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DENVER (October 18, 2012) – Birmingham’s Railroad Park, a 19-acre green space in the city’s downtown that integrates the train experience with open space activity, has received national recognition as the 2012 winner of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Urban Open Space Award. The selection of Railroad Park was announced today at ULI’s Fall Meeting in Denver.
The award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize, was based on a competition to recognize an outstanding example of a well-used public open space that has spurred regeneration and the transformation of the surrounding community. The Birmingham park was chosen from a competitive group of five finalists, which included the High Line in New York, N.Y.; Pier 25 at Tribeca Section of Hudson River Park in New York, N.Y.; RiverWalk Urban Waterfront in Calgary, Alberta; and Tanner Springs Park in Portland, Ore.
Railroad Park occupies the historical seam created by a rail viaduct that bisects downtown. The new topography integrates the train experience with a variety of new open space activities, which help organize and stimulate growth in the southern part of downtown while promoting connections north of the railroad. The park is a segment of what was known as the “Railroad Reservation”— a zone of rail sidings and warehouses attached to the 11-track rail corridor that served the steel-making industry. The site adjoins a 15-foot-high rail viaduct with active tracks, which provide the inspiration for the park’s name.
Railroad Park, which is owned by the City of Birmingham and managed by the nonprofit Railroad Park Foundation, is the culmination of a long process of consultation and participation. In 2002, a ULI Advisory Services panel offered redevelopment recommendations to help improve and grow the downtown area. The city later tasked Tom Leader Studio with designing a park that was to reside on a site that both had the lowest elevation in the city and was the original home to a marsh. With the help of Macknally Land Design, Kennedy Violich Architecture, GA Architecture, HKW Associates, Khafra, and Walter Schoel Engineering, the park’s lead design team has successfully transformed this site into an iconic southern gem that is the surrounding communities’ most diversely used space. During the park’s official opening ceremonies in fall 2010, the foundation’s board president, Will French, described the park as a tangible example of success that is possible when the public and private sectors work in partnership.
According to jury chairman Randall K. Rowe, chairman of Green Courte Partners, LLC, Lake Forest, Ill., Railroad Park serves as an asset for the City of Birmingham by helping spur investment in the surrounding area and providing its people with a place to reengage in healthy urban living. “Railroad Park is a transformative example of how open space can enrich and revitalize a surrounding community as well as become a critical part of the urban social fabric,” Rowe said.
The five finalists, including Railroad Park, were selected from an impressive collection of entries representing urban areas throughout the United States. Finalist selections were based on project design and how each transformed or revived its surrounding community.
The other four finalists, with the project team in parentheses, were:
- The High Line, New York, N.Y. (Owned by: The City of New York and Friends of the High Line; Designed by: James Corner Field Operations, with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf) – The High Line reclaims an elevated railway structure as a new public space, which connects neighborhoods and offers a new model for “greening” the urban environment. Designed as an integrated system, the 1.45-mile High Line offers a varied city landscape with a new notion of the idea of promenading.
- Pier 25 at Tribeca Section of Hudson River Park, New York, N.Y. (Owned by: Hudson River Park Trust; Designed by: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C., and WXY Architecture + Urban Design) – Pier 25, at 3.17 acres the longest active pier in New York City, regains its tradition of recreation, providing a broad range of activities that encourage its use by the community at large. Part of Hudson River Park, Pier 25 has been a catalyst for urban growth and development since it became this vibrant neighborhood destination.
- RiverWalk Urban Waterfront, Calgary, Alberta (Owned by: Calgary Municipal Corporation; Designed by: Stantec Consulting Ltd.) – RiverWalk Urban Waterfront comprises a four-kilometer river-edge pathway system linking six unique urban precincts. The park is a critical catalyst for the revitalization of Calgary’s East Village, encouraging an interest in urban natural assets through an abundance of new pedestrian and cyclist experiences.
• Tanner Springs Park, Portland, Ore. (Owned by: Portland Parks and Recreation; Designed by: Atelier Dreiseitl GmbH with GreenWorks PC) – Tanner Springs Park offers a unique, natural, and contemplative oasis in the city. The one-acre park offers a model of sustainable urban design articulated through its water management systems and rich features. Embraced by the community, the park offers an engaging respite embedded in the dynamic of a high-density urban neighborhood.
The award was created through the generosity of Amanda M. Burden, New York City Planning Commissioner and 2009 laureate of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. In 2011 the Kresge Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and the ULI Foundation joined forces to continue the Urban Open Space Award through 2014.
“All great planning comes down to the granular approach of how a building meets the street, how a street feels, how you feel walking in the city, and how it feels to be in public spaces and use public spaces that are inviting,” said Ms. Burden. “Great public space is why you stay in the city.”
The first ULI Urban Open Space Award was presented in 2010, with Detroit’s Campus Martius Park winning the inaugural honor. Known as “Detroit’s Official Gathering Place,” the 2.5-acre green space was transformed from a desolate downtown parcel into a vibrant central square that is now the heart of the city’s downtown redevelopment initiative. Last year, St. Louis’s Citygarden – a 2.9-acre richly landscaped sculpture garden and park that has drawn several hundred thousand visitors since it opened in 2009 – received the ULI honor.
To be eligible for the competition, an open space project must: have been opened to the public for at least one year and no more than 15 years; be predominately outdoors and inviting to the public; provide abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, trees and plantings with attractions; be used intensively on a daily basis by a broad spectrum of users throughout the year; have a positive economic impact on its surroundings; and promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community.
In addition to jury chairman Rowe, 2012 competition jury members are: Glenn Aaronson, chief executive officer, Forum Turkey Fund, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Michael S. Balaban, president, Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group, Eastern Region, Washington, D.C.; William Bonstra, partner, Bonstra Haresign Architects, Washington, D.C.; David Dixon, principal, Goody Clancy, Boston, Mass.; Kenneth H. Hughes, president, Hughes Development, LP, Dallas, Texas; Mark Johnson, president, Civitas, Inc., Denver, Colo.; Christopher W. Kurz, president and chief executive officer, Linden Associates, Inc., Baltimore, Md.; David Malmuth, president, David Malmuth Development, San Diego, Calif.; Jeff Mayer, chief executive officer, Jeff Mayer + Partners, LLC, Irvine, Calif.; Raj Menda, co-owner and managing director, RMZ Corporation, Bangalore, India; and John B. Slidell, executive vice president, The Bozzuto Group, Greenbelt, Md.
About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in sustaining and creating thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.