Wade on Birmingham

The Future of Birmingham: Brighter than ever

construction crane

Photo: Elizabeth Swift (CC)

A giant crane is a sign of progress along Birmingham’s skyline.
More than 30 projects are under way in or near downtown.

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By Rod Walker

After several decades of decline, the people of Birmingham are finally starting to shed the inferiority complex that so many have felt for so long. We’re seeing cranes on the skyline, the old, long empty buildings being restored with new eateries, music venues, spaces for the arts, for recreation and for residence. We may be on the threshold of living up to the “potential” talked about for so many years.

The Future of BirminghamWhen state laws changed in 2009 making small breweries possible, a new art form arrived: craft beer. Avondale Brewing Company was the first building block for the renovation of the neighborhood, which now includes several eateries, art galleries and a new music venue, Saturn.

Railroad Park seems to have been the beginning. Then came the Barons’ new stadium. Then more new projects: the Uptown restaurant district; the Westin; the living spaces, restaurants, arts and entertainment in the loft district.

The change now seems to be happening exponentially with more than 30 projects under way in or near downtown, either new construction or renovation. They include the Thomas Jefferson Hotel, the Pizitz building, the Booker T. Washington Insurance building, the Lyric Theatre, the Powell steam plant, the Merita Bread building and the Publix supermarket.

I’m very excited about what Birmingham is becoming. The magic is back, only without the choking pollution and the barbaric racial segregation laws. We should be happy about all the good things without losing sight of lingering challenges.

The first challenge is jobs. What it takes to get new Birminghamians to stay are good-paying, stable careers. For cities like Austin that have experienced rapid growth, many jobs have been in technology. If we could add high-tech jobs to our health care and banking sectors, we would have an easier time attracting transplants.

The second challenge is old perceptions. Many people around the world have a negative perception of this city for several reasons:

  • The resistance to the 1960s civil rights movement;
  • The horrid air pollution for most of the city’s history;
  • The crime wave of the 1990s;
  • The fact that it’s located in Alabama, perceived by many to be backward.

The best way to overcome negative stereotypes is to create a new positive image that overshadows the old images. If we try, we can do that.

The last challenge is inequality. Birmingham is much more than just downtown or Avondale or Southside. Neighborhoods such as Ensley, Titusville, North Birmingham, Fountain Heights and Collegeville are just as much a part of this city. We should use our newfound prosperity to improve the lives of all citizens. By upgrading the infrastructure everywhere. By improving public transportation.

People from more prosperous areas of the city should reach out to those in less prosperous areas to help those neighborhoods improve themselves. We should invest in new businesses that provide goods, services and jobs in areas that need them most.

If we keep our heads up, if we never give in to the negativity spouted by some, and if we never forget our neighbors in all parts of the city, the future of Birmingham is brighter than ever!

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Rod WalkerRod Walker is a driver for Yellow Cab and a blogger at Birmingcabbie.

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The Future of BirminghamThe full version of this essay and many more are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

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Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

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