Preface: This post contains three (separate, but equal) parts. Try not to get confused. Also, if anyone has Mayor Bell’s email address handy, please forward the latter note. Many thanks.
There’s a big white tent going up in downtown Birmingham and I’m inviting all of you to come on down and be a witness. The choir’s rejoicing and the newly-annointed minister is preparing his sermon. It’s time for that day of reckoning, folks, and it starts in Five Points South.
But, before we hear the testimony, let’s briefly examine the obvious:
1 - Birmingham has great potential to be a thriving destination for cultural and business development.
2 - Birmingham has a multitude of renowned amenities that make the city a viable candidate for acclaimed national exposure.
3 - Birmingham must capitalize on its existing resources and infrastructure in order to accomplish such exposure.
4 – Birmingham has some problems with motivating its people to work together for the common good.
5- Birmingham desperately needs committed, focused, empowered leadership to bring the community together for the purpose of positive growth.
In unison: Hallelujah! Amen.
This Sunday’s Birmingham News included a write-up profiling Mayor William Bell’s platform on urban revitalization, specifically in the Five Points South area. (In case you missed it, here’s the link.) To sum up, the article reports that Mayor Bell won’t “abandon” Five Points “because it means so much to the city”. This, of course, comes just a few days after the said publication reported on nationally renowned Chef Frank Stitt’s resistance to a fast food drive thru in that very area. (Here’s the story and here’s an even better recount of what’s going on, via BhamArchitect. I recommend reading the surface-skimmed Birmingham News article, then humor yourself with the comments that follow, then treat yourself to an intelligent perspective from someone who’s had a true, vested interest in this (broader) subject and can offer a much different disposition from that of our beloved local newspaper.)
The mayor says he’s committed to finding financing to pay for improvements in Five Points South and has also vocalized his intent to create a group to evaluate the area’s needs. This “authority” would be compromised of area property and business owners.
The News went on to quote urban planning expert, Harvard professor, and co-editor of “The Tourist City” Susan Fainstein on several important points regarding the need for a coordinated ”authority”.
This new focus will “hopefully become a model for other districts in the city”. (Okay, would Main Street Birmingham, then, not be a natural contender for Bell’s support and focus?)
No real plans have been laid out yet by the mayor, but focus on new developments/investments such as a domed stadium and an entertainment district near the civic center have taken a (distant) back seat as it’s becoming increasingly clear that the city’s financial state is in major crisis. It appears that city leadership is taking a look “inward” to find ways in which it can boost economic development with ongoing budget cuts. And, my, what a concept – to utilize and organize the city’s existing amenities in order to build community interest/support/commerce. Kudos, Mayor Bell! Kudos! Or, shall I say, amen!
So, in celebration of this urban “revival”, here are Five Points that support the mayor’s new revitalization “effort”:
1 - According to Fainstein, business improvement districts, on a whole, are considered to be very successful.
2 – Also cited by Fainstein, cities are better served by bolstering existing attractions than by spending millions to create new tourist centers. Cultural destinations such as Five Points South attract both urban and suburban customers, while newly designed centers (like a domed stadium or civic center entertainment district) draw only a select crowd of people, in town for a limited amount of time and with a sporadic calendar/frequency.
3 – With an increased commitment to crime enforcement, well-lit parking, and authentic local business development, Five Points South could become the city’s prized entertainment hub, which would in turn generate revenue, would foster economic energy and may even attract young professionals to not only work, but also live and play in that area.
4 – The infrastructure exists.
5 – Birmingham needs a positive example to spur new energy and enthusiasm in other areas that have equal potential…combine those revitalized areas and you have a vibrant, thriving destination that warrants corporate and cultural exposure beyond city limits.
Dear Mayor Bell,
I recently moved to your city and I really like it here. (To give you an exact timeframe of my arrival, it was somewhere between Smitherman and Royal, post-Langford and prior to your runoff victory.) I’m inspired by the rich history, the vibrant culture(s), the lovely landscape, and the warm people. My husband, son and I are planning to plant roots here. We have faith in The Magic City and believe wholeheartedly in the promise of its future. I started writing this blog because I have been so moved by the things I see and the people I meet in your great city every day.
Mayor, I’ve seen you in person a number of times and even had the opportunity shake your hand one evening on the rooftop of the historic Redmont Hotel. I offered my “special hand jive” and you accepted with a smile. I told you then that I’d just moved here and you asked where I’d come from. I told you we moved from Charleston, South Carolina and you commented on how great a man the city’s mayor is, as you had just entertained his visit to Birmingham. I agree. Mayor Joe Riley has a blatant, unwavering devotion to The Holy City and its people and he is well-respected. Charleston is a world-renowned destination for art, history, cuisine and shopping and the integrity of its leadership has a lot to do with its success as a city.
Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask you something in regards to that visit by Mayor Riley. I’m aware that he spoke to some local leaders about his experience and successes with city revitalization projects. No doubt he’s a qualified voice on the subject. I also understand that you left this meeting before hearing what he had to say. May I ask why? Perhaps you would have learned something. Perhaps you would have been inspired even more to make The Magic City a place I can be proud to call home.
And, Mayor, while I have your attention, may I be honest with you? As I’ve become more familiar with the city and its issues, I’ve grown increasingly paranoid about our leadership’s focus on making Birmingham “united for the good of the city”. I don’t think it necessary to list the reasons why, just know that I’m finding it difficult to trust what’s being done at City Hall. I’d be more than happy to discuss these fears with you in person and would even treat you to a cup of coffee or a cupcake. I’ll be respectful to your time, of course, and promise to approach the conversation with an open mind.
Having said that, I am excited to hear your recent announcement about future plans for urban renewal projects and Mayor, however you decide to crack away at this concept, know that I’ll be on board. You say let’s start with Five Points South. I agree, this area is an obvious “first step”, so let’s do it. Let’s address the crime, the upgrades to existing structures, and the incentives for new business. If this is what it takes to get The Magic City back on the right track and moving forward, then I’m more than happy to funnel my energies in to promoting and uplifting that area. As an indicator of my devotion to your “effort”, I will dedicate one post per week (until directed otherwise) to the Five Points South Revival Project (my own term, but feel free to call it your own, as that is how most politicians create their legacy…I think it has a nice ring to it and I’d be honored by your plagiarism.)
You’ve been in city politics a long time, Mayor. Certainly you know how to get things done. I’m counting on you and, with promise, you can count on me.