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 Crestwood North neighborhood, located in the Crestwood community of Birmingham, is sandwiched between Fifth Avenue South and Crestwood Boulevard, starting at the point where the two streets diverge and ending at 62nd Street South. According to the Birmingham Housing Study, the neighborhood has a population of 2,162 residents; the neighborhood is split between City Council District 3 (represented by Valerie Abbott) and District 5 (represented by Johnathan Austin).
Recently, Crestwood North neighborhood president Darrell O’Quinn spoke about the neighborhood’s strengths, the issues it faces, and how he would like to see it improve.
Weld: Why did you decide to become your neighborhood’s president?
Darrell O’Quinn: Crestwood North is a neighborhood with what I call “true community” — a place where folks really do know their neighbors. It isn’t uncommon to have the duration of your walk prolonged due to impromptu conversations with one or more neighbors. It’s a place where those relationships are often strong such that a resident can feel firmly rooted and connected to something bigger than themselves. That’s at the core of why I’ve been active in my neighborhood association and why I sought to serve my fellow neighbors as neighborhood president. It’s an honor to represent them in an official capacity, but more so to empower them with information and opportunities to build on what is already a great neighborhood.
Weld: How would you characterize the community involvement among members of your neighborhood?
O’Quinn: Residents of Crestwood North are active around the city in every capacity that you can imagine. Whether it be civically, in business, nonprofit service organizations, the arts, you name it, our residents are engaged in propelling our city forward and serving others. That’s one of the primary reasons a relative few attend the monthly neighborhood meetings. I know or have met a great many of our residents, and very few if any aren’t actively engaged in something — usually multiple somethings — that adds value to our community.
Weld: What are the biggest problems facing your neighborhood?
O’Quinn: Our greatest challenge is one that we share with the entire city: access to high quality public education. Over the years, we’ve seen high turnover among young couples with children. High quality public schools would turn those folks into long-term residents and generally produce far-reaching benefits that would insure the neighborhood’s stability. Beyond education, the maintenance of existing infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, and alleys is a major issue. We’re contributing some preliminary work for needed additional sidewalks. However, we have existing roads and sidewalks that are in hazardous condition.
Weld: What are some ways in which you would like to see your neighborhood improve?
O’Quinn: We have a unique issue in Crestwood North that, if addressed, could significantly improve quality of life for residents in a substantial portion of the neighborhood. The Norfolk Southern rail line, the city’s most active, forms part of the northern edge of Crestwood North. There are three at-grade street crossings on that line in a space of less than 1,000 feet between 56th St. S. and 59th St. S.
Because federal law requires a four-blast train horn signal at each at grade crossing, residents in that portion of the neighborhood are subjected to a great deal of noise that would be unnecessary with improvements that have been carefully studied and suggested to the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. The cost of these improvements is low relative to the improved quality of life and increased property values that would result. Accomplishing this would be a major achievement. We’re actively working on it.
Weld: In what ways do you think the Birmingham city government could help your neighborhood improve and flourish?
O’Quinn: As mentioned above, residents of Crestwood North are very active and engaged. However, I doubt that few residents feel our city government has sought to empower them with tools and resources sufficient to have meaningful impact. Few people expect or want city government to take care of everything, even if that were even remotely possible. But the city could do much more to activate the latent capacity that exists amongst its citizens, to make them active participants in the solutions rather than passive observers. Making systems like 311 reporting through the city’s mobile app function efficiently and effectively would be a start.
Weld: What do you want Birmingham citizens outside your neighborhood to know about your neighborhood?
O’Quinn: When my wife and I moved to Birmingham in 2000, we spent nine months searching for a house and a neighborhood we loved. We toured over 100 homes in neighborhoods from Irondale to Hoover and beyond. So, take it from us, Crestwood North is a special place. And if that isn’t sufficient, come take a late-afternoon walk along some of our shaded streets. Chances are good that you’ll meet folks who will tell you the same. You have friends here. You just haven’t met them yet.