21 Reasons to Love the City
1. We're welcoming.
The old Birmingham Chamber of Commerce slogan "It's nice to have you in Birmingham" found new life in 2013, thanks to the Magic City Mural Collective. The group of artists formed to inject color into the city. Its first project was painting that slogan on a wall facing Woodlawn's 55th Place South.
2. Birmingham is a destination.
The Magic City is a great place to live and visit. That's been the message in the national media over the course of the past year. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "After a few short days, I found myself becoming a banner carrier for Birmingham: Anyone who cares about U.S. history should plan a trip here." USA Today recommended tracing the country's civil rights past with a visit to key sites in the city, and also labeled Sidewalk Film Festival a top movie event. Delta's Sky magazine (pictured) highlighted Alabama in the June issue with a 44-page special section, which included stories about area industries, colleges, travel, restaurants and more. An Associated Press story that landed in The New York Times pointed out how far the city has come during the past 50 years, NBC's Today Show deemed the Magic City a top destination and National Geographic Traveler labeled Birmingham a city on the upswing. Forbes noted that downtown is reemerging, and the Alabama Theatre made cultural website Flavorwire's list of the 10 most beautiful theaters in the country.
Do we believe our own press? You bet. We've long said that Birmingham's appeal is one of the nation's best-kept secrets but it may not be such a secret anymore.
3. We're more hospitable than ever.
As word spreads about how great our city is, Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is modernizing to the tune of $201.6 million to accommodate our visitors and give them a taste of what Birmingham is about. The expansion, which began in June 2011, is on track to be completed by this summer according to AL.com. Two concourses opened in March, and the cuisine now reflects local flavor with Jim N' Nicks and Good People Brewing Co. among the fare. There are mini play areas for children at some of the gates, and an interactive art wall engages travelers as they pass by.
4. We honor our history, and that's never been clearer than in 2013. Numerous city organizations and residents marked the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement with concerts, art exhibits, panel discussions, memorial services and more.
The city's progress is ongoing in other areas, as well. The Birmingham Barons' return to downtown and the new construction of Regions Field have spurred growth along Railroad Park. New lofts in historic buildings continue to open. Birmingham's history is a continual reminder that you don't always have to turn your back on old stuff,you've just got to know what to keep and what to learn from it.
5. We know how to win and how to do it in style.
The Barons made their return to Birmingham in style this year by not only moving into a new facility at Regions Field but also winning the Southern League championship. The team's home-stand opener, its first based downtown in 25 years, was a 9-5 win over the Mississippi Braves in front of a crowd of 8,505. The Barons finished the season 77-63 and, after several successful series in the playoffs, claimed their seventh Southern League title and their first since 2002.
And the Barons broke the league's record for highest attendance in a ballpark's inaugural season. On Aug. 20, with two home games left in the regular season, the ballpark hit a season attendance of 361,866. The previous record, set at Florida's The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in 2003, was 359,979. The club was also named organization of the year by the Southern League, and Barons General Manager Jonathan Nelson was recognized as the group's Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year. Regions Field was also a winner; baseballparks.com named the facility Ballpark of the Year.
Get a sneak peek of the 2014 Birmingham Barons during the March 28 exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, the Barons' parent club. The Barons 2014 regular season begins April 3 in Montgomery, and the team will play its first home game of the season April 9 versus Jacksonville. Tickets are available at barons.com.
6. We know all the world's a stage.
And we're taking time to restore one of our most historic stages at the Lyric Theatre. Although fundraising continues, owner Birmingham Landmarks now turns its attention to restoring the old vaudeville theater. The space celebrates its centennial anniversary this year, and the staff expects the performing arts space to reopen by year's end.
7. We have more places to listen to live music than ever before.
With the 2013 openings of Southside's Iron City and Woodlawn's Sound & Page, Birmingham provides more opportunity than ever to see live music. And our venues set themselves apart in so many ways. Iron City can hold 1,300 and quickly established itself with performances by such artists as Band of Horses, Jason Isbell and Jamey Johnson. (This month's Trey Anastasio performance has been sold out for months.) Sound & Page's 75-seat listening room encourages guests to exist in the moment by refraining from using social media until the end of a performance. WorkPlay continues to host a variety of bands and events in both the intimate theater and the spacious soundstage. Bottletree's quirky atmosphere and artist hospitality have established a national reputation. Moonlight on the Mountain provides a cozy experience in Bluff Park. Hoover Public Library's The Library Theatre continues to sell out the majority of its shows well in advance. And all-ages venues like The Forge in Woodlawn offer music fans of all stripes a place to see developing talent. Whatever genre or atmosphere you prefer, Birmingham has a place for you.
8. We're considering transportation alternatives.
CommuteSmart has long offered incentives for metro-area residents to carpool, take public transit or bike to work. And soon there could be another reason: In December, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham contracted Toole Design Group to study whether a bike-sharing program would work in the city. (Already, the Lakeview Business Association has partnered with the Alabama Bicycle Coalition to create a program for member businesses, and Alabama Power also has a program.)
If realized, users could purchase a day pass, check out a bike and start cycling. The network of bike share stations would be positioned around downtown, Southside and UAB's campus. An implementation plan is set to be complete by February, and would likely be financed by public-private partnership, planning commission deputy director Lindsey West told The Birmingham News in October.
Follow the latest developments at <a href="http://www.rpcgb.org">rpcgb.org</a>
9. We're at the intersection of art and activism.
Birmingham has long been known as both an active and creative community, and a local nonprofit organization is bringing the two together with its latest project. GASP, which advocates for clean air, is producing the documentary "Toxic City: Birmingham's Dirty Secret." The film is directed by Hunter Nichols and examines air-quality issues in the Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont neighborhoods. In a press release, Outreach Coordinator Kirsten Bryant said, "Neighborhood groups have been working on finding a solution to the problem for decades, to no avail. I've been working with agencies and residents for years now. We decided a high-profile documentary would not only expose the suffering being caused by pollution, but also pressure our leaders to find a solution sooner rather than later."
GASP expects "Toxic City" to premiere at a red-carpet screening in February. Learn more and see a trailer for the film at gaspgroup.org.
10. We are stylish.
Birmingham's bevy of boutiques offer shoppers style for all budgets. And with the addition of several new national chains, fashionistas and design fans alike might rename area malls "Mecca." Check out these stores, all of which opened in late 2013.
At The Summit, thesummitonline.com:
Paper Source: Stationery, invitations, wrapping paper and other goods and gifts.
West Elm: A furniture and home goods store, also featuring local handmade goods.
C Wonder: Moderately priced women's clothing, decor and accessories
Kate Spade: Women's designer clothing, accessories and home goods.
Madewell: Women's denim and other casual fashion.
At the Riverchase Galleria, riverchasegalleria.com:
Von Maur: A luxury department store.
Michael Kors: This is the second Birmingham location for the women and men's designer. The first opened at the Summit in 2012.
Cathy Jean Shoes: This is the first Alabama location for the women's shoe retailer.
At The Outlet Shops of Grand River, shopsofgrandriver.com:
J. Crew: Classic women and men's clothing shop.
Wet Seal: Junior clothing and accessories.
Old Navy (scheduled for early 2014 opening): Women's, men's and kids' clothing and accessories.
At Colonial Brookwood Village, shopbrookwoodvillage.com:
Target: This two-story store is a new design for the discount retailer.
Fresh Market: Upscale specialty grocer.
DSW (scheduled for 2014 opening): Discount women's, men's and kids' shoes.
12. We sure can host a championship.
The Birmingham metro area already hosts a number of championships, including the SEC baseball tournament held annually in Hoover; the conference's gymnastics tournament, which returns to the BJCC in March; and a number of state high-school championships. But that number will skyrocket from 2015 to 2019, as 11 NCAA national championships are held at the Birmingham CrossPlex. The first of those events will be the 2015 Division II Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships, with Division 1 of the event to follow in 2016. The site was also named Indoor Track and Field Facility of the Year by the American Sports Builders Association.
The CrossPlex's staff intends to draw additional events to the Bessemer Road center, which already hosts a variety of youth, high school and college events.
13. You can be anywhere you want in a matter of minutes.
Travel to New York for vacation, and you'll note that the sights are amazing, the food delicious and the possibilities endless. But sometimes, that's essentially discounted by the fact that it was impossible to quickly find a place if you wanted something particular, if you could even figure out where to go. Once you found your way, it often would take an hour to get anywhere.
In Birmingham, whether it's a Thai restaurant or novelty gift shop you're looking for, you're not only going to be able to find it, you're likely within a short drive from your destination. In fact, some endearing stranger has probably already given you a recommendation, whether you wanted it or not. And in this town, you know you can ask anyone for directions.
Birmingham is big enough to have almost everything you could want but be small enough you can actually get it. Isn't that the whole point?
14. We're learning to loosen up.
Once upon a time, you couldn't buy a beer stronger than 6 percent alcohol by volume in Alabama. (Compare that to the 14.9 percent limit on wine, and you may understand why craft beer aficionados were up in arms.) It's been nearly five years since the gourmet beer bill passed the Alabama state legislature, and in early 2013, the Alabama Brewers Guild reported the state's brewing industry has seen triple-digit growth each year since 2009. It's too soon to say what the numbers will show for 2013, but it's clear that Alabamians have embraced these craft-friendly beer laws.
15. Our food is everyone's favorite.
Whatever your dining preference, there's a place to satiate it in this city. Restaurant guide Zagat recognized that in March when it dubbed Birmingham one of seven "up-and-coming food cities," noting the range of price points, ethnic choices and food trucks.
Andrew Zimmern also highlighted some of the city's more unusual cuisine on a July episode of "Bizarre Foods America." His discoveries? Bullfrogs and pig's blood at Super Oriental Market, neck bones and oxtails at Eagle's Restaurant, sea urchins from a UAB biology lab, and of course, some of the more expected favorites, including Niki's West and Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q. But as Zimmern said to The Birmingham News, "As much as I love places like Niki's or Hot and Hot or Miss Myra's or any of the other dozen places that we featured in our show, my dream is that places like Eagle's get a second lease on life because enough people see the show and want to go check that out and experience that kind of heritage American cookery."
16. We're caffeinated.
Search for coffee shops in Birmingham via Google maps and the first 10 aren't major chains. Whether you are studying, catching up with a friend, in need of a caffeinated pick-me-up or just need a place to relax, the downtown and metro areas are brewing your beany friend and provide an ambiance to suit your needs.
If you need pages to accompany your espresso, try Church Street Coffee and Books.
Perhaps you're hungry but could still go for a nice French press? Urban Standard.
Caffeination for a cause? Seeds Coffee Co. in Homewood is a great choice.
Hart and Soul. O'Henry's. Red Cat. Lucy's Coffee and Tea. Crestwood. Eclipse. Coffee Ol Ogy. And those are just a sampling throughout the metro area. Keep an ear to the ground, you never know when a new, local shop will open near you.
17. We like parks. A lot.
Railroad Park. Caldwell Park. Kelly Ingram Park. Rhodes Park. Homewood Park. Rushton Park. Overton Park. Avondale Park. Linn Park. We really like parks. What's not to like? Birmingham boasts a multitude of scenic, open parks perfect for picnics or play dates. Many more suburban parks like Homewood or Overton park have perfect playgrounds for kids, while others, like those found in the Highland neighborhood are perfect for walking the dog or daily jogs. Not only do we love parks, but we love to have festivals in those parks. Mark your calendars now for Magic City Art Connection in Linn Park (April 25-27) and Do Dah Day in Rhodes and Caldwell parks (May 17).
18. We're creative.
Yes, we've long heard about Birmingham's creative community. The city is home to a number of media outlets, both local and national; ad agencies; a burgeoning arts scene; and a municipal art museum with one of the largest collections in the southeast. But we're seeing an influx of creativity demonstrated in another way: pop-up shops.
Those temporary retail outlets began appearing en masse in February 2013, with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham's "Pop-up Project" debut downtown. Avondale hosted a pop-up weekend in May, the Pop-Up Project moved to Bessemer in August and October brought a month-long REV Birmingham-driven pop-up shop program called REVIVE: The Street Life Project. Each week, REVIVE highlighted a different neighborhood: downtown, East Lake, Ensley, Five Points South and Woodlawn. Vendors filled otherwise-vacant storefronts, selling their wares and often inviting customers in for special events.
So what's the point? Exposing residents not only to the possibilities of these spaces, but also their neighbors' work. And after the October events, Freshfully market (pictured), fashion retailer Harold & Mod and coffee shop East 59 began work on permanent locations in their districts. Sometimes, a spark of creativity proves to be just the encouragement an entrepreneur needs.
19. We're at the heart of a fitness trend.
Iron Tribe Fitness opened its first gym inside a Homewood garage in February 2010. Four years later, Forrest Walden's CrossFit gym has become a Southern sensation. With more than 30 locations in five states (including several in the metropolitan area), this business is booming. Learn more at irontribefitness.com.
20. We've got soul.
A good religious organization can feel like home. It's a community that shares life's milestones, a place where you were raised and where your children can grow up. It's more than just any organization, as it connects you to people who have similar beliefs. It's a place where you can ask questions and get answers, where you can expand both your mind and social circles. As the buckle of the Bible Belt, Birmingham is one of the most religious cities in the country, according to a Gallup Survey released April 2013. It takes fourth place after Provo, Utah; Montgomery; and Jackson, Miss. More than half the city's residents surveyed indicated that attending a religious service was very important to them. The city is home to prominent Christian authors and speakers including David Platt and David Nasser, and bands with religious influences, such as Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, regularly perform in the Magic City's churches and venues.
21. We give back.
We all know we should give back, and Southerners are historically marked by their kindness and generosity. These factors equate to a booming volunteer circuit that allows people to serve those around them. More and more organizations are launching junior boards, and existing boards are expanding. Maybe you don't have time to commit to a board, but you have one day, heck, even an hour. These boards are consistently hosting events throughout Birmingham that take you to the places you love. You can go to Avondale Brewing Company and drink for a cause, or you could dash through the dirt at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Who said service had to be hard? Birmingham has opportunities to do what you love and help others in one fell swoop.
By Jessilyn Justice, Katherine Owen and Carla Jean Whitley