BIRMINGHAM — Communities throughout Alabama were left with little more than a clean slate following the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.
The process by which storm survivors, elected officials and design professionals are working together to rebuild those hard-hit areas was referred to as “planned hope” during a “Designing After Disaster” workshop hosted in Birmingham on Tuesday.
“It seems like a hard time to think about the future and the notion of dreams, but what better time to say ‘What if?’” said Cheryl Morgan, director of Auburn University’s Urban Studio.
Morgan’s presentation at the seminar focused on the Urban Studio’s work in Cordova last summer.
More than 200 residents participated in a vision meeting held at Cordova High School in July. The ideas discussed, such as the need for a walkable and vibrant downtown, diversified housing and more family activities, were incorporated into a roadmap for recovery that also took into account a major challenge to rebuilding the 100-year flood plain.
“Our approach to planning is always assets based what’s good in your community and how do you use that to create a vision and long-term, defendable decision-making around the things that are important to the community,” Morgan said.
The draft developed by professionals associated with Urban Studio features a new downtown lake in the floodplain that was labeled “a park in the heart.”
The group also made recommendations about where to rebuild structures that were lost on April 27, such as City Hall, the police department, fire station, library, senior center and grocery store.
Morgan said some of the numerous studies conducted during that time looked at how to preserve the character of the community and anticipate future changes while also giving downtown a purpose prior to demolition through the addition of a nursery or farmer’s market.
She added that Urban Studio’s illustrations were used by FEMA representatives as they guided local leaders through the agency’s long-term recovery process. In December, Cordova became the first city in the state to adopt a formal recovery plan.
Students from Auburn came to Cordova last fall to explore possibilities for specific sites around the city, such as the Indian Head Mill property. One of their ideas was to recruit a Jack Daniels distillery to the area.
Morgan said that although that she had some misgivings about the suggestion, she was encouraged by the students’ creativity.
“Thinking big is one of the things that a good plan can help you do, as well as thinking about those details that move you to the next step,” Morgan said.
A group of masters students in the university’s integrated design and construction program are currently developing plans for buildings that are vital to the city’s recovery and defining the partnerships and funding that will be necessary for the new construction.
Morgan said the next Urban Studio project in Cordova will be designing a communication tool that can be used to inspire both local residents and potential investors.
“Communication and staying in front of all the people who need to understand that recovery is a long-term enterprise is one of the most important tools that we believe we can add to the tool box,” Morgan said.
“Designing After Disaster” was organized by the citizen-led nonprofit DesignAlabama in partnership with a number of statewide organizations, including the Walker Area Community Foundation.