Right in the heart of Birmingham’s Innovation District lies a unique railroad feature that could, one day, become a creative catalyst for this whole part of town. We talked to Joel Blackstock and Bill Segrest of Williams Blackstock Architects and David Fleming of REV Birmingham to find out more about one potential vision for The Switch Trail.
Note: there are many companies and visions behind The Switch. What we’re sharing in this story is what one company, Williams Blackstock Architects, envisions to help jump-start creative thinking about what the area could potentially be.
Here are the Deets
Since the late 1880s, trains have been an integral part of life in downtown Birmingham. Their role? To transport cargo and passengers between The Magic City’s warehouses and the rest of the US.
A railroad switch (the place where trains can literally switch from one track to another) called the “Frisco Switch” ran west of where Innovation Depot is today. This is right in the heart of what many have come to know as Birmingham’s Innovation District, recently rebranded The Switch.
The Switch + the potential Switch Trail
- The Switch: this is the whole area that people have come to know as Birmingham’s Innovation District. This is where Innovation Depot first became home to the city’s burgeoning tech scene back in 2007.
- The Switch Trail: this is a 4-5 block area around the old switchyard with interesting rail lines that could one day turn into some really creative outdoor spaces.
- The goal: to bring new life, creativity and economic growth to the part of town between Parkside and the Civil Rights District.
- Location: due west of Innovation Depot, northwest of Railroad Park and east of I-65.
“The hope is that The Switch Trail could be the genesis of a hoped-for renaissance of the entire Innovation District. Like Railroad Park was the genesis of the transformation of Parkside, The Switch Trail tries to catalyze the same thing for the Innovation District.”Bill Segrest, Williams Blackstock Architects
“The successful alleyway conversions we found were in places where cities and businesses got together to turn an underutilized area into a beacon—a transformational part of town. The hope is to inject some life into the area, with ambiance and public art, turning it into a place where people want to go and hang out.”Joel Blackstock, Williams Blackstock Architects
- A handful of alleys in Ft. Collins, Colorado
- Detroit’s Dally in the Alley street fair
- Chicago’s Green Alley Program
- The Belt in Detroit
- The Creative Corridor in Little Rock, Arkansas
What you may find at The Switch one day
“So much of what the vision of The Switch Trail represented, before the pandemic, was a place for people to gather. The hope would be that one day when people can gather again and share experiences, The Switch Trail would be a way to not just add energy to a part of town that needs something to happen to make it start coming online.
It would also be a different experience than those people already have in town. We envision public art and a skate park, with bold graphics and colors that would give people a unique place in the city to experience something new.”Bill Segrest, Williams Blackstock Architects
According to David Fleming, REV Birmingham’s President and CEO, “work on envisioning what The Switch Trail could look like is part of a larger Northwest Downtown Development Master Plan. Public engagement and planning that will result in a more final set of concepts is still underway.”
“We really believe that the future of Birmingham depends a lot on the physical manifestation of our future within the Civil Rights District and The Switch, or Innovation District—equality and innovation. These two things can drive our future as a city and as a community.”David Fleming, REV Birmingham
Several groups are involved in that process, which is currently in Phase 3 of soliciting public input:
- REV Birmingham + Urban Impact Birmingham
- The Mayor’s Office of the City of Birmingham
- Alabama Power
- A consultant team led by MKSK
“Williams Blackstock Architects was totally excited by the opportunity to help envision what this area could look like. It’s in our DNA to get into community-minded projects. We do a lot of these pro bono as a way to give back and identify meaningful projects that have the potential to be truly transformational.Bill Segrest, Williams Blackstock Architects
That part of town feels like it’s one of the areas that’s ripe for things to explode, similar to what’s happening in Parkside.”
Want to get involved in the planning process? Hop over here, where you can register your comments or request a community roundtable.