Publix is officially on its way to central Birmingham. No longer limited to a series of architectural renderings for abandoned buildings, the development site — dubbed 20 Midtown — is now a construction zone. Or at least a demolition one.
There’s a tremendous amount of excitement over this development, in part because it solves the problem of city center dwellers making the trek to southern suburbs for basic necessities. It’s also a tremendous amount of faith from a non-native corporate player: The belief that a part of Birmingham that was once very much a dead zone between downtown and UAB can support the high overhead of a major supermarket. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t flattered.
But we’re more excited by what the development says about urban planning strategy. While much of the talk is about improvements in individual neighborhoods, there’s a strong subtext of linking them together. It’s not just about creating bright spots but helping them reach steadily toward each other.
After all, UAB is in many ways the new downtown, employing more people than any other institution in the city and contributing substantially to Birmingham’s wider reputation. It makes sense to develop of the corridor between Birmingham’s north and south sides, between the financial and entrepreneurial and medical districts. They are all linked in our city’s economy, so it makes sense to physically connect the dots.
And that’s really our take on Publix and 20 Midtown: It’s growing our city as a city, as a connected, mixed-use model. It’s creating communities that are self-sufficient within walking/biking distance rather than a series of tasks — work, live, play — each assigned to a particular neighborhood. And if the supermarket is the quintessential way modern communities shop, Publix cements the city center’s growing popularity as a great place to live.