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Of Top Hats and Railroad Parks January 8, 2008

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.

I hope everyone is having a great 2008 so far! For me the first week has been busy–I celebrated my birthday, and I’ve been working on fun little pieces for the Valentine’s show coming up at Naked Art next month.

But while all of us were holidaying, Birmingham got a new logo (on the bottom left of the city’s site), and the Railroad Reservation Park got a new Web site.

Let’s start with the logo. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great. Why? Because there’s nothing in that logo that sets Birmingham apart. It’s just buildings and a top hat and a tagline. It could work for any city if the name (which needs a comma separating “Birmingham” and “Alabama,” by the way) were removed. Nothing that makes us unique or memorable, which is sad, considering there’s plenty here that is unique and memorable. Also, the top hat and tagline are going to seriously confuse anyone beyond a 50-mile radius of the city who sees the logo–the “Magic City” nickname has no resonance out there, so they won’t make the logic jump that makes the tagline make sense. And that top hat–ugh. It has absolutely nothing to do with *why* this city was/is magic. What would I have done instead, you ask? Well, though I’m quite sure Vulcan wasn’t selected for the logo because he symbolizes old B’ham and is (gasp) a pagan god, I would have included him. Like it or not, he’s unique and is a very potent symbol. The Vulcan Park Foundation once used a rather nice logo mixing Vulcan with stars that would’ve worked just fine for the city as a whole. And as for that tagline, I would have used “The Magic City,” plan and simple. Reintroduce the concept, remind people here that there is magic here to begin with, and intrigue outsiders, prompting them to ask–and find out–what makes B’ham magic.

On to the Railroad Reservation Park’s Web site. There’s a lot to like about this site, but some things that concern me as well. I realize the park–and probably the site as well–is a work in progress, but we basically have one chance to create a world-class, attention-grabbing, urban-revitalizing, city-centerpiece park, and we have to make it as great as it can be.

The first thing that bugs me is that the name of the park has apparently changed to “Railroad Park” from “Railroad Reservation Park.” That is a BAD, BAD, BAD decision. “Railroad Reservation” is grounded in B’ham history, plus it’s more evocative, and–here’s the biggie–is already accepted as the park’s name by the public. “Railroad Park” is just plain and sounds like it could be anywhere. Yes, people have commonly shortened the park’s name to “Railroad Park” in conversation, but that’s no reason to shorten its actual name. Atlanta’s downtown park is commonly called Centennial Park, but I can guarantee you they’re not about to chisel “Olympic” out of the name where it appears on the grounds–because (ta da) that makes that park unique and reflects the city’s history.

I’m also hoping the “RRP” at the top of the site is not the park’s official logo. It’s not attractive, not inspiring, not welcoming, not evocative of what this park means and its connections with B’ham’s past and future.

Lest you think I’m being too harsh, take a look at the current plans for the park that flash by on the site’s page. They look SPECTACULAR! Things have shifted and changed (and some things have vanished) from the initial plans, but all in all, I think this plan is very appealing. I particularly like that the lake isn’t a square like it used to be, and I like the placement of the amphitheater. I love the trails, creek, forest, view terraces, and that open space, and even though the “Rail Trail” doesn’t run along the tracks as much as it used to, I think it still gives people a good place to sit and watch the trains. The maps don’t show the entire park (some of the eastern and southern sides are cut off), so I’m hoping the bridge over the tracks is still part of the plans. (And of course, I still dream that a new version of the “Birmingham the Magic City” sign that once stood in front of Terminal Station will be built in the park! Hint, hint, hint!)

I just wish there was a place on the site where we could see the maps in their entirety. It’s hard to study and appreciate them when they flash by in seconds. Very annoying!

I also like the concept art scattered throughout the site, but again, some explanation of what they depict would be helpful–and perhaps encourage donors to give money to make those drawings into real structures.

What do you think of the new logo, the park site, and the park plans?



1. trav - January 13, 2008

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! I totally agree with you re: the new city logo. It looks like something from the PrintShop Pro days. My guess is that someone with the city came up with the idea and some yes-man marketer dude threw it together, with no thought or cares. It’s too bad. They really could have spent the energy, working with some professionals, trying to build something classic and long term.

Please, please, pleeeeease, let this be the only place that the top hat is used!

Thanks for getting the conversation started on it!

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