Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Things Are Happening in Birmingham

Birmingham skyline

For years, in spite of having institutions of remarkable quality such as the Birmingham Museum of Art, the McWane Science Center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Alabama Symphony,  several theater companies, and a world class medical center in UAB Hospital, the city of Birmingham, Alabama was not thriving. It seemed to be a city always on the verge, but never quite following through. Flight to the suburbs had certainly taken its toll. Lately, however, we have been seeing some incredible changes. Those of us who have lived here for a while have been noticing these changes for the better, and the pace seems to be picking up as many civic improvements begin to coalesce.

Positive Changes in the City

First it was the loft apartments and new urban housing that began bringing people back to live in the city proper. The completion of Railroad Park brought a new focus to the downtown area, and the building of Regions Field brought the Birmingham Barons baseball team back to town after a twenty year sojourn in in the suburbs. We have also been seeing a return of grocery stores and shops to city blocks that had seemed like a ghost town ten short years ago. 

With the motivation of some farsighted civic leaders, not the least of which is Gen. Charles Krulack, president of Birmingham-Southern College, the city now seems to be on the move. Gen. Krulak issued a challenge to the people to invest in their city, embrace its human rights history, and make the city a place to celebrate. In a 2012 op ed piece Birmingham should embrace its human rights history which appeared in The Birmingham News, Krulak wrote:

No matter your political persuasion, the simple fact is that without Birmingham, there would not have been an African-American president
or an African-American national security adviser. Without Birmingham, there are many other men and women of different races, different religions and different cultures who would not have the opportunities they have today. To fail to embrace our rightful role in the history of human rights is to do ourselves a grave disservice.

General Krulak enumerated the tangible as well as the intangible assets that the city has to offer and expressed the hope that we might come together as a Birmingham that embraces its past and uses that past as a springboard to a bright future.

The Democratic National Convention

The latest buzz is that the city is being considered as a possible site for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  When I first heard that Birmingham was in the running, I thought it was great that my city was being considered. There were some naysayers early on who pointed out that we don’t have the hotel space needed for some 15,000 visitors descending upon the city. Then when I learned that we were among the finalists, I couldn’t help feeling some pride, but didn’t take much notice beyond the daily news cycle. This week, however, it suddenly hit home that the city has great possibilities ahead.

People begin to gather at the historic
Alabama Theater
Blue Dot (of Bright Blue Dots) alerted the public via Facebook on Monday that people should go downtown to 3rd Avenue North to give a wave to the DNC committee that was currently in town looking over the city. With a little encouragement from my wife, I decided to head on downtown to see what was happening. I arrived at the Alabama Theater where some were beginning to gather. I was impressed with the sights downtown at eight o’clock at night. The place was well lit with signs of new and thriving businesses. I saw young and old coming together to catch a glimpse of the DNC, but the crowd was mostly young folks. There were people riding bicycles, lots of people milling about, waiting in anticipation.

When the news came that the DNC motorcade was just a few minutes away, I looked around and became unexpectedly emotional. It suddenly registered with me: the very idea that all of these people were gathered to cheer on an idea for the city meant that there was a surplus of positive expectation. The city has lived too long in the shadow of naysayers, but now we seem to actually be building upon positive steps that have been moving incrementally toward greater possibilities.

When the motorcade arrived, I think most of us expected that they would drive on by as we waved and cheered. To our surprise, the motorcade stopped right there on 3rd Avenue in front of the Lyric Theater. Mayor William Bell got out of the first car and greeted everyone, then members of the evaluation committee for the DNC got out of their cars to meet the crowd. They were on their way to a “pitch party” at the Iron City entertainment venue on the south side of town.

                                                  Birmingham  Mayor William Bell with members 
                                                                  of the DNC committee

Whether or not Birmingham gets to host the Democratic National Convention in 2016, it is exciting to see the city reaching upward and outward. Hopefully we can continue to build upon recent positive developments and make the city a place that proudly proclaims its important role as a beacon for human rights, as well as a place where it is fun to be alive.

The historic Lyric Theater that once hosted
Vaudeville acts is currently being renovated

Photos by Charles Kinnaird


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