By Abby Ott,Staff Writer
Birmingham may be known for its racially charged past, but today the city also is recognized for quality restaurants, eclectic shops, hospitable locals and a small-town feel.
Hunter Bragg, Union alumnus, returned to Birmingham, his hometown, after graduation to attend Beeson Divinity School. Bragg said moving back gave him the opportunity to see a different side of the city than what he saw growing up.
“I enjoy Birmingham because it seems to be a mix between a big city and a small town,” Bragg said. “It’s a fun place to live. To me it’s a classic Southern city— modern and lively, yet hospitable.”
Some of Bragg’s favorite ways to spend time include attending concerts at Workplay, a small music venue, listening to speakers at Samford University, relaxing at urban parks and eating at local restaurants such as Urban Standard and Tip Top Grill. He also suggests visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute downtown to better understand Birmingham’s past.
“Birmingham has a lot of history that has affected it, especially when it comes to racial issues,” Bragg said. “The city still has a lot of work to do to move forward from its past. That certainly contributes to its character.”
The complexity of Birmingham’s past is one of the reasons Dwight Davis, Union alumnus, wants to move there.
“(My wife and I) have a passion for cities, and when we think about our mission as a couple, it is always wrapped up in city life,” Davis said. “Ideas and cultural impact happen in the city centers. Birmingham is a centrally located city that has a lot of neat stores and a cool culture, but there is so much to be done in the area of racial reconciliation, and that is what we see as our mission.”
Davis and his wife, Pamela, have enjoyed many other aspects of the city during their visits, such as hole-in-the-wall places to eat, coffee shops and bookstores.
The city has a reputation for its restaurants. Local chefs such as Frank Stitt of Bottega, Chez Fon Fon and Highlands Bar and Grill, and Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club are often recognized for their excellence at ceremonies such as the James Beard Foundation Awards in New York City.
Drawn to Birmingham’s diversity and appeal, Ashlin Woodard, senior education major, said she also is planning to move to the city when she graduates in May. Woodard has done some research on housing, and she said plenty of affordable places to live are available.
“It is such a lovely place,” Woodard said. “I have yet to find an ugly area. It has pros and cons like any city, but I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons when you look at the city as a whole.”
According to a U.S. News and World Report article, “The 11 Most Dangerous Cities,” published in February 2011, Birmingham tied with Orlando as the third most dangerous city in America. However, Bragg, Davis and Woodard expressed little concern regarding safety issues. Therefore, know what areas to avoid when in Birmingham, and one will most likely not encounter any trouble.
“In Birmingham you won’t feel like you are lost among masses of people,” Bragg said. “There are opportunities to build relationships, and there are plenty of ways to invest in the city and the community to make it a better place.”