By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Willie Parker grew up in Wylam and now resides in Hueytown. When he wanted to show guests recently how much Birmingham has evolved he knew just where to take them: Railroad Park.
“I’ve been very proud of what this city has become,” said Parker. “Part of that is trying to make Birmingham a livable city for everybody. They decided to reconfigure this space [along the railroad tracks] and turn it into living space. They’ve done a great job of having it [become] user-friendly.”
Downtown Birmingham’s Railroad Park, situated along First Avenue South between 14th and 18th streets, opened in 2010 and has become more than just a park—it’s become a magnet for economic development that made possible nearby Regions Field and the adjoining Negro Southern League Museum, as well as surrounding restaurants, condos, offices, and other businesses. More than 400,000 residents and guests participate in park programs and activities each year.
Parker recently hosted the King family from Florida as they continued their Civil Rights tour, which included trips to Montgomery and Selma.
“I wanted my friends to see the Birmingham that’s evolving and growing … as much as any other place in this country, maybe more so,” Parker said.
How much did his guests enjoy their trip to park?
Twelve-year-old Arshan King spent nearly an hour skateboarding with his 10-year-old brother, Javed, in the Railroad Park’s concrete bowls. The siblings were heading home to Miami Beach, Fla., following a visit to Houston, Texas. The elder brother said they don’t have a park like Railroad back home.
“It’s very well kept,” Arshan said. “It seems to be very natural. I like it.”
And he wasn’t the only one who was impressed.
“This is a very unique park,” said Scherazade King, the boys’ mother. “We have a skateboard park that’s very concrete, industrial, nothing that incorporates the aesthetic beauty, the green space, the playground area for families. Skateboarders are always separated from everyone else.”
Forestdale’s Chris Osborne, who works nearby at the Jefferson County Department of Health, said the park was “a melting pot in the center of the city.”
“People come from Hoover, Forestdale, Cullman, from out of town. There’s a blend of cultures, ages, anything you could possibly find,” he said. “Skateboarders, walkers, joggers, bikers, kids throwing the ball, people with dogs playing Frisbee … and it’s well kept up.”
Railroad Park is a nice place to shake off work for about 45 minutes, said Osborne, who works a few blocks away.
“Today, I ate a healthy salad and am drinking water with lemon in it,” he said. “[A visit to the park is] just a great way to break up your day.”
Velma Stoves was at the park recently, walking with her husband of 56 years, Travis. The Norwood couple visits the park four or five times each week.
“It’s a place to do everything you want,” she said, noting that their activity of choice is walking.
South Titusville’s Nathaniel Smith is originally from the Bronx, N.Y. The 58-year-old native New Yorker said he’s at Railroad Park seven days a week., if only for 20 to 30 minutes.
“It’s just a nice place to cool out,” he said.
Like Smith, 26-year-old DeWon Moton is from New York—he’s a Buffalo native—and he loved visiting New York City’s Central Park. The mural and tattoo artist said Railroad Park compares favorably with the iconic Big Apple green space.
“Central Park is huge, so it’s hard to come up to that standard,” Moton said. “But it’s on the way. It’s about like that for Birmingham.”