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.
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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).