I’ve never been more excited to be a Mobilian than I am right now. The amount of energy in the air only rivals the pollen. If you can’t feel this almost overwhelming momentum, you aren’t standing in the right place.
And judging by the reported fantastic turnout at the city’s first long-range planning meeting on Monday night, March 30, people aren’t just feeling the energy, they are creating it. City leaders and planners with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood and Planning Next gathered suggestions from the packed house at Government Street Baptist on what they would like to see happen in the Port and/or Azalea City. The planners reminded attendees to think about what makes Mobile unique.
“Mobile should be Mobile. What visitors and youth are looking for is uniqueness,” said Jamie Greene of Planning Next.
We have no shortage of things that make us just that. Mardi Gras, the bay, our oaks, beautiful architecture both in downtown and in the historic neighborhoods, our port, the Crichton Leprechaun, and of course, as is abundantly apparent right now, our azaleas.
Last week, Mayor Sandy Stimpson, along with members of Keep Mobile Beautiful announced the revitalization of the Azalea Trail with three routes that include a Downtown/Midtown Trail, a Springhill/University Trail and a Sky Ranch/Cottage Hill Trail. The trails will be marked with new signage, and maps will be available at Keep Mobile Beautiful, the Chamber and Mobile Botanical Gardens.
I’ll admit this was a part of Mobile history I was largely ignorant of until fairly recently. When I moved to Mobile in the mid-‘90s, I thought “The Azalea Trail” just refereed to the run, even dumbly presuming the pink line along the roadways was for the runners to follow. Doh! Don’t tell anyone that, please.
Most of you probably already know this, but for transplants like me, according to every Azalea Trail Maid in town, this was actually started in the late 1920s by the Mobile Jaycees and Mobile horticulturist Sam Lackland, who embarked on a beautification project by planting azaleas on all of the major thoroughfares and in our parks, while also encouraging homeowners to plant them on their properties.
Out of this sprung the Azalea Trail Court, which got so popular girls from surrounding states were vying for a spot on it. (I mean, with those dresses, can you blame them?) Eventually, the court was limited to Mobile County ladies and Junior Miss sprung out of it for the out-of-staters. And of course, that national scholarship program has also evolved into another uniquely Mobile event. Who knew a flower could be responsible for so much?
I have also read accounts that there used to be a big “opening day” for the Trail and people from far and wide would drive to see the full-on azalea explosion.
I am so thrilled Keep Mobile Beautiful and their committee is working to revitalize the Azalea Trail, as those beautiful bushes really are one of the things that make us so unique. And I think it’s another idea we can build on for our long-range plan.
How cool would a new “opening day” be? Trollies manned (or I guess wo-manned) by Trail Maids could run tourists and locals alike up and down the trails, which would actually serve to unite different parts of town from LoDa to MiMo to WeMo. And lord knows we love a good party here. People and businesses all along the trail could host their own soirees dedicated to the azalea. Ladies would flood the stores to get their “opening day dresses.” Azalea-colored cocktails would be served, dahlin’ but BYOZ (Bring Your Own Zyrtec).
But seriously, each morning as I drive down Springhill Avenue by the Bragg Mitchell mansion on my way to work and see their azaleas in full splendor, I am reminded just what a magical place we are fortunate enough to call home. This beautiful Azalea City.
And I think it is time to FULLY embrace the bush so many are proud to say they were born under. Or like me, dropped underneath some time after birth.
I know Mobile has always had dueling nicknames, as many cities do. And I certainly realize the utmost importance of our port. It was largely responsible for this city’s birth. I heart you port, I really, really do. But just thinking visually, when you say “The Port City,” images of cranes and ships and container terminals come to mind and though important for commerce, they aren’t exactly things the average visitor wants to go hang around. You say “The Azalea City” and it’s all sunshine and well, azaleas.
Honestly, I think the Port City moniker has gained more traction over the years simply because there are most alliterative possibilities: Port City Pacers, Port City Plumbing and even in this paper, Port City Premonitions.
And I’m not saying we ditch “The Port City” entirely. Have our economic development teams sing the praises of our spectacular port on every trip they make. But when it comes to marketing and tourism campaigns, I say it’s time to make “The Azalea City” our go-to choice.
When you really think about it, “The Port City” only represents one incredible aspect of our great community. But you can travel to every neighborhood in the city of Mobile, each with their own “unique” characteristics, and they still all have one thing in common; the azalea. I don’t care which zip code you are in, you’re going to find one. It really is more than just our flower. It is a symbol for One Mobile and for the many incredible things we hope are soon to blossom.