Weld’s “Neighborhood Voices” series features interviews with the presidents of each of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhood associations about the strengths and challenges facing their communities. If you are a neighborhood leader and would like your neighborhood to be included, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The blocky, irregularly shaped neighborhood of Apple Valley lies just south of Pinson and just northwest of Center Point, bordered to the southeast by Birmingham’s Sun Valley neighborhood. According to the Birmingham Housing Survey, the neighborhood is home to 2,282 people. As part of District 1, it’s represented in city government by Councilor Lashunda Scales.
Recently, Apple Valley Neighborhood President Larry Butler spoke about his neighborhood’s struggle against apathy — both from its citizens and from the city government.
Weld: Why did you decide to become your neighborhood’s president?
Larry Butler: Well, we needed someone who was trying to move the neighborhood toward doing certain projects, and past presidents weren’t getting anything done. One [project] that I accomplished was to get two new signs in. And different things like, keeping our neighborhood clean and having cleanup days — different things like that.
Weld: How would you characterize the community involvement among members of your neighborhood?
Butler: That’s one of the biggest problems that I see. We don’t have any neighborhood people involved. They don’t come to neighborhood meetings unless there’s a problem that’s directly affecting them. They don’t come to meetings on a regular basis; they don’t get involved with cleanups or stuff like that. If you do a cleanup day, and you make an announcement and ask for people to come out, you might get two or three people — that’s it.
[Attendance at weekly meetings] just depends. It could be from two to 20 [people]. Like, say, if there have been some break-ins, or somebody’s got a problem with somebody else doing something they don’t like, then they want to come and voice it. We have ordinances — like no parking your car on the grass [on your front lawn]. If the police come out and ticket them, then they’re up in arms because they got a ticket for doing something they should have known [not to do] all along. They complain about things to the neighborhood association that we really shouldn’t be dealing with.
I bet if you polled a thousand people about the neighborhood meetings, asking, “When do they meet?” And you [offered] them $100, some of them still couldn’t answer that question, because they’re not interested. It’s just bad, you know, that people don’t get involved until there’s a problem. Say you’ve got a big fire. Then everybody wants to come with a cup of water. Come on.
Weld: What are the biggest problems facing your neighborhood?
Butler: There are certain issues. People want to run a business out of their house. Some want to work on cars on their properties, like it’s a garage or car repair shop. I’m not going to say it’s hard for the city to stop it — but when you complain to the city about it, now you’re the problem. Well, you know, the neighborhood’s for residents, not businesses. They’re not paying taxes on that house for a business. Being a neighborhood president, those are the kind of problems that you end up dealing with, and it’s really not anything [I] should have to get involved with, because there really should be somebody enforcing those [ordinances].
It’s just like with the police. We have a problem out here with speeding. They will come out and run radar every now and then. One time, they came out here and did a radar blitz, and in two hours they had [written] over 25 tickets. They see it’s a problem, but do you think they came back to get a hold of that situation? No. That’s something that you’ve got to complain [to the city] about.
Weld: What are some ways in which you would like to see your neighborhood improve?
Butler: One is enforcing the laws that are on the books. If I could see that, I wouldn’t even want to be in office no more, because I think everybody would be doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
There are lots of things that people take for granted. They want to live over here, but they don’t want to respect over here. I shouldn’t have to go out and pick up trash because someone who’s driving through the neighborhood or who lives in the neighborhood wants to throw out their McDonald’s or Burger King wrappers. And they’re going to their homes, and they’re throwing stuff out, littering the neighborhood! So you have people like me out there trying to clean it up. The city may [clean up] once a month, but then after a day, it’s right back like it was before they even came out.
If there’s a killing — in my neighborhood, we have a problem with a certain complex. I don’t want to just call it out. But in one month, they had three killings in there. It was like, a killing every other week. Well, the police came right after the killing, and they wanted to act like they’re policing. But then, two or three days later, guess what? You don’t see the police, even though they know there’s a problem in that area.
[As for our problem with speeding drivers], you don’t have that problem in Vestavia or in Hoover! If it’s a police issue, the police [force] works over there. But when there’s a police issue in Birmingham, the police just get on the news and say, “We’re launching Operation Eagle,” or something like that. Operation Eagle should have always been there! It shouldn’t be something that you have to operate — that’s just policing! And when you complain, you know what they say about you? That you’re the problem, not the police.
Weld: In what other ways do you think the Birmingham city government could help your neighborhood improve and flourish?
Butler: I’ll go as far as this. I’ve been living over here 23 years. When I first moved over here, some of the things I’m talking about now, it wasn’t even a discussion. [The city] took care of those things. They came through on a weekly basis or more, cleaning up and stuff like that. But as the years go by, those are things they care less about — these neighborhoods. They care about downtown, they care about Railroad Park, they care about the Crossplex. But as far as the inner neighborhoods, where the people live, they’re not doing as much.
And I would like to see the city of Birmingham be beautiful. They say they want to be a beautiful city? I’d like to see the people that are elected doing their jobs, and everybody that has a job working for the citizens, and not having the citizens have to tell them to do their job. Then I would think it’s a beautiful city.
Weld: What do you want Birmingham citizens outside of your neighborhood to know about your neighborhood?
Butler: Well, it was a nice neighborhood when I first bought in. I thought people were into the neighborhood, but you can get fooled by what you think, if you don’t know. You’d think people were involved and care about where they live — but that’s not the case. People are not that concerned about where they live unless there’s a problem where they live, and then everybody wants to come out. But sometimes it’s too late to come out after the problem is out. You’ve got to get ahead of it; you can’t just sit back and complain about things and not do anything about it.