On April 27, 2011 Alabama was devastated by a super cell EF4 tornado that cleared a path over a mile wide and 80 miles in length from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Downtown Birmingham was threatened but at the last minute the storm took a turn and instead demolished a large portion of nearby Pratt City. Pratt is an impoverished, historic African American community that was founded as a 19th century mining center. The community, which included many older, long-time residents was devastated. Already a struggling neighborhood, it’s physical and social fabric, was shredded by 190 mph winds. Large areas were cleared, and many had to move elsewhere.
As part of a major recovery effort, Pratt has been the site of numerous planning initiatives at various scales to restore and re-grow the community. One Pratt Park and Community Center is one of the first major recovery projects funded by a by FEMA grant money. One Pratt is intended as the new social and recreational heart of the restored community, an enthusiastic invitation for long-time residents as well as new families to return and rebuild. Several surrounding residential projects are now heading toward construction.
The adjacent rehabilitated library served as the central meeting point for many community conversations and workshops. Even as the overwhelmed facility strained to serve the heavy need for residents to gather, it made character of the new program quite clear. A community living room structure was designed to frame the entry to a green common for events and festivals. With 40 feet of grade change along the park’s length, the land was strongly sculpted for use including an extensive topographic playscape with natural slides for kids and an amphitheater for music performances and weddings. This is overlooked by a signal tower at the park’s high point. Site stormwater is collected and serves to irrigate a shady streambed overhung with River Birch groves and lined with recovered brick and granite blocks along the low edge of the park.
Brilliant, optimistic colors highlight furnishings and paving. The park gateway paving sports a detailed magenta and white map of the area mining facilities that were the community’s main source of employment for decades. This eight-acre park is scheduled to open October 2019, helping to introduce a new and hopeful era in the long history of Pratt City.