Our Birmingham spy in New York

Deborah Layman
Deborah Layman

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Deborah Layman.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I was an urban kid – born and raised in New York City.  And although I’ve lived in the country near Montevallo for almost 25 years, the grid and grit of a city still make my heart beat faster.  I love the feel of pavement under my feet and the sensation of being flanked by tall buildings with graceful design elements that only the pigeons can see up close.

In the last few years, various projects have brought me into Birmingham a couple of times a week, and my new acquaintance with the city has happily coincided with a growing, visible resurgence of urban dwelling and commerce.  My husband, who grew up in Birmingham, has told me stories about riding the bus from Ensley into town for shopping at the big department stores, matinees at the Alabama Theatre, and lunch on the mezzanine at Loveman’s.  But when I moved to Alabama, downtown Birmingham looked abandoned, neglected, and depressed.  That has changed, and as I walk the streets of my new city — my adopted city — I sense that we’re reaching a tipping point in becoming a viable, vibrant urban center again.

A few weeks ago, I was in New York for several days.  When I’m in the city, I stay on the move – there are so many people to see and places to go.  I take the subway, the buses, and the occasional cab, but mainly I walk.  And walk and walk and walk.  Somehow, my legs don’t count the miles in New York.  The city energizes and inspires me.

This trip, I found myself scouting ideas for my new city, Birmingham.  I noted the creative repurposing of buildings and rooftops, the gentrification of neighborhoods that were once crumbling wrecks, and, in particular, one element that seems to make every residential neighborhood truly residential:  a park with a playground.  Surprisingly, neighborhoods in sprawling New York are really small, distinct villages with everything within walking distance – the grocery, the coffee shop, the dry cleaner, the liquor store – and of course a plethora of shops and restaurants and bars that line both sides of the avenues and give each neighborhood its unique identity.  And there’s always a pocket park – with a playground where urban families bring their children to run and play.

So, I’m hoping to plant a seed in the minds of the urban planners and developers in our midst.  If you want to attract young families to new urban neighborhoods – like the Loft District, for example – carve out some space for a green, shady little pocket park right in the neighborhood, and make sure it includes a playground.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate – just some swings and something to climb on will do nicely.  Then we’ll raise a whole new generation of urban Birmingham dwellers who will keep the city alive and growing.

Deborah Layman is a writer and marketing consultant living in Shelby County.  She is the Vice President of Development for the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

(Visited 175 times, 1 visits today)

2 thoughts on “Our Birmingham spy in New York”

  1. *Hello to all. I come to Birmingham on many occasions with my daughter-in-law who is finishing her degree by completing her internship.  I finally talked my husband into accompanying me on one of these trips. We went to the UPTOWN area and had coffee and then to the visitors’ center and spoke to Frank; what a lovely man. We went back to sit at the benches by the fountain in UPTOWN for a second time and we’re approached by a convention center security woman at 2:25th and we’re asked what business we had there. After having to tell her about having coffee and seeing Frank, she told us we couldn’t sit there since she’d seen us there before if we didn’t have business at one of the places there. I explained not realizing that there was a time limit. She said we couldn’t just relax there and look at our visitor brochures, which I had shown her when I had to explain my business. We were grudgingly granted the extra twenty minutes we requested because my daughter-in-law would be done by three. No one else was even using the public area and there were no time limits posted for sitting beside the fountain. Frank was appalled when we told him what happened because he had worked real hard to encourage us to come back and enjoy all that Birmingham had to offer. As a Psychology major, and a wife of 20 years this month, I can tell you that what happened to us was unprofessional.  If I were easily discouraged by such impressions, I would not come back with my husband to spend our money in this ‘rebounding’ city. Instead, and mostly due to Frank, I will come back. I will come back next week and sit on that bench. If I am approached again I will simply say call Frank.  Oh, and show me the law which discriminates against me sitting there after having had coffee and relaxing with my thoughts.

  2. *Dear Ms. Raichart,

    We are so sorry you had this experience, and we appreciate your feedback. In the future, we will make our on-site personnel know that visitors are welcome to relax and enjoy the public spaces of Uptown. 


    Elaine Witt, Communications and Public Relations Manager

    Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *