Monday, April 18, 2016

Birmingham


Seems to say it all

This city, founded in 1871, has a rich, if short, history. For a time it was the leading industrial city of the south, and it remains a regional financial hub. But it was also America’s most segregated city and the scene of some of the most bitter clashes during the civil rights movement. During the week we’ll tour that side of Birmingham. But for Sunday we just rambled the older downtown area. 

Since the 1960s, the city of Birmingham has had to deal with integration and political changes and the answer seems best encapsulated by the cliché "white flight." Not only have white residents abandoned the older portion of the city, but they have built a newer downtown, west of the old one. Those who work in historic preservation often describe poverty as a great preservationist. Maybe so, but the human and civic costs are often high. The old downtown is architecturally charming, but seems sadly underused.

Sunday began as a housekeeping day. By the time we finished with laundry and all it was 1:00. I reminded Sharon that this was a Sunday in the Bible belt and that things might be deserted. They were. And so we gave ourselves walking and driving tours of this city, which, like Mobile, is about 200,000 people. But there the similarity ends. Where Mobile is compact with a lively downtown, Birmingham sprawls; where architectural styles fight in Mobile, in Birmingham there are clear districts. Mobile seems vibrant and alive, Birmingham projects the image of a city that struggles.

All this notwithstanding, we drove and walked through the city, camera in hand and had an early dinner.

On Monday we will take up the civil right trail and on Tuesday will explore gthe civil rights history of Birmingham and a few city gems like Quinlan Castle (according to legend a center for Nazi intelligence in America), the Vulcan statue (the largest cast iron statue in the world) and other delights including the 20% sized replica of the statue of liberty.

Some gorgeous commercial architecture

Marquees are a signature of downtown buildings


Like the Alhambra. Note to the right one of Birmingham's self-descriptions

Just blocks to the west, the modern heart of the city looms over a strangely deserted inner city

Another marquee

The McWane Science Center is a bright spot in the downtown

A few buildings are used for exhibition and entertainment on a casual basis, dance competitions, pop-up clubs and the like






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