Students’ ideas to save historic Montgomery neighborhoods
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Bunmi Lawoyin was surprised by the condition of homes in Montgomery’s historic Centennial Hill neighborhood.
A native of Nigeria in her first year of the Auburn’s graduate Community Planning program, Lawoyin compared the homes in Centennial to houses she would see in the ghettos of Africa. Some were dilapidated, rundown or vacant.
She expressed disappointment, thinking in a developed country like the United States the historic neighborhoods would be in better shape. She did offer suggestions on how to help.
A group of about 20 undergrad and graduate students from Auburn University made presentations to the Montgomery’s Department of Economic & Community Development on their ideas for preserving historic Montgomery neighborhoods. Lawoyin pointed to an infill development strategy that was successfully adopted in Philadelphia as a way to help the neighborhood. She suggested imitating the style of current historic structures through new construction and demolishing the noncontributing structures that gave her the ill impression.
Focused on three neighborhoods, Cottage Hill, Centennial Hill and The Gardens, the students traveled from Auburn throughout the semester to survey the areas and develop strategies that could improve any issues they encountered.
The class’s professor, Rebecca Retzlaff, tasked the students with completing surveys of the buildings throughout the neighborhoods and talking with community members to identify historical structures. Going on the fifth year she’s worked with Montgomery, Retzlaff said the experience helps students gain experience outside of the classroom and in the field they hope to join.
Another group of students focused on Centennial Hill as well suggested leveraging the neighborhoods proximity to Alabama State University and Jackson Hospital as a means to attract young families and professionals to the area. By building smaller, shotgun style homes that are affordable, students said more people could fill in the neighborhood and decrease its vacancies.
In the Garden District, master’s student Tamara Brooks pointed to successful projects from across the country that could be implemented in the neighborhood. The existence of vacant homes in so close proximity to the governor’s mansion surprised her, she said.
One idea to redevelop vacant lots in the area would be turning them into basketball courts, as was done in Warren, Ohio, for about $5,000, she said. She also pointed to efforts in Indianapolis that turned vacant lots into community gardens, not just beautifying the neighborhood without the fear of gentrification, but also providing residents with a needed commodity. Brooks also suggested the city adopt a program utilized in New Orleans to rid the city of graffiti, which she said often contributes to crime in an area.
Their help, the city’s Senior Development Manager Lois Cortell said, is always appreciated because the department doesn’t have the resources to handle doing the work on its own. Additionally, the students often bring new, fresh ideas and perspectives to the drawing board.
For example, Cortell said, the city has given thought to what could be done with the Ben Moore Hotel on the corner of Jackson and High streets, but haven’t yet came up with a solid plan. Built in 1951, it was the first hotel in Montgomery to offer boarding to African-Americans. Students, she said, could potentially deliver new ideas that the city could present to the owner.
Plus, by learning more about Montgomery’s history, she hopes it could move some of the students into the area after graduation.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com