What changes do Birmingham residents want to see resulting from the impending election? Everything from transportation, education and crime to the environment and leadership concerns surfaced in conversations with voters in the Magic City.
Levon Hawkins, 55, has lived in Birmingham his entire life, and wants to see mass transit improved in a city with a substantial number of poor residents. “I’d like to see whoever gets elected run the buses seven days a week and, if they could, do it 24 hours a day,” Hawkins said. “ I’d definitely like to see better transportation around downtown,” he said while eating a sandwich on a concrete ledge near Linn Park.
“There’s certain places, certain parts of the city that the buses don’t run all day,” Hawkins said, adding that he understands there are financial constraints that could prevent the city from being able to do so.
Hawkins offered this assessment of the current mayoral administration: “I don’t really see what’s different about this mayor. I can’t say that he did a good job and I can’t say he did a bad job. It just doesn’t seem to be much different.” Hawkins said that he plans on voting but is still undecided on who he will cast his vote for.
Green concerns are uppermost in the mind of Johnathan Patrick, a 22-year-old resident who wants to see whoever is elected do a better job at fostering an awareness toward environmental responsibility in Birmingham.
“For starters, I’d like to see more bike lanes,” Patrick said. “There’s just this demeanor that people in the South have, like ‘I have a big truck, get off my road, young buck.’ So I’d like to see simple city changes, like painting more bike lanes,” Patrick said.
“Encouraging something like bicycles is huge for this town because it’s so polluted. Environmental awareness should be a necessity for this city,” Patrick said, adding that concepts like bicycle sharing, which some cities have begun to implement, would be something the mayor’s office and city planners should strongly consider.
“When you encourage this type of alternative transportation it does nothing but boost the local economy,” Patrick said.
As for the mayor, Patrick also said he hasn’t really noticed much of a difference in Birmingham under his watch. “If he’s done anything great, I haven’t heard about it. None of my friends or people I know really acknowledge anything the mayor does. My friend group as a whole, they pay attention to what happens around here, and Mayor Bell has not once been brought up in conversation. So it’s interesting in itself that no one seems to talk about it.”
As for what he hopes to see accomplished in Birmingham after the upcoming election, he said he hopes Birmingham can continue to ride the wave of progress that has revitalized the downtown area in particular.
“To be this up and coming city like The New York Times printed awhile back is cool, and it shows progression is being made. But if Birmingham wants to continue that route and not become stuck in a rut again it’s going to have to start with the mayor,” Patrick said.
“So whoever that is after the election, I hope they focus on environmental reform, including but not necessarily limited to encouraging cycling. It’s better for the overall health of the city and it’s better for the roads and pollution. Also I’d like to see the mayor really push for encouraging alternative energy,” Patrick said.
Lowell Orr, an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench and taking in the view at Railroad Park, said that violence and improving race relations should be among the mayor’s main priorities. “As far as I’m concerned, race relationships could be better. It’s something I would like to see focused on in Birmingham,” Orr said. “Whoever the mayor is, they should be concerned with the black-on-black crime here. It should be taken seriously, and if they have to put money into whatever they need to combat it, I wish they would.”
He went on to compare the current mayor to Birmingham’s first black mayor. “Mayor Bell has done some all right things for the city. For example, Railroad Park is a good thing. But I’ll tell you, Mayor [Richard] Arrington was my man. He really did some great things for the city of Birmingham,” Orr said. Like many others, just days before the election, Orr said he remained undecided who to cast his vote for.
On the other hand, lifelong Birminghamian Larry Roberts, plans to support Bell for reelection. “I think Mayor Bell has done an outstanding job,” Roberts said. “I just want to see Birmingham keep growing. We’ve been down for a long time but now things seem to be on the rise. I just want Birmingham to keep building.”
Roberts shared the concern that mass transit in the city needs to improve. “I hope the bus system continues to improve and the transportation gets better. They got to help us grow.”
George Rudolph had a simple wish for the election: “I hope that the right person gets in office,” he said. “A person that moves the city forward.” For him that includes seeing the crime rate diminish, “the murder rate goes down, and that people learn about God and come closer to him.”
Optimism about the possibilities seemed to characterize Henry McShan’s take on the upcoming contests. “I think the voters should vote their conscience and good results may come.”
Nevertheless, he sees an area where the city needs immediate improvement: education.
“I’d like to see the schools get better,” McShan said, “so that we don’t lose them so easily, and find some way to keep a superintendent here permanently.”
At Railroad Park the week before the election, Nicholas Laster summed up what might be the nonspecific hopes for many in the city, a kind of general core wish for most voters. “I’m hoping,” he said, “that the right people are elected — people that have the city’s best interest in heart, and not their own personal interest.”