For the inaugural issue of Weld, we asked dozens of people from throughout the community — young and not-so-young; male and female; black, white, Hispanic and Asian; Christian, Muslim, Jewish and agnostic; students, professionals, artists and more — to each give us one idea for making Birmingham better. This is one of those ideas. You can read more here.
Walt Lewellyn • Weld intern & a history major at Birmingham-Southern College
We need to improve the relationship — political, economic, and especially cultural — between Birmingham and its suburbs. Mayor Bell, when asked about how he was going to draw people to a ballpark downtown with the Barons 10 minutes down the road, responded: “Where? And who am I representing? Am I representing the City of Hoover?”
This is just one instance of a larger phenomenon endemic to Birmingham: an astonishing lack of common identity between its composite parts.
Birmingham is a city trapped in a cultural moment like a mosquito in amber. The city is still strikingly segregated decades after initial white flight; fear of crime, assumed atavistic guilt for younger generations of suburbanites and a lack of attractions in town haven’t helped assuage these rifts. The resultant atmosphere, with one side fearing burglary and the other gentrification, perpetuates Birmingham’s cultural and economic stagnation.
If we’re to finally reach our potential as a city, Birmingham and Hoover — or Irondale or Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook — can’t simply be ships passing in the night. Whether the solution is developing mixed-use districts, advertising the city center more effectively or just streamlining a hellacious commute from the southern suburbs, Birmingham has to incentivize homegrown capital and talent to stay here in order to avoid returning to the wrong end of a colonial economy. If this helps the city finally come to grips with the ugly scars of its past, it might salvage Birmingham’s future in the process.
Read more Big Ideas to Make Birmingham Better here.