ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Maury Shevin. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
For the last nine months, I have been meeting with opinion leaders and opinion makers both within and without the City of Birmingham to find out what a run for the Birmingham City Council would take.
These meetings have been over coffee, lunch or beer. I sought out people who I know to care for Birmingham and who I know to be involved in Birmingham City politics.
My nine-month journey coincided with some of the more spectacularly negative developments in Birmingham politics: Recall the Council’s stealth awarding of a future pay increase; the Council’s incessant bickering over a “no-brainer” allowing of Uber into our transportation-challenged city; a physical brawl at City Hall; the debacle over changing the Mayor-Council Act that erupted into race-baiting all because our Mayor and Council can’t govern together as adults; the news of the Airport Authority’s Executive Director having a private gym built at our expense; and most recently, the potential disaster in contract-awarding by the Council and Mayor’s favorite play toy–the Birmingham Water Works Board.
If you like the rough and tumble world of political intrigue, Birmingham is the place to be.
So, I wanted to know if there was a place for me in that world. Reluctantly, I’ve concluded no, not now. But, here’s some of what I learned.
I learned that there are incredibly gifted residents of Birmingham (and others who make their livings here but live “over there”) who care deeply about the City as a place for their children and grandchildren to grow and prosper. There is a common theme among those with whom I met: Birmingham is on a roll; we are poised for success; let’s get our political leadership on the same page with entrepreneurs, the business community, the big mules, and the institutions of higher learning—especially UAB.
I learned that the Trustees of the University of Alabama can bend to the will of a determined, connected and well-heeled group who understand that Birmingham’s future is linked to UAB’s future; and, UAB’s future is linked to college kids who want to go to a college with a football program.
I learned that we have good bones and we have a good story to tell. I am not sure what our ultimate “brand” should be, but whether it turns out to be our world class healthcare, our culinary geniuses, our parks, or our human rights institutions—we will not go wrong.
I learned that millennials and suburban refugees–and their wallets–can make transformational change and create prosperous venues like Avondale, Lakeview, Uptown, 2nd Avenue North, Parkside and Ensley. Baseball, craft beer, sidewalk films, non-profits, civil rights, music, arts, para-athletics, food trucks, theater, parks, libraries, fire stations, churches, social justice initiatives, community conversations, street markets, Black lives matter—all are a part of a magnificent tapestry that is being woven before our eyes.
I learned that there are plans in Birmingham for just about everything other than moving I-20/59. We’ve got plans for a new transportation infrastructure including trains and buses, a new football stadium, a refurbished BJCC, new hotels, a national monument focused on the A.G. Gaston Motel, a new Cooper Green, and even an early-stage plan to create a world class education center led by a UAB – Birmingham Southern consortium of educators, in the location where Legion Field now stands.
We’ve got plans to pave streets throughout the 99 neighborhoods of Birmingham, and to keep them in repair. We’ve got plans to tear down even more dilapidated structures. We’ve got some thinkers and some doers, and for once, some revenue sources, to accompany both.
I’ve also learned that we have three structural problems—the Alabama Constitution of 1901, a self-segregating school system and a metropolitan region of perverse, non-cooperative communities. These are favorite themes with which all Comeback Town readers are already familiar.
I only want to add here that these three near-insurmountable problems are all the result of Alabama’s history of slavery, Jim Crow, Northern colonization, and institutional racism. As much as it pains me, this truth is undeniable. Other Southern success-storied cities also come from the same South that Birmingham does. The difference is that Birmingham was even more mired in the system and more colonized by Northern industrialists, than our sister cities—and Birmingham had Bull Connor to contend with in addition to George Wallace.
But, our sister cities escaped their past because they benefited from outstanding leaders.
I’ve also learned that we haven’t. We haven’t developed outstanding leaders. For so many, many reasons, men and women of competence and integrity haven’t come along lately to achieve positions of dominance in City government. Where are they? Why not?
My hope and prayer for the upcoming 2017 elections is that men and women of good-will with leadership skills and most of all, with integrity, will step up in Birmingham, find their place and work with our 36 suburban cities so that we don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to capitalize on our current successes.
I’ve learned that you have to have hope.
Maury Shevin—passionate about the City of Birmingham–lives, works, thinks and plays on Birmingham’s Southside.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.