June 10, 2005

Wendy Garner Show Comes to Trussville!

Sadly, missing Wendy Garner, making the whole exercise rather pointless from a local-celebrity-stalking point of view.

For those who haven't been keeping up, the local NBC affiliate has a two hour morning news show starring Ms. Garner and other people who aren't her. For the past couple of months they have been going out every Friday to various local communities for a series of meet-n-greets (actually, more like meat-n-grits, given the fact that they manage to find the local breakfast joints).

Several months back I suggested to a certain former Auburn dance team member that she ought to bring her people out to Truss Vegas, in what I thought was an obvious, blatant attempt to actually get to see her in person and possibly finagle another haul of NBC logo'ed merchandise and maybe a hug. I also figured that since that Ken Lass guy lives here, it ought to be pretty well a cinch.

WELLLL, imagine my surprise when I turned on the show this morning and saw they were right in the very middle of lovely downtown Paradise On the Pinchgut! WITHOUT WENDY. She's been off all week on sick leave, and so once again my hopes were dashed.

Oh, well.

Highlights of the show included a tour of Golden Rule Barbecue for breakfast, various segments of local historical interest--did you know that Trussville was first settled by the Truss family in 1781; the First Baptist Church was organized around 1820 or so; and the first six Apollo missions were launched from here and not Cape Kennedy (not really).

Another highlight was when Ken Lass showed a shot of the mighty throbbing Pinchgut Creek running behind Golden Rule and under the railroad tracks--it was very impressive, and given the recent rains, actually had a good bit of water in it! Most humorous was when Ken and his camera man crossed the street at the bridge, and Ken said they were taking their lives in their hands crossing Chalkville Road at rush hour. It being six a.m., and it being Trussville, at that moment rush hour consisted of a white pickup coming down the road about an eighth of a mile north.

They had a nice segment on Haisten's drug store soda fountain, (the Haistens also own internationally-famed Toomer's Drugs in Auburn), and on Mabe Power Equipment, which, as far as I know, is the oldest continually operating business in Trussville, and still at the same location since 1921.

Trussville has grown a lot in the past twenty years. Throughout most of its past it was nothing more than a wide spot in the road on the way to Springville, but the population has increased by a factor of 5 since 1980. Big doings for a little place, but every seems to understand that its best feature is that it IS a small town, and there are many things underway to keep it from losing that charm.

Or even enhancing it.

Trussville never really has had what you would call a quaint or pretty main drag. According to the mayor, it looks better today than it ever has in history, but he and everyone else realize it's not quite as good as it could be. There's not a lot of pedestrian traffic, and the buildings don't create a consistent street face (lots of gaps, incoherent layouts, etc.)

Speaking of Springville again, just east about 12 miles, now they have that type of main street--it's a compact, pretty place, with all sorts of small shops and buildings that look like a nice old town.

Well, it appears we might be embarked on a program to just build ourselves something new that attempts to make a past we never quite had. A local developer (and, believe it or not, "developer" isn't a dirty word) has contracted with the firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk to conduct a design charrette for a gigantic parcel of property just a few blocks east of the established part of downtown. Lest you get the idea it's something akin to urban sprawl, it's not--it's almost in the center of town, on property that has been generally industrial.

The idea?

Well, according to the little newspaper that was sent out, the developer wants to create

[...] something very special -- a thriving village with big trees, a riverwalk and a main street that is actually a Main Street. We envision a place that is environmentally sensitive, with modern comforts, and as beautiful, walkable and friendly as the Cahaba Village.

I've written about the Cahaba Project before--it was a WPA housing project of 44 large duplexes and 243 houses, arranged around a large open mall, with a school and commissary anchoring the east end. Its original name was Slagheap Village, because it was built on the site of the old Trussville Furnace, and was indeed built mostly on the site of the slagheap. It's still a wonderful place, although the rented dwellings are now all private single family homes, and the commissary is now the Chamber of Commerce and community theater building. (The school is still there as the middle school.) Here are some photos from the Farm Security Administration from when it was under construction--you'll notice it looks awfully barren. People who love the huge oaks of the Mall need to recall that at one time there wasn't a twig around.

Sometimes folks want instant historicity, and it's a bit more involved than that. Places develop over time, and they may not necessarily end up looking or working they way they were intended. In the case of the Cahaba Project, that's a good thing--it became better as it got older, but I doubt anyone could have ever foreseen what it would eventually wind up being. Just a word of caution that sometimes even the best plans and most beautiful drawings are subject to forces that we just can't control. Hopefully everyone understands that, and enough flexibility is built into this new development to allow for such happenstances of fortune. Second, although there is a wonderfully high-minded sense of purpose and outlook for this proposal, in the end it must be remembered the reason it is even being put forth is because the developer wants to make money. That's not a bad thing--we need people willing to put up their own money in an effort to make more. That's what commerce is all about. But in land development, there is most assuredly a more important factor than the ability to get things built. It is to get things built with OPM.

OPM--other people's money.

Although there will be plenty of investment from the private side, folks are going to have to realize there is going to be something of a quid pro quo expected of taxpayers--just like there has been for all the other large retail developments in town. If it's worth doing, fine. But just remember that if we're investing tax money, let's make sure we get our money's worth.

This caveat isn't as a knock against the project or gainsaying--I'm all for folks taking the time to do things like this, and if it goes as planned, it will be a wonderful addition to my town. Let's just keep an eye on the moneybag.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at June 10, 2005 09:45 AM

I'll be watching to see how this turns out--do you think it might be something like Mt Laurel? I think Duany Plater-Zyberk had a role in that design. (You're an architect so you probably already know all that.)

Posted by: Stan at June 10, 2005 10:45 AM

Probably something along that line--and yes, DPZ did Mr. Laurel, as well as Seaside, and the rather more maligned Disney Celebration development.

It should do better than some developments of this type, because it will be part of an existing network of development, rather than a clean sheet resort type construction. Places like that are great as seasonal living places, but the rigorously enforced level of pristine design intent can get a bit wearisome if you have no relief from it. I mean, everyone likes to live in a nice place, but you know, every once in a while a trash can gets left out too long or there is ::GASP:: a CAR parked in a DRIVEWAY.

In normal society, this is just part of everyday life, but in some of the planned communities, with their squadrons of gadabout busybodies intent of justifying their existence by making themselves out to be some sort of design vigilante committee, such minor slices of real life are intolerable.

Sometimes you want to just tell people to go soak their heads.

I don't think this will be like that, though. Again, there will be some level of increased attention to exterior design, but it's in a market where there ARE alternative sites. They can't be too overbearing, or else the developer risks driving away all of their potential retail tenants.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at June 10, 2005 11:08 AM

Hey everyone! I'm Barry Stalnaker from Hearthstone Properties. We're the ones who are bringing DPZ to Trussville to conduct a charrette from June 21st through the 27th.

Our charrette will be a weeklong planning workshop that will not only be open to the public, it will INCLUDE the public in the planning process. No kidding! We really want you to come and give us your ideas, opinions and concerns. So, if you've always wondered why "someone doesn't do such and such," or "why can't Trussville have so and so," or if you want the project to look like Mount Laurel, or if you DON'T want it to look like Mount Laurel, or if you just want to "keep an eye on the moneybag," then PLEASE come to the opening presentation on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 pm at the old Continental Electric plant.

Even if you don't care what we do, you should still come out and listen to Andrés Duany. He is one of the most recognized and influential town planners in the world, and he is one of the most interesting speakers I have ever heard.

I hope to see you all on Tuesday night!


p.s. Check out our website: www.MainStreetTrussville.com

Posted by: Barry Stalnaker at June 19, 2005 12:33 AM

Thanks for dropping by, Barry--I wish you all the best for this project, and I know I appreciate the efforts you have made to make sure the public has a hand in what's going on.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at June 20, 2005 07:55 AM