Tag Archives: Katherine Billemeier

Anticipation (2)

Is this really downtown Birmingham?

Yesterday evening Katherine Billemeier (Executive Director of the Railroad Park Foundation) took me and a few others on another tour of the Railroad Park, which is now slated to be open Labor Day weekend. Once again, I was dazzled by the promise that this great open space holds.

The transformation continues

As it gets closer to completion, there are two things I’m thinking about:

1. The entire community must embrace this place as its own, using its walking paths, picnic grounds, plazas, play areas, lakes, skate bowls, and flower gardens as often as possible.

2. The City must quickly focus on a short and long-term development plan for the surrounding area, so that this massive investment is leveraged as best as possible.

We can’t wait!

Kudos to Tom Leader

From the cobbled bowl above, with central pond to be planted with water reeds and dotted with misting pipes perfect for summer frolicking, to the smartly designed recycling bins, the details continue to be top-notch. The designer Tom Leader (based in California but with an international practice) has managed to create something at once unique and contextual. As I’ve said before, a rare example of the City embracing high standards of modern design–and implementing it.

Anticipation (on a positive note)

Nature comes into the city

On a cool, cloudy Monday, Katherine Billmeier of the Railroad Park Foundation gave me a tour of the soon-to-be-completed park (Katherine says July). As many times as I’ve seen the plans, and biked past the park to view progress from the street, entering the park itself was an entirely different experience. It felt bigger than I had thought, and more diverse. The details, whether salvaged cobbles and train tracks from the site transformed into paths and ledges, or the light standards and bridges—it all felt first class. It’s all too rare in this city to see a major public project done right. This feels like that sort of project.

The quality shows

Katherine explained the concessions service: it will be contracted out (they don’t know to whom yet); it will be “upscale” sandwiches and snacks, but at an affordable price point so students can comfortably eat here. There will also be beer and wine on sale–the very idea seems so New Orleans and so not Birmingham, it seems too good to be true. The concessions and other amenities will be housed in boxy pavillions designed to recall old-fashioned box cars, as seen in the below rendering:

Superior design

One item that may interest readers: a small area is being designed for skate boarding (you can read our earlier post on this subject here). I was told that not only this area, but any paved area of the park would be open to skaters–as long as they share the space responsibly. Peter Karvonen, our friend at Faith Skate Supply, is cautiously optimistic that the park’s embrace of skaters will endure. He also realizes that it will be up to the skaters to coexist peacefully with joggers, pick-nickers, walkers, bikers, and all the others we hope use this park. We really think that this mini-skate area could demonstrate to area leaders that a full-size skate park is vital to this metro area.

Preparing for skaters

Finally, this last shot I think starts to capture how this new public space can transform how we see the City: we are all familiar with the Daniel Building, and some of us with Cityville housing whose construction is finishing in the next months. Both are a couple blocks away from the park, but just seeing an office building and apartments glimpsed from across undulating hills and trees helps us imagine the new projects that could line the park. There is really no other place in Birmingham that has this sort of potential private-public synergy. This could be the big win we all really need right now.

Seeing the city in a whole new way

PS–Katherine is already looking ahead, beyond the park just connecting UAB to the northside; it will also connect with new bike trails and green space from Sloss to I-65, and from there on to the new Red Mountain Park and beyond. Now that’s thinking big, and then thinking even bigger. After the recent gut-punches of Chick-Fil-A and Walgreens, I hope this post let’s us all hang in there and realize we do have some things to be proud of here. Keep it coming!