|This concept is inspired by the traditional street markets in Paris. Today, several of
these dedicated pedestrian-oriented street markets are still vibrant and vital in the unparalleled street life of Paris. Typically these markets are 2-3 blocks long, with individual store-front stalls closely hugging the street and sidewalk. The variety of wares and services is impressive, but most important is the local nature of the operations and their close-knit tie to the community and street life.
More specifically, this entry is inspired by the marche Montorgueil, in the Marais district of Paris. This 2-3 block long stretch of Rue Montorgueil is home to a pedestrian-focused streetscape lined with specialty food shops and cafes. Impressively, each shop seems to be a source of the finest gourmet offerings, whether produce, meat, cheese, wine, or baked goods from one of boulangeries.
Today, Birmingham is home to a vibrant food and restaurant culture. From world-respected local restaurants like Highlands and Hot & Hot Fish Club, to the traditions of southern hospitality and culture recorded in the locally-produced Southern Living magazine, Birminghamians are tuned into quality cuisine. One of the exciting qualities of today's food culture in Birmingham is the focus on locally-grown and organic products. The "local food" trend is well established and can be seen on summer weekend mornings at farmer's markets throughout the metro area, most famously at Pepper Place. That trend is now established firmly enough to support the shift from summer weekend mornings to a full-time, year-round market.
It is also crucial that the commercial development of the area surrounding Railroad Park be local and organic, for the same reasons that "local food" is so important for high quality cuisine. It is ultimately the only sustainable approach, one that delivers the "flavor" unique to the community. Developments that import retail or entertainment concepts, like the ubiquitous restaurant operations seen in convention complex "entertainment districts" will ring hollow. The success of Railroad Park is in part due to it being uniquely of Birmingham. The entire concept and design of the park was born from within the community, not imported.
A street market lined by locally-owned and operated stores and cafes, featuring locally-grown food stuffs and goods will resonate with citizens and visitors alike.
|THE COOL FACTOR
A vibrant city is characterized by activity, particularly from pedestrians on the street. Any time a street in the city center can be activated by pedestrians instead of cars, the vibrancy is immediately recognizable. Currently this site is moribund compared to the new life sprouting from Railroad Park. This concept creates a pedestrian magnet on the east side of the park drawing traffic to and from the East end of the park along the strong Powell Ave axis.
Another element of city cool in my opinion is how unique a feature is to the locale. Whenever I visit a city, I always endeavor to find the old, local places in the middle of town, where you can feel the real life of the town. When you experience urban places such as Pike Place Market in Seattle, the French Market in New Orleans, or the Cannery in San Francisco, you know you are somewhere that is uniquely born and bred of the city you're in. That in itself is cool when you are otherwise surrounded by market-concept ubiquity, where the whole experience is calibrated for its predictability and consistency, no matter where located.
Railroad Park is the nexus of such a place in Birmingham, but will benefit from a more urbane context than the current scattershot low-slung industrial buildings that currently surround it. Converting this empty parking lot to an urban scale mixed-use complex with an active street-life magnet will begin to anchor the park into the city, and add diversity to the traffic in and around it.
The railroad reservation greenway is envisioned to travel from the west end of Railroad Park along the old Powell Avenue right of Way all the way to the East until it terminates at Sloss Furnaces. Phase 1 of the Park has created a very strong and immediately recognizable corridor for pedestrian travel along what was once Powell Avenue. The key to drawing traffic to the East now is to create a draw or a magnet to pull people to and from the eastern end of the park. Converting Powell Ave between 18th and 19th Streets to a pedestrian-only path reinforces this pedestrian corridor. The magnet is a street market with unique culinary shops and cafes. Such a street market would complement the traffic the park already generates throughout the day and evening, providing a different type of experience.
The long-range city plan for the Parkside district envisions the park surrounded by mid-rise mixed-use buildings along with entertainment venues such as the proposed Baseball stadium. An urban marketplace is a logical complement to this development pattern. Arranging and placing the market at the Eastern terminus of park ensures a pattern of pedestrian traffic at that end.
The city has a strong culinary culture already, but there is a lack of grocery options in the city center. Instead of a big box grocery development that is a difficult fit property-wise and incompatible with pedestrian-oriented street life, a street market with enough diversity and offerings would fill the void. Unlike a farmer's market, it would be open all week and year-round. Add a mix of cafes with the food stores, and traffic will also be generated during the work day for lunch. There are many specialty high-quality gourmet proprietors scattered around the city already that would fit the concept; if they could be collected in one location, you would have a shopping destination in and of itself.
When I recently visited the Marche Montorgueil in Paris, I likened it to a Fresh Market specialty grocery store, but with three times the variety and quality. In fact, there are a half-dozen typical french grocery stores in the immediate surrounding neighborhood, but the specialty stores at the street market still draw significant traffic from the neighborhood and Parisians from a wide area beyond.
One of the hallmarks of Southern hospitality is food, and the conversation accompanying it. Add in some nice temperate weather, and you have of the most pleasant things about the south, al fresco dining with family and friends. Combining a marketplace with a handful of cafes provides opportunities for dining right there or merely facilitates those endeavors at home. Furthermore, the emphasis on local proprietors and sources will make the nature of the product of the specialty shops one that is constantly changing with the seasons.
One doesn't have to be a gourmand to enjoy a nice cafe or bakery, just as one doesn't have to be marathoner to enjoy a stroll around the Railroad Park. The need for sustenance is universal for all humankind. If my observations at the Marche Montorgueil in Paris are any indication, all types of people, enjoy a nice meal and fresh food, whether they be young and old, modest of means or wealthy. The folks you meet on the street and in the stores are from all walks of life.