Respecting process, committee volunteers
It took three city commission meetings, but Birmingham commissioners finally approved a contract for the next citywide master plan process, choosing, by a slim margin of 4-3, a group helmed by DPZ of Miami, which created the city's 2016 Plan.
The group led by DPZ was recommended to the commission by the ad hoc master plan selection committee after interviewing and hearing formal presentations from DPZ, formerly known as Duany Plater-Zybeck, and MKSK of Columbus.
As is customary in Birmingham, when it was determined that it was time for an all-encompassing master plan review, in May 2018, city commissioners established an ad hoc master plan selection committee, populated by two members of the city's planning board, a member of the multi-modal transportation board, a member of the advisory parking committee, a member of the parks and recreation board, a member of the design review board/historic review committee, a member of the architectural review committee, and two residents, one of whom was a former city commissioner. All were serving as community volunteers, reviewing submissions after staff prepared a RFP (request for proposal) for groups to submit for a new Birmingham master plan, to the plans. They held open meetings and discussions, heard presentations from the two firms, and developed a recommendation of which firm or group of firms they felt would be the best to work with the city through charrettes, which is a type of participatory planning process that assembles an interdisciplinary team of planners, citizens, city officials, architects, landscape architects, transportation engineers, parks and recreation officials, and other stakeholders, to create a design and implementation plan for a specific project in a compressed period of time.
Ultimately, the ad hoc master plan selection committee recommended DPZ to the city commission. Yet a few of the commissioners vocally disparaged the recommendation – to the point of insulting noted urban planner Andres Duany, principal of DPZ and architect of Birmingham's 2016 Plan, at the October 8 city commission meeting, when one commissioner chastised him personally for what she perceived as a retail bias over a neighborhood viewpoint, stating, “You may be a big deal, or think you are, but here you are not,” when both DPZ and MKSK were called back to give “mini-presentations” to the commission.
This city commission is thorough and methodically scrutinizes all plans and ordinances which come before it – which they should. But second guessing committees and boards they have tasked with responsibilities can be demoralizing to those who have volunteered their time and expertise. Committee meetings are open for commissioners, or anyone in the public, to attend. Commissioners who want to be more involved on the details of certain plans, whether the master plan or others, should have gone to committee meetings where they could ask questions, drill down into details, and debate who is best to represent Birmingham – rather than compelling firms from out of state return to Birmingham to duke it out before the commission.
To continue on the current path is to risk not having good people willing to serve on committees and boards, or firms and companies not amenable to submitting RFPs to the city of Birmingham.