Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its innovative practices in community engagement and fundraising, Railroad Park has been named a Frontline Park.
“We’re proud when Railroad Park earns recognition because it shows that outside groups see what our frequent visitors see. City Parks Alliance studies urban parks across the continent. They track parks’ impact on surrounding communities, and they highlight green spaces that revitalize and contribute significantly to their cities,” said Jim Emison, President of the Railroad Park Foundation Board of Directors. “That’s Railroad Park Foundation’s mission for Birmingham, and it’s wonderful to be recognized for those results. Parks in New York and Toronto and Chicago and Los Angeles have received this distinction in the past, as has Birmingham’s own Red Mountain Park. We’re proud to be in the company of such visionary park leadership that actively works to improve communities.”
As industrial activity declined in Birmingham, the land set aside for future rail tracks and other potential industrial sites sat empty, effectively dividing downtown into segments that were difficult to access. In the 1970s, it was clear to surrounding communities that the land could be used for a park or some kind of community amenity, a conclusion that was later supported by the Urban Land Institute. In 2001, the nonprofit Friends of the Railroad District was formed by Birmingham community leaders to promote downtown revitalization and connectivity along the railroad viaduct. They envisioned a linear park along the rail line, which dovetailed with city officials’ desire for a signature downtown park.
Since opening in 2010, Railroad Park has received numerous national and international awards for everything from design to programming. Now managed by the Railroad Park Foundation, the park has proven itself to be an effective economic generator, encouraging new residential and commercial construction, and even gave rise to a new minor league ballpark. The park also addresses physical and environmental health, through fitness programs sponsored by BCBS of Alabama and treating stormwater. Cultural events and offerings include concerts, food festivals, and other programs that would make any resident proud to call downtown Birmingham home.