When we think about Birmingham, there are a few obvious landmarks that come to mind: Vulcan’s majestic perch high atop Red Mountain, Sloss’ steel towers bordering 1st Avenue North, Railroad Park’s expansive green embrace, the “red letter building” (as affectionately named by Sweet Pea) – all of which define the city’s skyline. But there are also other Magic City features that shape the landscape, and we wanted to focus on one today in the Magic City Chatroom.
Named after the infamous Birmingham Terminal Station that was destroyed in 1969, The Terminal, founded in 2007 by transplant Andre Natta, “is a web publication that focuses on Birmingham, Alabama and the surrounding region”. The Birmingham-centric website is turning five next month, and we wanted to know all about it. We sat down with ‘The Stationmaster” himself. If you ever venture downtown, you most likely have run in to him. Just like his website, Natta is a fixture in progressive culture of the Magic City.
MCM: You’re approaching a big milestone with The Terminal. How does it feel to be five years old?
It’s only now starting to hit me. It’s weird. While it’s not quite where I wanted it to be by now, I’m proud of how The Terminal is viewed by most people and of the folks who’ve helped make it happen through the years.
MCM: You should be very proud! The Terminal is a critical voice in our city and one of the first (objective/authentic) websites that we came across when considering our move to the Magic City. But why? Why blog? What are you hoping to achieve? What’s in it for you?
I guess I’m what you call an introvert that functions as a digital extrovert. I started a personal blog back in July 2005 called “Dre’s Ramblings” as a way to let folks from other chapters of my life know what was going on with me while giving them a peek at why I’d chosen to move to Birmingham. I also figured I’d be able to meet new people while looking for some deeper conversations. I’d been taught that the difference between a good debate and an argument is that after a good debate, you probably go out, get some beers and talk about something else. I still hadn’t found folks I could have those good debates with so it seemed like a good idea…
After nearly two years I noticed I was writing a lot about what was going on in the city, drawing a much more local audience than I thought I would originally. I wanted to keep writing the pieces about Birmingham while not being too afraid of who was reading my personal stuff. I took a look around online and other popular information hubs like “Gothamist” back home in New York City and “Gapers Block” in Chicago were using blogging platforms, so it made sense to stick to what I knew.
I see The Terminal as a way to give folks a taste of what is going on in case they don’t have the time or the desire to look at everything (somewhat borrowing from the mission of “Gapers Block”, whose editor Andrew Huff I’ve leaned on for support often through the years). I want to help influence the conversations taking place in Birmingham by letting folks make up their own mind and giving them to a starting point to do so.
The site’s editorial section, now called “Dear Birmingham”, was sort of an after-thought; I didn’t think folks would read it as much as the rest of the site. It lets me share my opinion in a slightly stronger way than I feel I can on say the site’s front page. I’m working on ideas that will hopefully foster some more interaction on those pieces.
MCM: We’ve certainly looked to The Terminal often, for guidance and resources. In what ways do you believe has your website benefited the city/community?
I think it helped give a voice to folks who were aware there were good things going on in the metro area. I’ve had folks write and come up and say how the site helped make them more aware of what was going on.
It’s helped paint Birmingham in a positive light for far more people than I ever thought possible. It still gets reasonable traffic amounts from out of town, including a few folks who live in Birmingham, England. I’ve reached out to them to make sure they realized where the site was; they said they were fully aware and it was a conscious decision. That’s always been cool when it happens.
It’s also helped a lot of folks realize that what they have to say is important, whether it’s said on The Terminal, another local site or their own site. They felt the need to make their voice heard. I know it’s helped me get a better understanding of all sides on several issues and I’ve heard that from several people over the years.
MCM: That’s pretty cool. Seems the site has helped you grow in unexpected ways. That’s an inspiring reason to keep going! Do you have any future plans for the site?
I’m looking forward to increasing the number of daily posts made site-wide in the coming weeks. That will hopefully coincide with a return to a diversity of voices throughout. I still think while many people tell me how important my voice is on the site, I still think there needs to be a true reflection of as many perspectives as possible (even though I realize it will be tougher to carry out in practice than in my head). There will be a closer look at urban revitalization issues while tightening its focus so that the majority of the posts on the site involve the city of Birmingham. There are plenty of things happening within the city limits that don’t necessary get looked at even though these are the things that are helping to move the city and the region in a new direction. The look of the site and the types of events that we plan associated with it will change to help make it easier to stick to that change in focus.
There will be a service that resembles the old “Birmingham Combloggerator”, a real-time blog aggregator that once served the metro area. That platform did more to help me meet others in town and expose me to new ideas early on and I’d like to see if it can have a similar effect for others.
There will also be a movement to become more of a conversation starter, both online and off. This includes the return of both #bhamchat and The Terminally Happy Hour, as well as a couple of other surprises…
MCM: Well, we are looking forward to all that’s in store. Now, to my favorite set o’ questions: What is your favorite Birmingham sight to see? Favorite character? Favorite dish?
I’ve always enjoyed Vulcan, especially if I’m on a plane and we’re on the final approach into the airport after I’ve been gone for a while.
MCM: Well, we know good food is a reason to come to Birmingham. If you were trying to convince an outsider to visit our great city, what would your elevator pitch sound like?
Birmingham is literally the heart of the South. You’ve got easy access to some of the best medical care, food, and cutting edge technology firms in the country. You’ve also got some of the most beautiful places to explore, whether it be Railroad Park downtown or the foothills of the Appalachian, just a stone’s throw away.
MCM: Isn’t it grand?! What is your biggest hope for Birmingham?
I hope it gets back to dreaming and forging a future without waiting for someone to do it for her.
MCM: Amen to that! But, we must ask, if YOU could wave a magic wand across the Magic City…
I’d love to see a more extensive transit network that included not just buses but a lot more bike lanes than we have right now. I’d love to see folks be more willing to reach outside of their comfort zone and truly explore all there is to offer in this city, whether it’s their hometown by birth or by choice.
MCM: We agree. We’d love to see people moving around the city, comfortably and affordably and in a healthy way, and we’d love to watch them discover all the great treasures found right here in Jones Valley. It’s such an amazing city! In fact, we’re constantly pondering where Birmingham will be in five years. What do you think?
I think Birmingham will be well on its way to truly serving as that central hub for the southeastern United States. The renovation of the airport and the opening of I-22 almost guarantee it – as well as an ever-expanding list of restaurants and foodies that enjoy them. We’ll start being a little denser than we are now, maybe a few more townhouses than we may think there will be too.
MCM: And the Terminal?
The Terminal will hopefully be still serving as an information hub for the city – a place where conversations can start. I’d love to say it would be part of a larger brand serving the community in whatever way it needs it to. We’ll have a small staff working to make sure we do right by the citizens of Birmingham and those interested in its well-being and future.
MCM: Since we’re already looking in to the crystal ball, if there were a Birmingham time capsule planted today, to be opened in 2102, what would you put in it?
An “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” t-shirt with The Terminal’s logo on the back of it – A reminder to all, as well as a gift.
Yeah, we’ve gotta get one of those shirts…
Y’all head on over to The Terminal. Get acquainted. Get reacquainted. Get inspired. Get informed.