I hope you traveled to exotic and wondrous destinations this summer. Me? Not so much. I visited cities I often visit during the course of the summer: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Selma, Mobile and New Orleans. Even when I visit cities I’ve been to many times, I’m always looking for interesting little urban scenes or novel ideas. Obviously, I look through my Knoxville lens. I’ll hit a few sights today which caught my attention. Some of them have relevance for Knoxville.
The cathedral pictured above is located in downtown Mobile, Alabama. It’s one of the more beautiful cathedrals I’ve visited and it has a unique Knoxville connection. Father Abraham Joseph Ryan, best known for his poem, “The Conquered Banner,” and for his sympathies for the south, served at the Cathedral Bassilia of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile from June 1870 – October 1880. He also served at downtown Knoxville’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church from April 1865 – December 1867. A plaque dedicated to him currently stands beside the Knoxville church. He is buried in Mobile.
The other photographs are from Birmingham. I’ve grown interested in their urban efforts for several reasons. Urban Brother is looking to move into downtown Birmingham, so we spent a little time there this summer. While Birmingham’s population is only slightly larger than Knoxville’s, the area considered to “downtown” is much larger. More accurately, I should say, “areas,” as there are a number of re-developing areas which are struggling to connect.
The photographs here are from the area around the Alabama Theatre, which brings up another Knoxville connection. From the Tennessee Theatre website: “The Moorish Revival theatre is designed by Chicago architects Graven & Mayger, one of eight movie palaces they design during a 15-month partnership. Only two remain today: the Tennessee and the Alabama in Birmingham.” The Alabama was built first and is larger and has seen a resurgence in recent years. It sits at the heart of this urban district with rapidly developing condos, restaurants and other amenities.
Another item that caught my attention this summer, related to Birmingham was the fact that a contingent of influential Birmingham citizens have established a group, Move I-20/59, whose goal is to remove those interstates from downtown Birmingham. Much as other cities have recognized the damage the Interstates have done to the fabric of their city, this group focuses on the dead zone created, the neighborhoods lost and the separation of groups the Interstates engender. Not surprisingly, the Interstate’s placement cuts off predominantly black parts of town from white parts of town – much like our James White Parkway and Hall of Fame Drive.
The group arranged a meeting this summer with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox. It’s only one in a string of efforts to mitigate the damage major highways, often Interstates, have done to cities nationwide. Boston famously buried their elevated highway to re-claim space. If you’d like to read more about highway removal, here’s a site focusing on six different examples, including the removal of Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga – a road which is perhaps more analogous to our Neyland Drive in its damage to pedestrian access and enjoyment of the waterfront.
One of the most recent proposals to overcome the urban damage done by Interstates comes from Atlanta where a proposal to cover the Interstate to re-claim the space for development is being floated. Another plan set for construction comes from Toronto where the city will build a large deck over its train tracks to recover the lost urban space and connect parts of its city (thanks for that tip, Kelley). If the Toronto plan sounds familiar to long-term readers, you may want to check out the article by “Just John,” included here over two years ago in which he proposed the same thing for our rail yards.
So, cities all around us are tackling ambitious projects re-claim the city fabric, connecting to natural assets and re-connecting communities. Will Knoxville every undertake such a project or series of projects?