ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Bob Patterson. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
Change is ever-present. Having recently turned 60, I have seen a lot of change in the city I have lived in all my life.
From the civil rights struggles of my childhood, to the white flight to the suburbs after that, to the current resurgence of Downtown, I have been both an observer and participant.
I grew up in Birmingham
Like most people that reside in the seven county area that makes up the Birmingham-Metro area, I have always called the Magic City home, although I lived most of my life outside of the city limits. I spent the first 15 years of my life growing up in the Grasselli neighborhood in the western edge of the city.
I spent my adult life in Northern Shelby County and watched it transform from rural farmlands to bustling suburbia. I traveled around the world but always claimed Birmingham as my home.
A little over three years ago, as Downtown resurgence hit its stride, my wife and I found ourselves coming downtown more frequently to eat at fine restaurants or for entertainment venues. Often my wife would make her daily commute home from her downtown office and pick me up to return downtown.
We began to joke, “You know, if we lived Downtown, we’d be home now.” That joke turned into exploration and discovery that people did, indeed, live downtown. And, not just young hipsters, but there were plenty of Baby-Boomer empty nesters like us living right downtown in lofts, apartments and converted storefronts.
We moved downtown from Shelby County
Soon, we joined the ranks as “downtowners” and our lives were transformed. Leaving suburbia was hard having spent our entire adult life there, but it was the best move we have ever made.
The fear of change resolved quickly as we found a community in Downtown that we had never had in the burbs. Within the first month we had met more downtown neighbors than we had in twenty years in the suburbs. We not only met them, but we were involved in our new community.
We had a regular weekly gathering at the Wine Loft every Wednesday. Almost everyday, we would get a text from someone inviting us to meet them for a drink or dinner or a show. This NEVER happened in Shelby County, EVER.
We also found we had extra time in our day due to the two hours we didn’t spend in our cars commuting. I now have a 4-minute walk to my office and my wife has a 8-minute drive to hers each day. We rarely get in a car since we can walk to almost anything we need.
We embraced a huge change in our lives and are so glad we did, and in our three years here we have experienced the change that has garnered the national spotlight for our great city.
We feel safer downtown than in the suburbs
Thousands of new lofts mean more people and more restaurants and shopping and an even more vibrant downtown than we moved to just in the short time we have been here. But, we are still amazed when our suburban friends are concerned with our safety and whether it safe for them to come downtown.
“We are thinking of driving in to you fill in the blank (come to a Baron’s game, eat at restaurant, go to a show), but we are concerned about how safe it is down there at night.” Our standard answer is that we feel as safe here as we did in our suburban neighborhood.
Actually, I often feel safer. When I walked our dog at bedtime back in our suburban days, we rarely encountered anyone as we walked through the neighborhood and when I did, all my “Spider Senses” went off, but downtown there are always people out and about in our neighborhood and I almost always encounter a police officer patrolling by as we make our way around the block.
So, yes there is crime here just as there is in suburbia. Pay attention to your surroundings, but enjoy all that downtown has to offer.
Downtown Birmingham is magic again
As more people move downtown, more restaurants and bars and music and theatre venues will continue to open and we are now seeing other retailers embrace downtown such as Warby Parker, Chocolate, and others join establish retailers like Reed Books and What’s on 2nd.
Downtown Birmingham is happening and is MAGIC again. If you have not yet embraced it you are missing out. With attractions like the Rotary Trail, Railroad Park, Museum of Art and McWane Center, you are missing more than a good meal or a show.
But, don’t get me wrong, the food is as varied and as great as any city you will visit and with the Alabama Theatre, Lyric and Sidewalk theatres that will open soon, and countless local live theatre such as TNT, Red Mountain,
Theatre Downtown, Virginia Samford and others, there is plenty of entertainment that is just not available in the suburbs. Music venues are just too plentiful to list them all as many bars and restaurants have stages, but larger venues such as Work Play and Iron City attract many up and coming acts that will dazzle regardless of your music preference.
And, I cannot leave out the Uptown district on the northside near the BJCC that features a variety of bars and eateries and the new Top Golf venue.
A revitalized Birmingham
Yes, Birmingham is changing and it is changing for the good. We have a new Mayor and three new City Councilors that seemed to be intent on not only keeping the progress going, but to also insure that the entire city benefits from the revitalization. That will mean better schools and infrastructure that will ensure the resurgence is not a fleeting thing but an enduring change for the better.
So, whether you are looking to move downtown or just visit, Downtown Birmingham has so much to offer.
Come join us!
Bob Patterson is the Executive Director of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, trade association for the Tennis Industry located in Birmingham. He is also a writer and artist.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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