To a City That Believes in Its Future

Shades Creek Greenway

The Freshwater Land Trust’s Our One Mile initiative
could make us green and healthy.

by André Natta

The excitement that metro Birmingham experienced in 2010 with the opening of Railroad Park downtown, the new visitors center at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center to the east and the promise of Red Mountain Park to the west is being used to drive a movement towards a city that believes in its future.

It’s particularly a sign of a movement to have Birmingham recognized as a leader in the availability of parks and green space.

These projects have in fact been looked to as the catalyst of metro Birmingham being one of the greenest cities per capita in the country—and potentially laying the groundwork to enable it to be one of the healthier ones.

The Freshwater Land Trust, as part of the Health Action Partnership funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stepped up to take advantage of the region’s excitement as a way to improve quality of life and livability.

The initiative called Our One Mile kicked off in October with an event at Alagasco’s Center for Energy Technology on the city’s Southside.

Their charge? Move forward with the development and eventual implementation of a greenways plan for the region, heavily influenced by a plan created by the Olmsted Brothers for the city in 1924.

Those in attendance at the standing room only event (myself included) got to help demonstrate a great example of using technology to collect data as part of a public project.

We were asked to give our answers to multiple choice questions about what was most important in the development of this network of trails and greenways —via text message.

While not everyone’s responses were received initially, those gathered were treated to an opportunity to see each others sentiments without necessarily sharing them publicly. It also allowed those gathered to interact and see results instantly, something greatly appreciated in the current “we–need–it–yesterday” culture that we live in.

The initiative has established a presence online, setting up the requisite fan page on Facebook as well as a Twitter account.

The use of technology in the public participation portion of this project was extended to the creation of a virtual listening post for those that were unable to attend the various public meetings held throughout the metropolitan area—with a twist.

Most communities have turned to online surveys to measure interest levels of where greenways should be located as well as where they should be connected. Our One Mile went one step further by inviting online visitors to mark their proposed path on a digital map—a virtual stakeholder meeting.

Those interested may choose to “mark your mile” or comment on what’s already been proposed via CommunityWalk, a website dedicated to “providing a powerful yet simple and easy to use interface for creating informational, interactive, and engaging maps.”

The need to engage people in more diverse and effective ways is extremely important as we move forward here in Alabama’s Magic City. If anything the initiative taken by Our One Mile is a excellent example of ways that this can be done in the digital age—realizing that it allows for more people to have less reasons for not offering an opinion but recognizing that many people still relish participating in a live action exchange of ideas.

The virtual outreach was successful enough that they plan to keep the site up this year, allowing folks more opportunities to share comments about the plan as it’s developed. This of course will take place in addition to their continuing stakeholder and community meetings into the New Year (the series of meetings were originally set to end back in November), including one targeting educators, city planners and health care providers. They’re also looking at holding quarterly open houses to review the master plan as it’s being developed (by Goodwyn Mills and Cawood), involving more elected officials and holding community walks.

Funny how the digital world still needs to connect offline every once in a while, isn’t it?

Andre Natta is the creator of an exciting weekday web publication The Terminal that acts as a hub of information about all things Birmingham.

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