BeautifulGrowth and decay in Birmingham

If you spend much time walking or driving around the city of Birmingham, you have probably seen some of the recent additions to Birmingham’s graffiti collection. I am talking, of course, about the “You are beautiful” tags, which have appeared in various sizes ranging from giant building spanners to small stencils. The graffiti campaign recently gained a lot of exposure when an instance of it was covered with additional graffiti which changed the message to “You are fugly.” That tag has since been removed.

It got me thinking about beauty in Birmingham, though. To me, and this is my own personal aesthetic here, Birmingham has a very compelling beauty, and I’m not talking about the traditional rolling hills and idyllic farmland type. I’m talking about the beauty of growth from decay. The beauty of renewal, of reinvention. Birmingham proper is an area few would be willing to label truly beautiful, and yet, as I have walked the streets in search of images for this paper, I have discovered more little pockets of growth and beauty than I ever expected. Here then, are some images taken over the last year, that represent Birmingham’s worn and weary charm, and its ability to spring new life from the detritus society has cast aside. Here’s looking forward to 2011, and the new joys waiting just around the corner.

Railroad Park: What better place to start than here, where a huge swath of unused rubble has been converted into the best park downtown has to offer. Offering an uninterrupted view of the downtown skyline, Railroad Park will only become more beautiful as the original plantings begin to flourish. Photo by Terry McCombs.

Fun at the Firehouse: We’ve got a lot of old buildings here, and while some would tear them down to make way from progress, others would rather repurpose our aging relics and give them new life. That’s exactly what the fellas at Spring Street Firehouse have done. They have converted this historic location into a DIY music venue, filling it with vibrant and youthful energy, as seen here in this photo of the band Dead City. Photo by Brian Arnold.

Red Mountain Park: File this one under “Things to look forward to.” Though Red Mountain Park won’t be opening until 2012, this 1,108 acre area situated along Red Mountain parallel to Lakeshore Blvd. will eventually be a vast and stunning reminder of Birmingham’s ability to repurpose it’s past. Pictured here is the Redding Vertical Shaft Mine Hoist House, one of many historic sites that may be preserved as a part of the park-making process. Photo by Backroads Driver.

White Christmas: This one is a little off theme, but I thought it was a great reminder that surprising things do happen here. Who would have thought a White Christmas was even possible in Birmingham? Photo by Rian Castillo.

Rickwood Field: The fact that Birmingham is home to the oldest standing baseball stadium in the country is one I think more folks should be aware of. Rickwood stands as a clear testament to the value of preserving our landmarks, and continuing to make them viable. Photo by Sam George.

The Alabama from The Lyric: Think of this as a before and after picture. This is the view of the iconic Alabama Theatre sign, gloriously renevoted, from within the Lyric Theatre, which stands abandoned across the street. I have been privileged to be a part of the effort to restore the Lyric Theatre, and if that dream ever becomes a reality, than this corner of the world will become one that everyone in Birmingham will want to see. Photo by Sam George.

Nature Reclaims Sloss: Sloss Furnaces is one of my favorite places to visit here, and not just for its excellent historical value. I love it because it is possible to see the forces of nature hard at work reclaiming areas we no longer use. Of course, the preservation of Sloss demands that those forces be denied, but such conflict only provides a fertile ground for the merging of growth and decay. Photo by Sam George.

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on January 6, 2011.

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