January 2011

News

Redistricting Opportunities Coming

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In April 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau will release the Public Law 94-171 data for state reapportionment and local government redistricting. States and local governments use this data, provided at the block level, to evaluate and update voting district boundaries in order to comply with the one-person, one-vote mandate as well as other requirements of the Voting Rights Act. In Alabama, the next elections for most jurisdictions will be in October of 2012, leaving only a small window of time (approximately one year) for jurisdictions to update, adopt, and receive approval for new voting plans to be in place before the next elections. In order to have your plans ready in time for the 2012 elections, please contact Brett Isom.

Planners look to new challenges

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By Charles Ball, executive director of the
Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham
photo by The Birmingham News / Michelle Campbell

Although regional planning is in our name, not everyone is familiar with what is done at the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. So I appreciate this opportunity to lift the shroud of mystery.

The Regional Planning Commission was created in 1963 by the Alabama Legislature. It was formed to provide transportation planning, community planning and economic development assistance for Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties. The commission uses a relatively small amount of funding from local governments to bring many millions in federal funding to the region.

Seventy-five percent of the Regional Planning Commission's activities are transportation-related, and most of those revolve around the federally-mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization process. Through this process, the commission works with elected officials, engineers and citizen representatives to develop, update and implement the Regional Transportation Plan which dictates how federal transportation dollars are distributed within our region.

The plan contains individual transportation projects and a financial plan for implementing those projects. Some of the projects in the plan have been well-publicized and often discussed like the Northern Beltline and Corridor X, the future Interstate 22. Other projects of regional significance are the Five Mile Creek Greenway, the U.S. 280 Transit Corridor Study and the I-65 South Park & Ride/HOV Study. In addition, the plan includes provisions for the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, Clastran and the Regional Planning Commission's CommuteSmart and Alabama Partners for Clean Air.

The commission is heavily involved in the creation of a variety of land use planning tools for local governments, including comprehensive, historic preservation and revitalization plans and retail corridor studies. We recently helped the cities of Graysville, Hueytown and Clay craft sustainable growth strategies for their future Northern Beltline interchanges.

We have also completed neighborhood plans for Highland Park, and North Birmingham, and a corridor design plan for 16th Street in Fountain Heights. Several planning projects are under way in Bessemer, Pinson, Argo and Fairfield.
Once plans are completed, the Regional Planning Commission works with local governments to identify and secure funding for implementation activities from a variety of public and private sources.

The commission provides economic development assistance to local governments and small businesses in our region. We help secure funding for traditional economic development projects ranging from access roads and utilities for new industrial parks, to equipment and expansion loans for businesses.

Recently, we worked with Innovation Depot and Bessemer's Business Incubation System to create a micro-loan program. The program has been well-received and has performed beyond expectations.

What's in store for the Regional Planning Commission in 2011 you might ask?

If you skim through websites of regional planning organizations in places like Austin, Charlotte, Chicago and the Twin Cities, you will see activities that address affordable housing, renewable energy/recycling, and brownfield redevelopment.

Neither the Regional Planning Commission nor our region is heavily involved in those activities. We should be. It is my hope that we will use 2011 to discuss more of those "unconventional" challenges, and we look forward to leading those discussions.