New York has the High Line, Chicago has its Millennium Park and Birmingham — we have Railroad Park, which, like its peers, was built around railroad tracks and has helped revitalize a city and provide a gathering space for all residents.
“Great cities have great parks,” says Camille Spratling, Executive Director of Railroad Park. “When you visit Railroad Park you see the unity of our city and region. This park is common ground for everyone, and it reflects the diversity of Birmingham.”
Spanning 19 acres of green space on First Avenue South, Railroad Park has become a driving force in Birmingham’s revitalization. In fact, last year, USA Today named it one of the “10 Best Parks That Have Helped Revive Their Cities.” Located in an area that was once filled with empty buildings, it has experienced the renaissance planners and early backers had hoped, with restaurants, residences, and new businesses opening all around the green space.
“I’m proud that Railroad Park has helped draw people toward our downtown and that businesses are choosing to locate here. We all benefit from the growth,” says Camille.
On any given day, a visitor to the park might see families picnicking, joggers making the loop around the park, or visitors snapping Instagrams of the city skyline. Toddlers climb on playground equipment, students work on laptops, and couples walk their dogs.
More than 2 million people have visited Railroad Park since it opened in 2010. The park, a public-private partnership, relies on donations from private citizens and businesses, including Protective Life Corporation, which has been involved since the planning stages.
“Railroad Park is the catalyst for energizing Birmingham and the redevelopment of downtown,” says Troy Haas, President and CEO of Brownell Travel, the Vice President of the Railroad Park Board of Directors, and the co-chair of Railroad Park’s capital campaign. “The Campaign set out to provide the financial foundation so that the Park would have the time to develop and enrich our city. This was a daunting challenge. Protective became our lead donor and even more importantly, Protective Life Chairman and CEO, Johnny Johns, served as an invaluable advisor. He kept us encouraged as we devised the strategy that eventually led to a successful campaign.”
“When you come to the park, there’s always something happening, which is a good indication of the park’s health,” Camille says. Programming ranges from free exercise classes and concerts, and recently, a cooking class where all participants went home with a bag of fresh produce. This holiday season the park will host its first ice-skating rink.
On September 18, the park will host the Protective Life Corporation 5th Annual Trucks By The Tracks. The day will feature Birmingham food trucks, local music, and entertainment. Event proceeds will benefit Railroad Park.
“We work very intently to have a variety of programming that appeals to a variety of backgrounds, socioeconomic levels and interests. That’s how we share our message that everyone is welcome here,” says Camille.
In addition to serving a diversity of people, the park was designed to be a reflection of the geographic diversity of the region. “Our flora and fauna, lakes and streams, all represent the rich typography, landscape, and wildlife here in central Alabama,” Camille says. “Railroad Park is really a microcosm of Birmingham. And that’s what we always hoped it would be.”