We all want to design spaces that benefit those who use them, and often we think that to make a big impact, we have to design a big project. But that’s not always the case.
It doesn’t require a large budget, a big site, a dense downtown, or a substantial scope to have an impact on the neighborhood. Even small interventions—when done right—have the potential to make a place more people-centric. Modest projects can boost pedestrian traffic and make an area more walkable. They can encourage people to gather and hang out. And they can significantly improve the look, feel, and functionality of the streetscape.
We call these types of interventions “small but mighty acts of urbanism,” and we had the opportunity to carry out a number of such acts recently to energize the Pepper Place Entertainment District in Birmingham, Alabama.
Pepper Place occupies the formerly industrial Lakeview District at the eastern edge of downtown, an area that had fallen into decline by the late 1980s. In 1988, local developer Sloss Real Estate purchased the abandoned Dr. Pepper syrup plant and the Martin Biscuit Building and began adapting them into a design district with a focus on local businesses.
In 2000, Sloss added a farmer’s market in the Pepper Place parking lot with the goal of helping small Alabama farms. Launched with just seven tents, the market eventually came to attract more than 10,000 people on Saturdays during peak months. (When the pandemic struck, it reinvented itself as a highly popular drive-through farmer’s market and is still going strong.)