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Stop Sprawl
Fall 2000 Sprawl Report

States at a Glance: Alabama

Five Points South
Vacant Lots Become a Destination
Cahaba River
One Sprawling Site Paves the Way for Others

Five Points South
Vacant Lots Become a Destination

Fifteen years ago, the Birmingham neighborhood of Five Points South was a run-down area of office buildings and vacant lots. Now, after much work by the city, local businesses and private developers, this area has been transformed into the premier dining and entertainment district in Birmingham.

After one of the top restaurants in the state took a chance on the then still-rough neighborhood, other restaurants and bars started to move in. Only a dozen blocks from downtown and with good public transit, the area has come back to life and is now considered a highlight of the city.

One of the most important goals of the revitalization project was to make the area more friendly to pedestrians. Sidewalks were widened, streetlights lowered, utility lines were buried and trees were planted. The area was declared a revitalization district so no new billboards could be put up. A nearby park -- which now hosts concerts on Friday afternoons -- was also cleaned up and public space in the neighborhood improved. Along with the commercial development, nearby housing was renovated and affordable housing was built.

With smart-growth planning and cooperation between the city and local businesses, Five Points South has become a Birmingham destination -- contributing to the cultural and economic success of the city while reducing sprawl, traffic and air pollution.

Cahaba River
One Sprawling Site Paves the Way for Others

The Cahaba River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state of Alabama. Almost 200 miles long, it provides habitat for over 130 species of fish and is the primary drinking-water resource for 1 million residents of the metropolitan Birmingham area.

The crucial lands bordering the river -- long open and undeveloped -- are increasingly being destroyed by sprawling development. The expansion of Liberty Park, a subdivision along the Cahaba, will create a 1.4 million square-foot "town center" of retail and office space.

Though this would balance existing residential development, the style and layout of the current and future development makes walking quite difficult. Thus most residents -- even if they work in the new office park -- will probably still have to drive. The developers concede that this expansion will overwhelm local roads with traffic, so they are also pushing to build a new road across a fragile watershed, widen an existing road and construct an interchange to connect them. Local, state and regional environmental groups believe that this new road will fuel more sprawling growth south of the current development and destroy riverside habitat.

If the interchange is approved, construction will most likely cause sediment to flow into the Cahaba, diminishing its value as a habitat for fish. The finished project will also add more air and water pollution to the area from increased traffic. This development highlights two national trends that threaten habitat, open space and clean water: It is located on fragile land just a stone's throw from an important river, and its residents have few options other than driving.

States at a Glance | Introduction | Resources | Acknowledgments

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