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.
East Brownville, along with its neighboring West Brownville, was once a separate municipality from Birmingham before being annexed into the city in 1981 by then-Mayor Richard Arrington.
The neighborhood lies on the southwest side of the city, surrounded by neighborhoods such as Grasselli Heights, Tarpley City, and, predictably, West Brownville. Once a mining town (the Wenonah mines lie to the neighborhood’s south), the neighborhood is now home to 838 residents. It’s represented in city government by District 7 Councilor Jay Roberson.
Neighborhood President Gwendolyn Cook Bibb recently spoke with Weld about her hopes for the future of her neighborhood and the amount of progress it has recently made with the help of the city.
Weld: Why did you decide to become your neighborhood’s president?
Gwendolyn Cook Bibb: You know what? I really didn’t decide it. It got decided for me. Many years ago, when Brownville became part of the city of Birmingham, I was already a working person in that [government] organization. Antris Hinton, who was the [mayor of Brownville, and later the neighborhood president] became a city councilor. I had been vice president, and I stepped up to be president. Basically, it wasn’t really a choice. Somebody had to do it. And it’s a position that nobody wants.
My main reason for serving is to try to make sure that things get done in the neighborhood, to be able to oversee projects.
The best thing you can have, being a volunteer, is patience. It’s going to take a lot of patience. You have to be persistent along with your patience. If you don’t keep pushing it, it will die. And that’s one of the things that it really takes.
Weld: How would you characterize the community involvement among members of your neighborhood?
Bibb: It’s like this in all neighborhoods: the community involvement is, if there’s a problem, you don’t have a seat [left]. I’m serious… You have a great turnout when you have people who want to complain about something they feel is dysfunctional.
I have about 20 or 25 people that are regular attendees every month. Other than that, if you’re going to go into a big number like 50 or 60, it’s got to be a big complaint — something’s going on. But I do have my faithful few and I’m very thankful for them.
Weld: What are some of the biggest problems facing your neighborhood?
Bibb: We used to have blasting. It wasn’t in my neighborhood, but there’s a rock quarry adjacent to my neighborhood. That quarry’s blasting has really done a lot to the foundations of our houses. It was a big problem. A lot of people had cracks in their foundation. As a matter of fact, before my husband passed in 2014, he had to have some work done on the front of our house’s foundation, because it had a crack in it. He had to get somebody to repair one of the pillars, because it cracked from all that blasting. And you can feel it. It feels like a great tremor.
We can’t really do anything about it, because it’s on unincorporated land. But the city of Birmingham can’t do anything about it. But it’s a nuisance to us. They’ve slowed down over the last couple of years with the blasting they were doing. For a while, they were shaking us to pieces. It was a big problem.
[Also,] U.S. Steel has a lot of land that sits in our neighborhood, which is a big problem because it’s not developed. It’s never been developed. So the city of Birmingham can’t go on it and cut it down or do anything. They can only work with something that’s been developed. Other than that, we can’t do anything. We have a lot of wooded area within our neighborhood.
Weld: What are some ways in which you’d like to see your neighborhood improve?
Bibb: Well, we’ve got a couple of streets that we would like to see get resurfaced. One of them is the main road. It’s not really torn up, but it once was an old mining camp from U.S. Steel. It has a lot of older roads that run through it. We have a lot of underground springs, that’s what I’m hearing. And that water flow, every now and then, we get a lot of [sinkholes]. We have a bad sink that’s on both sides of that road that you have to slow down for. If you don’t slow down, or you don’t know it’s there, it’ll hurt your car. That’s one of the things that we’re working on. We’d like to see it resurfaced. That’s been in our planning for a long time. We’d like to see Wenonah Road, which is a main road that people travel on going to other neighborhoods and other parts of Birmingham, we’d like to see it resurfaced with sidewalks — and probably widened.
Right now, I’m in the process of getting permission from the city of Birmingham — I don’t know if they’re going to give it to us — to purchase land for an East Brownville park. It’s the hotspot of the neighborhood. It’s an old piece of land that was once the property of Wenonah schools. The first Wenonah school was built on that site, so it has a lot of history. Every now and then, like last month, the alumni came back to the park to do memorial dedications. We’ve gotten some plaques put out there in reference to the site, but right now the main thing is that we have some little league going on, and the people really don’t have nowhere to park. They park on the side of the road, and we just need some additional off-street parking. Overall, it’s the safety of our community.
Weld: In what ways do you think the Birmingham city government could help your neighborhood improve and flourish?
Bibb: Well, right now, what they’re doing is really great. We really were in a wilderness. We used to say the [Brownville community] was being overlooked, because there was so much overgrowth over here, so many dilapidated houses out here.
The mayor had a series of town hall meetings, and as a result of those meetings, I can say this: he has really acted on it. He has cut down all of the [overgrown] lots in my neighborhood. That was one of the things we really were concerned about, overgrown lots and dilapidated houses. I had one next door to me; thankfully, it’s gone [now]. That was a lot of concern [expressed] at our meetings that they did help us with.
Now I’m trying to see what it is that we want them to do next. [Laughs] I haven’t really thought about that — I’m just trying to digest that they’ve done this. I’m serious! We waited so long!
But there are some other things they can do to enhance this area. We’d like to see some more development. There’s a lot of vacant U.S. Steel land out here, if we could get some more development or subdivisions out here… Our children and our young people are [moving] away from our neighborhood, so we need something to bring more [people in]. And the young people are the life [of the neighborhood]. We don’t have anybody, really, to pass anything down to, because most of the people that come to the meeting, and most of the people who really care about [the neighborhood] are the elderly!
Weld: What do you want Birmingham citizens outside of your neighborhood to know about your neighborhood?
Bibb: East Brownville stands its ground. We’re patient people, but we’re very determined. We try to assess our needs, and we try to follow through on what the neighborhood needs. Everything that you want to do, it’s a long process. We in East Brownville have a lot of patience, and we follow through, whatever the project is that we pursue.