Taking the Long View: Mayor Joe Riley and Charleston’s Revitalization

Mayor Joseph P. Riley of Charleston, South Carolina, and the National Endowment for the Arts have had a long and fruitful history. Mayor since 1975, Riley’s visionary leadership has been instrumental in Charleston’s remarkable revitalization: Riley developed attractive and practical affordable housing; he led the charge to rebuild Charleston’s waterfront and recreate it as a park—just one of the many parks built under his watch; he took a dying downtown district and restored it to a vibrant, bustling, and architecturally significant center; and he was instrumental in bringing Spoleto Festival USA to Charleston. Significantly, the National Endowment for the Arts provided necessary funding and vital support for the majority of these projects, including—or perhaps especially—the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD). Founded by Riley—who is still an ardent and active supporter—MICD is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the American Architectural Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. After 40 years, Riley leaves office in December, and he took this opportunity to reflect upon the pivotal role the National Endowment for the Arts played in the transformation of Charleston during his tenure. The National Endowment for the Arts recently spent some time with Mayor Riley as he reflected on his time in his, to read more, visit NEA Arts Magazine.

– Above is an excerpt from a story written by Josephne Reed for the NEA Arts Magazine

Auburn’s Urban Armature Workshop

Montgomery’s Cypress Nature Park is truly a treasure hidden in plain sight.
Very few people are even aware that just 1 mile northeast of the Alabama State
Capitol Building lies 260 acres of ‘urban wild.’ This rich patch of ecological
diversity includes ancient river bluffs, natural seeps and valuable swamplands. To date
more than 100 species of birds and 60 species of trees have been identified within the
park confines.

In early March 2015 Auburn University’s Master of Landscape Architecture program held
an intense, week-long workshop to explore the potentials of this often-overlooked resource.
Julie Bargmann, founder of D.I.R.T. studio and associate professor at the University of
Virginia, was invited to lead the motley crew. The workshop, affectionately christened the
Urban Armature Workshop, focused attention on design potentials embedded within the
post-industrial landscape between Cypress Nature Park and the Montgomery Riverwalk.
This rich terrain is braided with channelized segments of Cypress Creek, abandoned rail
lines, patches of industry and fragments of neighborhoods. The 12 teams were charged
with first unearthing the rich histories of the site, then exploring strategies that connect the
nature park to the riverwalk, continually weaving their designs into the city along the way.

At the workshop’s end students presented their work to an audience of Auburn faculty,
community stakeholders, site developers and City of Montgomery staff. Participants
walked away with a new appreciation for the role these post-industrial sites can play in the
regeneration of our city. The workshop revealed the potential these sites hold, the potential
to strengthen the ecological, social and cultural health of the city of Montgomery

Cahaba River Walk

The newly opened Cahaba River Walk, designed by Nimrod Long and Associates of Birmingham, connects the surrounding neighborhoods of Mountain Brook and the larger city together with the ephemeral landscapes of the Cahaba River. The design gives fresh form to what always has been an important informal spot on the river; embracing the beach stone, mixed hardwood forest, the history of the fishing ledge to create great new public access. Insights gleaned through community meetings inform the ½ mile bike and pedestrian loop, nature trail system and picnic pavilion. This site intentionally connects to the larger Cahaba Blueway network of public river access and wild urban experience.

Joel Eliason, lead landscape architect, entices, “the park has a lot of great trees; diverse riverbank species such as sycamore, maple and a favorite, the big leaf magnolia. There are also some amazing ephemerals: native wildflowers, herbaceous perennials and grasses, especially in the spring…found only in undisturbed woodlands and floodplains.”

Extending the larger network of vital public spaces, river access and infrastructure is important to the city, as is connecting its past with its future. “We love to encourage young designers, builders and citizens who give back to the community through public work,” says Eliason. At the river walk, two Eagle Scouts have pitched in, one with a split-rail fence and another with a gravel path that engages the bioswale with native plants. Stay tuned for the next phases of the park and the Cahaba River Walk!




©Copyright 2023

P.O. Box 241263
Montgomery, Alabama 36124
P 334-549-4672
E gina@designalabama.org