Birmingham’s Railroad Park
During a recent trip to Birmingham, AL I had the chance to visit Railroad Park which shares a number of similarities to our very own 11th Street Bridge Park. This 19-acre park transformed an aged industrial site into a new civic space that links the downtown center to the booming University of Alabama Birmingham hospital district. It attracts over 500,000 visitors annually since opening in 2010. Key to the design was creating new green infrastructure to tackle persistent flooding the area. The park offers a range of activities for local residents and this visiting tourist.
The park is situated next to active train tracks that has long divided the historic downtown with the University district on the south of the city. In 2013, the city hired artist Bill FitzGibbons to activate the railroad underpass with a colorful light display creating a delightful space out of what was an unwelcoming barrier. While checking out this installation, I thought of our collaboration with the Anacostia Arts Center installing the stunning artwork of Ward 7 resident Bruce McNeil under the 295 Good Hope Road underpass.
The park captures and filters 100% of the stormwater on site while providing important habitat for local fauna. During my visit a pair of egrets fished in a man-made pond in front of a giant water feature perched under a running track. A natural looking stream bed trickles through the long park circulating water throughout the site. Trees are planted in a large basin to capture rainwater and provide attractive vistas looking out over the nearby skyline. The Capitol Hill entrance to the Bridge Park will feature rain gardens capturing water on site and providing a shady canopy of trees.
History Informed Design
Throughout the park, there are nods to its neighbor – the still active railroad tracks. Steel rails are embedded in the ground, old timbers are used as steps to an overlook and stacked old bricks serve as an entrance to the park. It got me thinking what kind of materials can we incorporate into the Bridge Park – perhaps for the nearby Navy Yard or Anacostia Park?
Railroad Park has a healthy balance of active and passive spaces. There are large lawns with beautiful vistas of the surrounding hills where visitors were walking dogs and relaxing on a beach towel the day I visited. There is also a running trail, skate bowls and outdoor gym. The Bridge Park will have a variety of community requested spaces throughout our 7-acre park including a hammock grove, intergenerational playspace, kayak / canoe launch and outdoor amphitheater. Just like the future 11th Street Bridge Park, this green space provides a space for the entire city to gather for annual events like fourth of July fireworks, free concert series and regular 5K walks.
Next time you are down south, check out this gem of a park in Magic City!
Posted: September 3, 2021