Under the Bridge

Can there at least be a park?

By Max Rykov

Iassume I’m always the stupidest and least informed person in any room I’m in, or in any magazine I write for, so please keep that in mind before this next sentence.

The decision to expand the I-20/59 bridges through downtown, instead of allowing for an alternative routing of traffic, was one of the most short-sighted decisions in Birmingham’s history of short-sighted decisions.

In case you’re unaware, here’s the gist of the situation: the I-20/59 bridges going through downtown were nearing the end of their lifespan and needed to be replaced. All over the country cities have been getting rid of freeways passing through heavily populated areas, redeveloping the previously unused land that the freeways were built over, and finding creative solutions for rerouting traffic.

Following a groundswell of public outcry, an advocacy organization called “Move I-20/59” formed to lobby for a similar course of action in Birmingham. The group had significant grassroots support for its visions of a downtown free of the physical and symbolic barrier created by the interstate.

Alas, after many negotiations, conversations, and even a lawsuit, the Alabama Department of Transportation  (ALDOT) decided to forge ahead with rebuilding the bridges through downtown.

Since the bridges they’re building won’t last forever, right now is the time to start thinking about and planning for the future, when the new bridges will need to be replaced, and there will be another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an environment where hundreds of millions of dollars of development and positive economic impact can be possible.

But for now, there has been a compromise made, an attempt to make peace; a glimmer of hope.

A park under the bridge.

Yes, a park under a bridge. And while my first reaction to this concept was one of abject incredulity, I’m trying to be open minded and accepting.

The project is called CityWalk BHAM, and will stretch between 15th and 25th St. N. downtown under the I-20/59 bridges. To their credit, ALDOT  has been holding public meetings to get input on what people would like to see developed in those 10 blocks. I attended one of those meetings, and was glad to see so many members of Birmingham’s skating community present to voice their support for a skate park in the space. For years and years, skaters haven’t had a proper park to call their own, to glide freely and safely without the danger of cars running into them, and without insults and profanities hurled at them by old curmudgeons.

Of course, I also have my own ideas for what should be under that bridge.

First, like any good park, this one needs to have a statue! For the bridge park, it would be appropriate for there to be a statue commemorating another one of Birmingham’s lost dream projects. Therefore, I propose a statue of a miniature dome stadium. Perhaps visitors to the statue could rub the dome for wildly unrealistic luck.

Since Birmingham’s yoga and conscious living community is growing, the under-the-bridge park could house meditation retreats. ALDOT has assured the public that the noise from the cars overhead would be minimized, and what better way to simultaneously test both ALDOT’s soundproofing and the strength of people’s meditation practice?

And what under-the-bridge area would be complete without trolls? I propose rounding up the trolls from Facebook groups like “I Believe in Birmingham,” and having them spew their conspiracy theories, Over the Mountain elitism, and general criticism of every decision made in Birmingham at park patrons. Feeding the trolls would actually be encouraged here, and would greatly benefit the food trucks that would certainly be parked under the bridge.

I sincerely hope that CityWalk BHAM is a resounding success, and that it brings joy to hundreds of thousands of people across the metro area. I also hope that the park remains, but that one day the bridge above be removed, and the full potential of that area and of the city is realized through intentional planning and intergovernmental cooperation. It’s not too ridiculous to be thinking 50 or 100 years into the future. In fact, intelligent cities do just that, and build a better, smarter, and more prosperous environment for generations to come.

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