One of the most versatile and productive tools to come out of the New Urbanism movement over the past 20 years is something called the walk circle. With their annual meetings and active committees, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) has constantly developed methods to achieve their primary goal: walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.
The City of Montgomery has become a state and national leader in applying CNU principles at the local level. And the results are beginning to show. Look at the city's downtown master plan created in 2006, and you will find quarter-mile (1320 feet) walking circles superimposed on the street grid. It indicates how far most people will walk – about five minutes – before choosing instead to get into their cars.
When the city set up a development department to start implementation, the decision was made to be rigorous about concentrating efforts in a first walkable zone between downtown's two newest attractions: the Riverwalk Stadium, home of the city's new professional baseball team, and the Renaissance Montgomery, a new anchor hotel with attached convention center. The Alley, a small entertainment district threaded amid historic warehouses, has been carefully put into place.
The contrast between this kind of sophisticated planning and the auto-centric planning of the 1960s that dropped the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center (BJCC) on the opposite side of an elevated I-20/59 could not be more telling. Because of its isolation from the rest of downtown, the City of Birmingham now is having to fund a $20 million entertainment district because the BJCC can't compete.
The principles presented in the following feature, "Montgomery: Moving to Walkable," make perfect sense for any town or city across the state.