Where Birmingham Connects
When Birmingham, Alabama's aging downtown I-59/I-20 elevated interstate bridges needed replacement, a team of designers accepted the challenge of transforming the dark, underutilized space under the bridges into something more for the community.
Barge Design Solutions, Inc. envisioned an active, vibrant, and welcoming public space that would bring communities together from both sides of the bridges, meeting the need for reconnection and revitalization. Robust community engagement provided direction for potential programmatic elements, resulting in a one-mile, 31-acre master plan now known as City Walk BHAM.
Since its opening, the multifaceted linear public space celebrates community with walking paths, multipurpose fields, pickleball courts, a dog park, a playground, water features, an amphitheater, a 60,000-square-foot skate park, and more to bring people together in a place where Birmingham connects.
The Starting Point
As an early leader in the steel industry, progress in Birmingham included the development of the interstate and its bridges. While being a significant transportation achievement, the bridges created a disconnect, both visually and symbolically cutting off the surrounding neighborhoods from downtown.
The replacement of the interstate bridges, which led to more clear space, created an opportunity to re-envision the space beneath the interstate into a distinct, accessible, open, and safe public area reconnecting neighborhoods and the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) to downtown businesses and communities.
Years in the Making
An extensive public engagement process provided direction on a broad range of potential programmatic elements. Communication and engagement with community leaders, businesses, and many surrounding neighborhoods were critical to developing the master plan. Barge, ALDOT, and its operations partner, the BJCC, remained focused throughout the detailed design process on the input and community vision.
The engagement process revealed a desire to provide purpose-driven spaces while highlighting the city's heritage and addressing the need to reestablish community connections. The client and design team shared a common vision for City Walk BHAM as a unique, public destination open to, and accessible to, the entire community.
Their combined years of community-focused planning resulted in a strategic master plan for a mile-long, 31-acre, 10-block series of innovative spaces featuring walking paths, multipurpose fields, pickleball courts, a biergarten, a playground, water features, an amphitheater, a dog park, a 60,000-square-foot skate park, and clear access to the BJCC and surrounding venues for scheduled events throughout the year.
Elements of Steel
In celebration of place, specific materials and colors were selected for the design. Birmingham is where it's at today because of the region's geomorphology and the nearby presence of coal, iron ore and limestone deposits - the key ingredients of steel.
Reflecting that history, Corten steel elements were incorporated into the wayfinding system, the building architecture, and even the electrical panel supports. An integral rust-colored "seam" path runs the length of the project providing a connecting spine from end to end. Custom signature benches were fabricated using a steel I-beam as its base and locally sourced pressure-treated pine as the seat top.
Honoring the Civil Rights Era
Also spotlighted in the design is Birmingham's history during the Civil Rights Era. The Civil Rights Story Zone along 16th Street North includes gathering space for schools and tour groups when visiting the Civil Rights District located just a short stroll away.
Distinct paving patterns were specified along with special signage offering visitors an important history lesson of Birmingham's past.
A Destination Playground
The ADA-accessible Destination Playground features materials and plantings highlighting the state's five regions - Coastal Plain, Piedmont, Alabama Ridge and Valley, Cumberland Plateau, and Highland Rim. Located proximate to parking, the playground is also adjacent to a shaded