Birmingham's Railroad Park wins major award
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Birmingham's Railroad Park edged out parks in New York City, Portland and Calgary to win the Urban Land Institute's Urban Open Space Award, the institute announced today.
It's a major accolade for the two-year-old, $22 million park that overcame skepticism to reclaim 19 acres of overgrown space along the railroad tracks between downtown Birmingham and UAB. Among the parks that Railroad Park beat out for the honor was New York's famous High Line.
"It's a great honor to go up against the best and win," said Giles Perkins, the Birmingham attorney who was president of the Railroad Park Foundation during the park's design and construction.
The winner of the award, which recognizes parks that help revitalize communities, receives a $10,000 cash prize and is featured in Urban Land magazine. Officials representing the park were to be in Denver today to receive the award.
Tom Leader, the Berkeley, Calif., architect who led the design of the park, said Birmingham represented a particular challenge. Urban parks often are built on the banks of a river - which Birmingham lacks - and the budget was considerably smaller than the budgets for most other similar projects.
So Leader, who said he wants every park he designs to be unique, focused on what was there, and not on what was missing.
"Birmingham doesn't have a river," he said. "But it does have that rail."
Designers capitalized on the tracks and worked around budget issues by moving earth to create viewing platforms from which the passing trains could be seen. The park's water features, including several ponds, were built from scratch, and an open plaza was built, with tables and chairs protected by a vast canopy. A small playground, fitness equipment and a small skate park were added, but much of the acreage was reserved for green space that today often is filled with picnicking families, touch football games and kite-flying children.
Advocates believed the park would be a success, Perkins said, but there were plenty of skeptics who said it would fail. Critics argued that it would be used primarily by white residents of over-the-mountain communities, and that it would be desolate in the evenings and much of the year. Instead, however, traffic in the park has exceeded even its designers' expectations.
The large groups of people participating in organized activities such as aerobics, and the large numbers of people walking or jogging in the park were a pleasant surprise.
"I never imagined that it would be that popular," Leader said.
A study done by the UAB School of Public Health found that the park's constituency is every bit as diverse as the metropolitan area. Three-quarters of those who use the park walk or engage in vigorous exercise, the study found, and the park is most heavily used in the early evening, when skeptics warned it would be empty.
The real focus of the Urban Land Institute's award is community development, Leader said, and Railroad Park already is paying dividends in that arena. The new Regions Field baseball stadium is under construction at the west end of the park and the city had a contest to determine how the parking lot at the east end will be developed - it will be a multi-use facility. The area between the park and UAB looks as if it will be in demand, and new residential development is likely soon because of a park that is particularly Birmingham, Leader said.
"The hope for this park was that things would develop around it," he said. "You're seeing that. These are the things that nobody else has. It's unique to Birmingham."
THE OTHER FINALISTS:
--High Line Park, New York City, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf.
The High Line reclaimed an elevated railroad platform that spans 23 blocks. The elevated rail system was built in the 1930s to get freight traffic off the streets, and had been unused since the 1980s.
--RiverWalk, Calgary, Alberta, designed by Stantec Consulting Ltd.
The Riverwalk Urban Waterfront comprises a 2.5 mile river edge pathway system linking unique neighborhoods. The park is a catalyst for the revitalization of Calgary's East Village and has proven popular with pedestrians and cyclists.
--Pier 25, New York City, designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C.
The longest active pier in New York City, Pier 25 offers a range of activities. Part of the Hudson River Park, Pier 25 it has been a driver of urban growth and become a neighborhood destination.
--Tanner Springs Park, Portland, Ore., designed by Atelier Dreiseilt Gmbh and GreenWorks PC.
Tanner Springs Park offers a contemplative oasis in the city and is "a model of sustainable urban design." It has been embraced by the community.
-Al.com- October 18, 2012