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Grab your party hats because this year Railroad Park turns 10, and Birmingham is celebrating. Keep reading to learn more about the history of Downtown Birmingham’s largest greenspace and plans for its future.
Railroad Park first opened to the public on September 18, 2010 with 19 acres of greenspace bounded by 14th Street, 18th Street, Morris Avenue and 1st Avenue South. The idea for the park goes all the way back to the 1970s, but dirt didn’t start flying until October 6, 2006.
Recently, the Rotary Club of Birmingham marked the 10th anniversary of Railroad Park with a presentation by fellow Rotarian, Camille Spratling, Executive Director of the Railroad Park Foundation. She spoke about the park’s beginnings and its impact on our community:
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since our park came along. It’s even harder to remember what the area looked like before Railroad Park. When we take a look at what it used to be, it was not only flat, but also a little bit sad. The neighborhood was somewhat neglected and not really the sort of place you’d want to spend the afternoon. But after hundreds of listening sessions around the city, the design for Railroad Park was created with residents at the forefront.”Camille Spratling, Executive Director, Railroad Park Foundation
For years, many people and organizations within the Greater Birmingham Area had a vision for a park in the area that we now know and love as Railroad Park. Whether that vision would have ever come to life without the tenacity and know-how of the late Giles Perkins is another question. Perkins was local attorney, civic leader and Rotarian who played a pivotal role in making the dream real.
“Many of the Railroad Park board leaders have been from this club (Rotary Club of Birmingham), starting with Giles Perkins, who really took the park from dream to reality. We like to think that we are still making Giles happy, and we work hard to honor him each day.”Camille Spratling, Executive Director, Railroad Park Foundation
Railroad Park today
Today Railroad Park is a thriving greenspace where hundreds of people come daily to enjoy the outdoors, all while staying in Downtown Birmingham. Known as “Birmingham’s Living Room,” the park is home:
- Over 600 trees
- Annual, biannual and perennial flowers
- 0.75-mile jogging trail
- Water features that make up 30% of the park
The park attracts hundreds of visitors daily, and roughly 500,000 people visit the park each year.
Benefits to Birmingham
As the largest greenspace in Downtown Birmingham, Railroad Park brings several benefits to the city, from providing outdoor space to downtown employees and residents to an attraction for UAB recruits to a place of solice for nearby healthcare workers. The park also helps to improve the health and wellness of its visitors.
The park was very intentionally curated, as Spratling mentioned in her remarks, as a space for visitors and locals alike. The Railroad Park Foundation looks at three key areas that the park aims to improve in the City of Birmingham:
- Economic development
- Community development
- Health and Wellness
According to Spratling, the park has added over $740 million in private investment in Birmingham through its partnership with other organizations and businesses (based on a study from Georgia Tech). But the local economy isn’t the only thing the park is boosting:
“Railroad Park brings the community together and attracts families to Birmingham. We do this by providing diverse, dynamic, accessible programming that encourages vibrancy, enhances civic pride, and strengthens social cohesion. As a result, Railroad Park has become the central gathering space for residents across our area. A key to this effort is accessibility. We’re really intentional about free and low cost programs that invite everyone because we want to make sure that the park is a place where everyone feels welcome.”Camille Spratling, Executive Director, Railroad Park Foundation
An award-winning attraction
In 10 years, Railroad Park has received loads of accolades from numerous publications and organizations. See just a few of them:
- Urban Land Institute’s Urban Open Space Award 2012
- Inspiration for other cities (from the Baltimore Sun)
- Money Magazine’s Best Park in Alabama