATL is pretty bad, but if Birmingham wants to grow, it will be very hard to avoid that. Also, there are many aspects of Atlanta that are bery admirable. I don't see why Birmingham wouldn'y want to become an International business center like Atlanta is (CNN, Delta, Coca Cola) or the center of a pop culture movement (Rap/Hip Hop) Atlanta has made huge strides and it seems like people are forgetting that

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It means "Metropolitan Statistical Area". It's pretty much the Metropolitian area o a city

Someone else could give a more precise definition of this.

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I'd like to know what is so bad about Atlanta? I happen to live here and It's a great city. It semms like all of the southeastern cities dont want to end up like Atlanta. Sure, Atlanta has its problems, but its still a great city with character, Will somebody please explain this to me?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I like Atlanta and used to live there, but what city would want the ridiculous LA-style traffic?

Atlanta is a poster child for sprawling development and destruction of almost everything of any historic character downtown. It's too bad that B'ham seems to be determined to head down that path (minus much of the downtown urban renewal).

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I think these cities efforts are very noble, but as these cities develop there will start to be more traffic. They really can't do anything about it. It would be nicee if people relied more on public transportation, but all of these cities are sprawling out, and they will become too big for public transit. These developing cities will eventually find out that its very hard to stop suburban sprawl and you just have to learn to live with it.

oh, and The Atlanta area still has many historical sites and areas. The Fox Theatre, Old Town Roswell, The Bulloch House, The Swan House, Brookwood hills and other old neighborhoods in Buckhead, The State Capitol, The House of MLK Jr., And many historical communities around Atlanta such as Newnan (My home town), McDonough, Madison, Fayetteville, Fairburn, Alpharetta, and many others

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Too big for public transit? Actually, the reverse is true. Usually there is a supply problem. When cities offer quality public transportation options - light rail, commuter rail, subways, streetcars, etc. - people use them.

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Well, hopefully public transit will become more popular in Atlanta in the near future. We've been working on it.

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Well, hopefully public transit will become more popular in Atlanta in the near future. We've been working on it.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I hope the perimeter rail project goes as planned. With that and more major MARTA extensions ya'll will have it made.

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I hope the perimeter rail project goes as planned.  With that and more major MARTA extensions ya'll will have it made.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

me too! I think it will happen

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I think these cities efforts are very noble, but as these cities develop there will start to be more traffic. They really can't do anything about it. It would be nicee if people relied more on public transportation, but all of these cities are sprawling out, and they will become too big for public transit. These developing cities will eventually find out that its very hard to stop suburban sprawl and you just have to learn to live with it.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Actually they can do a lot about it but most don't. A trip to Japan proves that cities can grow without every increasing traffic and sprawl.

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