Revitalization is almost a way of life these days, with the phenomenon that is Avondale and massive historical renovations downtown. But Woodlawn revitalization looks different. It seems slower and less heralded than some other Birmingham districts. Quieter, ironically enough, despite being featured as “Birmingham’s Music Row” by AL.com. Folks not directly in the know might reasonably ask, “What’s the deal with Woodlawn?”
Like many Birmingham neighborhoods, it’s got some great architectural bones. Five Points South has strong of Art Deco and mediterranean influences, and Avondale has turn-of-the-century buildings of tidy brick. But there’s a masonic grandness to Woodlawn buildings, and not just Woodrow Hall.
In residential terms, it’s heavy on trim bungalows snuggled into neat, level city blocks. But for many years, it was about the last place you’d want to live. Construction of the 20/59 junction caused a marked decline for the once thriving working-class community, according to Woodlawn United.
These days, though, things are looking up. Philanthropists Mike and Gillian Goodrich founded the Woodlawn Foundation in 2010 to implement the Purpose Built Community model there, Sallie Mackin, the foundation’s executive director told Weld. The foundation focused the work of existing community groups on one united effort, she said.
Based on experience in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood, Purpose Built Communities created a model for broad community involvement around a single lead organization, which it describes as the most critical part of the formula on its website. In action terms, the site advocates improving a community’s “education pipeline,” its stock of quality housing at multiple income levels, and its access to healthy amenities as the key ingredients for sustainable change.
Wood Station Townhomes are the splashiest part of that effort in Woodlawn. Budgeted at $13.6 million and slated to open this year, the mixed-income project is designed to spur private development efforts in the community, Mackin told Weld. “This is a platform we hope that will really build a foundation for the private market to really drive the rest of this mixed-income model,” she said. With Business Alabama reporting a 400-person wait list for units in the development, that may not be much of a stretch.
While Woodlawn is a neighborhood that’s still very much in transition, it’s one with focused efforts, large-scale philanthropic investment, and a cohesive team. And there are bright signs of progress. When Tony Bayles opens his Woodlawn business each day at 4:00 a.m., he told Business Alabama, “People are actually out here jogging, walking their dogs, riding bikes, at that time of morning, and they don’t think a thing about it.”