- Landscape architecture is crucial to reinvigorating urban public spaces.
- Enhancing existing culturally important places into more enjoyable, usable, and accessible open public spaces is a great tactic to bring together a community.
The Railroad Park Foundation is a non-profit created to manage and operate Railroad Park through an agreement with the City of Birmingham, AL, which owns the park.
A series of studies, including the Urban Land Study, was conducted by the City of Birmingham’s planning department and resulted in the design and construction of the Railroad Park. The study encouraged a new master plan for downtown Birmingham, including the idea for a large park on the old railroad site to connect the communities on the north and south sides of the railroad.
Railroad Park, opened in 2010, now consists of 19 acres of green space in the middle of downtown Birmingham. The design took a historic bisector of Birmingham, a rail viaduct, and turned it into a space that brings the community together as a whole. Utilizing this space of separation for a public park allows for unity and promotion of both sides of downtown, while still keeping intact the history and the functionality of the currently active tracks. Since the rails throughout Birmingham have been key to its existence, the park is an important cultural feature that augments the already positive cultural perceptions of the railroads. While the thought of active trains running through a park sounds uninviting, that is the exact opposite at Railroad Park. Trains constantly come through the downtown area on those elevated tracks at a very slow speed, creating an ambience that sounds like ocean waves and rushing water. The trains have become part of the experience of the park, as many trainspotters come to watch the trains.
The park was designed by Tom Leader Studio, which faced many challenges due to the very low elevation of the area that was originally marshland and then filled with warehouses and railroad tracks. Topography changes became a main component of the design as a way to integrate the railroad tracks and the low elevation areas. Thirty percent of the park is water, including a lake, a rain curtain, a bio-filtration wetlands area, ponds, and streams. The lake was excavated on the south side of the park and works as an irrigation and biofiltration system for runoff. The materials for the excavated area were used to create knolls on the north side of the park. A series of bridges between the knolls creates a continuous elevated train-watching platform. Many of the walls and seating throughout the park are constructed from bricks and tracks found in the excavation of the site. The design of the Railroad Park exemplifies how landscape architecture is critical in reinvigorating urban spaces.
Railroad Park has become an iconic cultural space for Birmingham and now is the central location for many of the city’s events. Not only has it brought the community together, but it has also opened up areas on its north and south borders for new neighborhood developments that would fit seamlessly into the surrounding area.
The Tom Leader Studio took five years to plan, design and construct the Railroad Park. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Railroad Park Foundation spent three years of fundraising for the project.
Annual program budget
The total budget for building Railroad Park was $22 million.
Funding sources and type of support provided
Money for the project was collected from the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County, a CMAQ grant (Congestion, Mitigation, and Air Quality) through the federal government, local charities, corporations, and individuals.
Fundraising efforts were spearheaded by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Railroad Park Foundation.
The urban space that used to be the railroad reservation is now an open public green space that draws the two sides of the downtown together into a connected community. A great spot to watch the trains and celebrate cultural events, the Railroad Park has successfully reinvigorated a central area of downtown Birmingham.