Episode 11: Stone Ray, Auburn, AL

Auburn, AL is changing faster than we can keep up with it. How do we make sure that the changes help keep the “Loveliest Village on the Plains” the loveliest village for our children and their children? We sit down with Stone Ray, an architecture student @ Auburn University to discuss his passion for town planning and urban design and the challenges the City of Auburn has to deal with in order to get it right.

Show Notes:

Stacy Norman Architects:
Stone Ray: Facebook


Tony: I’m sitting here with Stone Ray. He is an architecture student at Auburn University and he’s working as an intern for Stacy Norman architecture firm. Stone thank you so much for sitting down with me this afternoon.

Stone: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Tony: So Stone tell us a little bit about yourself Where’d you grow up where did your love of architecture and design and town planning come from?

Stone: Yes so I was born in Birmingham and I lived there until about middle school until I came to Auburn. I’ve been around sort of construction and development throughout my life. My father and his father were all developers and so I’ve sort of been around that sort of artistic idea how to develop real estate and being in the School of Architecture at Auburn University which is nationally ranked programs so we get a lot of feedback from people all around the globe and we have opportunities to go abroad and this stuff is really opened up. Opened up Ways of Seeing. Design through a larger scale which is on the city scale or the region scale. And I became interested in it and read about it more and watched lectures and all of those types of things and it boils down to a sort of a passion and Urban Planning and Architecture in the long term if you think about it a city is sort of the largest thing humans design right.

Stone: You can design products industrial design that kind of thing. But the city is the largest scale and it’s become an important issue especially in the 21st century dealing with all types of. Housing problems transportation problems. How do you you know create a place that actually functions the way it needs to function in today’s world. Right. And in some places it’s moved by things like climate change and in some places is moved by their local economy and their employers in what

Tony: How did you get the job here as an intern for Stacey Norman?

Stone: Oh well I asked him. You know Stacey’s great. He’s my professor in the fall and he led my class to do a design project for the Bank of tumor’s corner which is a project his firm is doing so we all get to sort of get an in-depth look at how that process took place and sort of the constraints of downtown Melbourne and being able to sort of put our own touches to it.

Stone: So at the end there was 27 different different versions of it which was really interesting to see being exported by the school.

Tony: You know we were talking a little bit earlier about the way that there are several architectural firms here in Auburn but because of his ties to the University he’s kind of the only architecture firm that may employ interns to to help get their feet in the door…

Stone: Yes as far as I know Stacie’s farm is the only firm that employs people. Right. A firm with an office where there are several practicing architects in town and there was other firm in town I forget the name of it but it moved out of here. So the office is sort of being flooded with a lot of work relative to our fast growth but I suspect will be more in the future. But it’s sort of really interesting that there’s really only one here at the moment you know based out of here.

Tony: Yeah especially with everything going on especially being downtown to it’s really interesting.

Stone: We’re tight next to City Hall. So we get a lot of work from the city of Auburn in Auburn University and and private developers and that kind of thing.

Tony: What drives you to get up in the morning not only to go to school and learn but to you know to come to an office every day and just work?

Stone: From a smaller scale there is something different to see and Auburn every day as far as development goes but it’s the same story for most cities around the United States and around the world. So there’s new issues there’s new things to read about. It’s a profession or urban design and planning is a profession that’s constantly changing and it’s a profession that constantly keeps you looking 20 30 years in the future. So I guess that’s a that’s a reason to get up right. So yeah yeah. You know it’s not a day to day thing it’s you constantly have to have your Future growth goggles on. Right because the decisions you make are not present decisions their future decisions.

Tony: One of the cool things that I saw when kind of learning more about you was your 2050 plan for the City of Auburn and the way that Auburn is growing a lot of people were kind of upset about it. Some people you know embrace change and want to see that happen and so it definitely is interesting to see the different perspectives that people have of how they want their loveliest village you know to grow. Yeah but stay the love of this village.

Tony: What principles have helped you personally going to school, going to work in design and design and different plans for different cities?

Stone: And things like that what principles have kind of helped you personally as far as you are talking about design decisions or design decisions or you know your decisions on where to go to school and what to study and things like that.

Stone: Well I’ve decided come to Auburn because of their program here. It’s it’s really, it’s a nationally ranked architecture program. It didn’t really make sense you know to go out of state you know for something lessor. As far as design decisions go obviously like you mentioned 2050 Plan which was just a schematic you know ideas and they’re not really binding decisions but they are there an idea of the future which is basically what planning is and a lot of the inspiration comes from the history of a place you know. You know I’ve studied a lot in my hometown of Birmingham a very historical towns as well as Auburn and you know to a lot of folk Auburn historically is a small town and that’s definitely true but all cities molt. So you sort of have to use that history to guide yourself in directions that provide for the 21st century needs you know. Planning like I was saying earlier is all about looking you know at least two or three decades ahead of you and if you just think about the present or what it is today or what it was yesterday it’s sort of a distortion field

Stone: You know and you’re not able to sort of have a vision right that you know maybe that the founders of Auburn had you know back then. You know I’m sure they wanted to grow into what it is today.

Tony: What’s been the hardest thing in keeping up with with the changes that are happening here in Auburn and and in your hometown? What’s been the hardest thing and you know keeping all that in perspective as you do look to the future. Is it coming up with new ideas or what’s the what’s the hardest thing?

Stone: It’s all happening very fast so it’s difficult literally to keep up with but at the same time that’s what makes it exciting. Yes because it’s not boring you know. You know you can imagine what it would be like if we were in a city that was going the opposite direction you know and it was dying you know and it’s young folk were flooding into suburban towns into other cities with nightlife and that sort of thing. So to be in a place like Auburn it’s really interesting to see sort of the day to day involvement of the folk here and of course it’s a lot of mixed opinions but I think that what I take away from is at least they’re involved know at least the conversation is never ending. Right. And that is the most hopeful thing for the future because if it were a conversation to be had. Then you know there perhaps might be more to worry about.

Tony: Yeah I like the way that the city council kind of involves you know the community in a very healthy way. I mean I know some of those meetings can get kind of can get vocal for sure. But it’s interesting to see you know how how much of a community how much the city council and the government here in Auburn wants to have the opinions of the citizens because of all the changes that are happening right especially out you know the Donahue side of town and and in downtown as well. But it’s it’s really it’s it’s welcoming to know that City Council is so open to you know obviously that’s what they’re supposed to do. But not only allow people to have a platform just to voice their concerns but actually to hear them and sometimes vote things down because of what the citizens have to say.

Stone: Yeah I think the city council is doing a great job on the public input side of things. I’m not saying that I’ve never disappointed in the decisions of course that happens. And then of course there’s missed opportunities in that not everyone knows everything but they also have a very hard job on their hands based on the sort of speed that we’re seeing these changes. Right. So it’s unprecedented in a way and we’re lucky to have people willing to serve and we’re lucky to have a school like Auburn University there to support you know future decision makers and that sort of thing.

Tony: Well we talked a little bit about that the sketch that you that you did for Auburn 2050 and you’ve got a lot of you got a lot of press on that and and you had a lot of good comments and a lot of people that were you know just concerned in general and like you said before the those none of those changes you know those are just ideas. Sure. And things that you thought about that will be good for the city.

Tony: So 2050 is a long way down the road. Sure. I mean it’s 30 years away. When we think about that far out or even a 2030 plan or 2040 plan or a five year plan right. What are some of the what are some of the things that the city of Auburn is going to have to get right in order to maintain the loveliest village on the plains feel, without sacrificing moving forward altogether?

Stone: Well I think it’s sort of there’s a number of discrepancies there. The nickname the loveliest village you know it comes from a poem you know and it was written in a time when Auburn was indeed a village. And it’s interesting the definition of a village is a compact human settlement. It’s about density is what it is. And back then Auburn was a place in which it was small enough footprint wise where you could live here without a car. Right. And cars weren’t sort of the prominent way in which we plan cities and it very quickly grew out of that. In the mid 20th century you know after the Second World War. This is the story of all cities especially cities across the south. When we started to design cities based on the automobile and it’s very obvious that cities are sort of changing their minds and now that we’re in the 21st century. Obvious because of what you’re seeing in downtown Auburn and I’m not saying it’s the best moves but it’s definitely it’s definitely saying that we’re interested in a different type of direction than what was there before those buildings. And you mentioned 2050 you know being so far off. And that’s true. You know it’s hard to sort of grasp that. Or you know that’s 30 years from now you know but 30 years ago was only 1990. You know. Yeah. Wow. So if you think about it that way you know think about Auburn in 1990 and think about Auburn today. It’s doubled in size you know. So that’s why you sort of have to sort of keep that in mind constantly.

Stone: You know if you take projects if you take decisions you know based on the present you know people tell me you know. Whatever building is proposed that happens to be however many stories you know six or seven stories and people say no Auburn is a small town. You know it but they’re thinking of the present.

Stone: Yeah. You know what. All right. What will it be. You know I don’t know is this going to fall on line with that the 2050 track. Probably yeah you know. So I think it’s sort of really important to always sort of have that perspective in the back of your mind. And that’s that’s the case for Auburn but it’s the case for a lot of cities right. You know there’s several cities that grew faster than we did. You know Atlanta it’s not that far up the road in Atlanta used to be the place. The place to be. And now it’s having to spend tons of money and effort and time to retrofit itself to become a 21st Century City. Atlanta was the poster child of automobiles drive until you qualify. We’re going up we’re going to carve a highway through the city. We’re going to cut away. You know all of the amenities about urban life and sort of they went after silver silver bullet ideas. You know oh we’ll get an Olympics maybe that’ll help that we get an aquarium. Maybe that will help. We’ll get an airport maybe that will help you know and the traffic never got better than the quality of life never got better. And before long you know cities realize that the young folk were were migrating to other places like Portland you know who ever heard of that you know. And to you know Soho you know and to Key West and to Miami Beach and all these places that were sort of single handedly revitalized starting in the 90s and into the 21st century that today other cities that were his sort of successful in the past and up and coming ones like Auburn are sort of starting to understand.

Tony: That’s good. That’s a perspective that I had not thought about. I mean especially you know when you look at you know what’s happened to other cities. Yeah and you know 1990 in Atlanta they’re getting ready for the Olympics and the think 1990 I mean me and I just got an instant I feel old. But yes 30 years ago 1990. I mean that’s kind of crazy to think about. And yeah you know that’s not even an entire, that’s not in my entire lifetime. And so to think you know what’s going to happen when I’m 60 or when I’m 67. Right. Right. How’s Auburn going to feel is it going to be. You know we’re looking at a massive apartment complex on one side and the other two brand new ones going in over here and the other one down the road.

Tony: I love the idea of having a big city feel in a small city. If it’s done right. Yeah absolutely. I think this I think the city will get it right and the developers that have come in so far have done a really nice job of kind of mix and the two feels. So it’s going to be it’s going to be fun to see what happens.

Tony: What do you think about Auburn as being and kind of like a bubble like or Lee County being in a bubble like as far as the economy. You know back in 2008 the economy was kind of bad in Auburn you know the things that just continue to kind of grow and progress. What do you think of the idea of Auburn and Lee County kind of being in a economic bubble?

Stone: I mean there is some truth to that. As far as growth goes it definitely stands out against the rest especially in Alabama or Auburn is the fastest growing city in the state and it’s one of the fastest growing in the country.

Stone: But it has to do with a lot of factors that fall into place really nicely. That has to do with the school system is a huge one. Yeah you know that’s really exciting to me to think about the future of downtown Auburn and urban areas of all because we have one school system right.

Stone: That’s the only challenge and other cities to get there are tons of people who would love to live in the inner city but they can’t because they can’t make a rational decision about sending their children to school. Right. So we’re sort of lucky to have that on our side. Yeah the quality of life here. You know we have a great park system. You know we have great city services. We have very low crime. That’s clean. You know all of this sort of checklist items that that folk look for are here. We obviously have Auburn University which is excelling and it’s in its field as well under President Lee it’s sort of going to expand in other directions and towards research in R and D and that type of thing.

Stone: Manufacturing jobs you know Alabama is really attractive to that type of thing and Auburns capturing a number of them. So the dominoes are falling in our favor and they have been for some time that’s why 2008 wasn’t the worst year it still was.

Stone: It still affected us still affected Absolutely. And I’d say we’ve rebounded from very swiftly.

Tony: You can kind of see that too in the the property value and the amount of property that we’re starting to lose and having to start annexing in. Well kind of switching back to you.

Tony: What’s your advice to someone wanting to get into the architecture urban planning industry was some advice that you could give them that they are just starting out?

Stone: I would say continue to read and to study sort of the current aspects of it and it mainly the issues. And I think that you’ll find some very interesting topics and then you’ll find that there’s a huge demand of people to solve them. You know architecture you know if you think about

Stone: You know architecture you know hundreds of years ago it was all about the master builder. You know someone who had the craft and skill to do things and create you know the great cathedrals and things that you see across Europe and then you know after the Second World War when architecture turned interest into basically a form of engineering and how do we just construct what we need in the program that we need. And don’t forget about the cars. Yeah.

Stone: You know so we sort of lost we sort of lock for a long time in America we sort of threw away the knowledge we had about creating great places you know and if you think about cities that you live in or that you visited the ones that are memorable and the ones that you like to live in in the end the best parts of let’s say Auburn you know Toomer’s Corner is arguably the best intersection in the city and it’s because it’s the oldest and the most urban. You know it was it was a it was conceived before cars existed and you can see the newest parts of Auburn and how they’re not memorable.

Stone: You know and there’s a I forget who it was but it was a great quote or a great sort of anecdote of he was showing slides of suburban America and he was describing. This is how this is what’s happening today. This is how we’re building our cities and he said these are places not worth caring about. Right. I think anyone would say downtown Auburn is worth caring about. That’s why there’s probably some people involved and saying yay or nay to things that are happening because they care about it which way or the other they just care about it. If you think about a place like Opelika Road or Highway 280 in Birmingham those are places that you just complain about not because they’re not worth caring about their first generation. You know sprawl type development and the anecdote was if we build enough of places that we don’t care about them we’ll have a nation that’s not worth defending you know and if you think about you know soldiers fighting for us overseas you know what is their last thought of home. You know is it you know the curb cut between the Kmart and the parking lot you know. Or is it a really great space. Yeah. You know a place that’s memorable and a place that will be there for generations to come.

Tony: Think about just as general citizens you know and our legacy. You know even leaving something that that we can be proud of for future generations and that kind of leads me to my last question for you which is you know as you know you’re young as you think about you know when you when you leave this world what what do you want people to remember you by. As as Stone Ray the person and I kinda what your legacy would be?

: I’m not too worried about me or my name or anything but I would say I’m just here to sort of transmit the places that I impact better than I found. Yeah. And I think that’s the job of any designer or any architect or planner or whatever you know you know that you arrive into a place and that you do your best just like your ancestors did before you have to leave it better to those that don’t come because there’s never not going to be issues right in the 21st century is sort of a whole different. It’s all about convenience and it’s all about retrofitting us to be more sustainable than the 20th century. If you can if you think about it it’s total polar opposites.

Stone: And I’ll give you one more anecdote from one of my favorite planners and architects His name is Andreas Dewani and he owns DP which is the firm down in Miami. And you may have seen some of that work. They’re famous for designing seaside and Rosemary Beach beach beach and all of the famous towns on 30A as well as hundreds of them across the nation and master plans for downtowns and he does in a lecture. He described that in America the 21st century didn’t start until 2008

Stone: In the 20th century it lagged a little bit. We still we still kept consuming and building like we were in the late 90s until the market crashed and there were several things that sort of broke the back of development planning. And what we uncovered is that we were broke and we needed some new ideas. And that is when sort of there was a huge push for you know New Urbanism in places that didn’t have it. And there was a huge uncover of a demand of folk who wanted to be able to live in a place that was functional. Not only for those who could drive. Yeah right it was like a design revolution a design revolution it’s a great way to put it. Yeah and it’s pretty obvious that Auburn is catching on to that. I wouldn’t say that they’re all the way there. I still think we have problems when it comes to design but we’re definitely on a different track. Which is promising.

Tony: Yeah absolutely. Well Stone man appreciate your time.

Stone: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it.

Tony: And I look forward to hearing more from you and catch up with you down the road. All right. Perfect.

: This is your host Tony or of the leadership legacy podcast. Thank you so much. Listen to this past episode. It would mean the world to me if you would go and write this podcast on iTunes and share it with your friends.