I'm a little embarrassed to say that today was our first visit to Birmingham's Railroad Park, which opened last fall. The stars just hadn't aligned for us to go down there, but today, with the sun shining and temperatures rising to 76 degrees (just one degree short of a Birmingham record) it was time.
I'd driven by many times, and seen pictures (and of course saw my friend Deon sing the park's merits on a CNN segment that aired this weekend). But nothing really prepared me for how amazing the park would be.
Yes, it has cool features. Miles of walking surfaces where people kept brisk paces, with the scenery of downtown behind them (trains count as scenery, as do downtown buildings and remnants of our industrial past).
(The pavilion reminds me of Houston's Discovery Green, which was the subject of my first story at Southern Living.)
But back to our park: A manmade lake with tiny creeks where kids practiced skipping rocks. Cement indentations where sisters and bikers demonstrate their styles. And acres of green (well, winterized yellow but will be green) grass, where residents of all ages, shapes and colors reclined, picnicked, played Frisbee, kicked soccer balls, and talked.
Plus playgrounds with some of the coolest equipment my connoiseur has seen:
And lots of ledges and and soft spots for him to play with his remote control car and demonstrate his newfound "karate" moves:
Walking around Railroad Park, I felt like I was in another city. But no, it's unmistakably Birmingham, 19 acres of happy places, flocked by the city and the history that's uniquely the Magic City.
Forgive me if i sound like a gushing New Urbanist, but as much as I love Birmingham (nearly 13 years here, minus a short stint back in Florida), I had to look twice to convince myself that what I was seeing was real, and happening here. Not that there hasn't been great, positive change in Birmingham (there has been), but watching the park alive like it was today ... it's real progress for us.
It made me glad that I stayed here. Made me glad that my son gets to grow up here, skipping rocks alongside my friends' children (which he did today), practicing karate moves and riding his bike. Maybe he'll even (gasp) take a girl here (not for many years, young sir.)