Something is happening in Birmingham. Amid the usual cacophony of naysaying and negativism, of dreams deferred, promise perpetuated and prophesies of failure self-fulfilled, there is a rising chorus of good feeling.
For some reason, a growing number of people seem to be optimistic about our community and its future.
This is remarkable for a couple of reasons, not least because Birmingham traditionally has not been fertile ground for progressive action, not a place where the roots of positive change have penetrated deeply enough to gain solid purchase. It’s not that we have lacked for optimists throughout the years, people who have loved Birmingham and worked to see it claim its birthright as a great American city. It is that optimism — and its corollaries of communication, consensus, cohesion — has been stunted, repeatedly and with deadly dispatch, by a “leadership” class that, in the words of the late Birmingham historian and archivist Marvin Whiting, has acted “with little courage and no boldness.”
Remarkable, too, is that the swelling of the latest wave of optimism about Birmingham comes at a time when the path of the naysayer has, in many ways, never been easier to tread. The national economy has settled into a state of stubborn sluggishness.
Staggering debt and serious financial woes threaten to hamstring Jefferson County government for years to come, much to the detriment of all of its constituents — rich and poor, urban and suburban, black and white and brown. Our history of social and political discord continues to stand as a bulkhead against transformational progress.
When, in preparation for this inaugural print issue of Weld, we began to approach people throughout the community, asking each to submit one “big idea” for helping Birmingham fulfill its long-lived promise at last, we found that optimism abounds. From the concrete to the spiritual, from the admirably broad to the meticulously specific, the ideas we received constitute a template for improving and enhancing our community, as well as illustrating the deep and rich vein of hope that crosses all of the boundaries that historically have defined Birmingham.
At the same time, each of our invited writers makes clear their understanding that good ideas are not enough. John F. Kennedy once referred to himself as “an idealist without illusions,” and so it is with those who would see Birmingham flourish. They know that problems persist, and among them is the collective sense that if we do not address those problems in ways more substantively and successfully than we have to date, we may be missing our last, best chance at making Birmingham what we want it to be.
In both their optimism and their practicality, these committed citizens of Birmingham exemplify a key foundational premise of Weld. Like them, we do not subscribe to the notion that critical examination of Birmingham’s problems and positive thought and action about its future are mutually exclusive. Weld aspires to be something that Birmingham has never had — a strong editorial voice that not only provides reliable news and information about our community, but also serves as a unifying force for building a positive civic identity and a sense of shared purpose that will carry our community to new heights. – Mark Kelly, Weld publisher
We’ll be rolling out more than 20 Big Ideas throughout this week. But without further adieu, here are the Big Ideas to Make Birmingham Better for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1-6:
If you ask Weld contributor Mia Watkins, changing Birmingham is as simple as teaching our children–but not just in the schools. Find out where here.
Look around. Birmingham has a lot of great things, and we need to appreciate them, according to Gail Andrews. Appreciate some of them right over here.
What does Birmingham need? Mike Coppage says we need a little more magic in the Magic City. But fewer bad illusionists like the ones in the “Jefferson County Wing” of the federal prison system. Read more here.
We have a whole lot of radio stations in Birmingham, but is there a single station that embodies Birmingham, a true community radio station? Keith Harrelson thinks there should be. Tune in here.
Shariff says we need to all get together and meditate. “I love myself and I love my city; the past does not define me; my future is what I choose to make it. Om. Om. Ommmm…” Transcend here.
If you ask Tim Denny, what Birmingham needs is more highly visible, organized displays of solidarity among people that cuts through all socio-economics, race and other held-over prejudices. See more here.
In order for the city of Birmingham to stop its population decline, it must address the quality of life issues that affect its residents, says H. B. Brantley. Looking to other cities for guidance in that may just help. Look here.
Birmingham would be better off if UAB had an on-campus football stadium and everyone picked up a sledgehammer and took it to Legion Field, says Weld sports blogger Matt Hooper. Grab your hammer and read more here.
Leaders are readers, and leaders are travelers. A man well-read and well-traveled makes a good leader. Sanjay Singh proposes that our civic leaders be required to read — give book reports, even — and to travel. You are required to read this.
There’s a lot of gum-flapping about recruiting and retaining bright young minds, but not much done to stop the “brain drain.” Charles Ball proposes a program modeled after the Campus Philly program to keep smart students in Birmingham. Read more here.
Getting Birmingham healthy will take community and individual efforts, and will require changes in everything from our nutrition to what we breathe. For more, click here.
If we’re to finally reach our potential as a city, Birmingham and its metro partners can’t be ships passing in the night, says BSC student Walter Lewellyn. To read Walt’s Big Idea, click here.
Scott Douglas asks if current generations can build new civic engagement enterprises, if they can build effective coalitions across the city, and lay claim to our city’s future. Learn more here.
For too long, city administrations have focused on building shiny new edifices to ego instead of looking to the past for guidance. Joseph Baker says we don’t need fancy new buildings–we need a repurposing of history to enable new histories to be written. Read more here.
Chief Roper says we can invest in our kids now or pay later. It costs $30 a day to keep a kid in the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, but after-school and educational programs are a better option. Read Roper’s idea here.
The big idea that Joyce T. Spielberger wants to you to embrace is embracing your neighbor, as we’ve done in the wake of recent disasters. Embrace it here.
We’ll be rolling out Big Ideas from some of Birmingham’s brightest thinkers every day this week. Check back here or weldbham.com for links to these Big Ideas.
Visit www.weldhbam.com to share your big ideas about making Birmingham better.