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How I Spent My Lunchtime

9 May 2008

How I spent my lunchtime today

What fun!  I was invited to join a roundtable discussion organized by Mark Kelly of the Birmingham Weekly.  Look for the write-up in the coming weeks.  This was held in the “Bottle Room” of the B&A Warehouse.  A stenographer typed all of our comments and recorded them on tape.  Mark facilitated some lively discussion where the participants toyed with ways to improve things in the Birminghm region.  Want to know more? Keep an eye out for the 2nd in a bi-monthly series. :^)

[update: Published as the “Feature Story – Pieces of the Puzzle” in the June 5, 2008 issue]

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 June 2008 9:45 pm

    Your lunch conversation was interesting, thanks for posting. The most insightful comment was from Scott Douglas, who pointed out that some of Birmingham’s alarming (negatively) statistics are due to out-migration.

    The comments that distract from a solution, however, revolved around government leadership and aid and vision.

    Birmingham has out-migration because there are better places to live and work nearby.

    To make Birmingham more friendly to live and work, you are going to have to eliminate the City’s overwhelming desire to say “No” to new jobs.

    That is the problem, and it isn’t being discussed (even “discussion” itself is overrated, action is instead urgently required).

    So what is this “Culture of No?”

    At your lunch conversation, State Rep Patricia Todd said that Birmingham was once a manufacturing center where blue collar jobs were common, but now college degrees were required.

    Representative Todd, however, is among the first to say “No” to Alabama Power’s desire for a new power plant in her district. Alabama Power could promise blue collar jobs starting at $100,000 per year, going up to $750k/year management positions, and Todd is going to still say “No” to a new nuclear or coal power plant in her backyard.

    And that’s fine…but she has to recognize that she is saying “No” to new, plentiful, high-paying jobs. This is all hypothetical, by the way.

    What’s not hypothetical is that Glenn Iris residents just said “No” to new construction and to new construction jobs when they cancelled the proposed new apartment building on the Knights of Columbus property.

    And that’s fine…but those residents need to recognize that they said “No” to new, plentiful, high-paying jobs, even if temporary.

    In June of 1993, Birmingham residents of Titusville took the Birmingham city government to court to block completion by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) of a garbage transfer station in their community.

    And that’s fine…but those residents need to recognize that they said “No” to hundreds of new, plentiful, high-paying blue-collar jobs. You don’t need a college degree to work most garbage transfer station jobs, after all.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titusville,_Birmingham,_Alabama

    By the way, those acres of now-decrepit land are still vacant and unused be everyone except crack addicts today, 15 years later.

    It’s a Culture of No.

    Further, it isn’t just Titusville residents saying No.

    Birmingham has 99 neighborhood organizations, each with near veto power over any and all new jobs and construction.

    Ninety-Nine.

    Having been to multiple meetings with some of those neighborhood associations, the one trait with which they all shared with me is that they *live* to say “No” to any proposed development inside their neighborhoods, which includes legal jurisdiction even over nearby **commercial** zones.

    Next is City Hall.

    Having stood for hours next to the Permits window just inside the entry to City Hall, I was “treated” to bureaucratic “No” after “No” as various businessmen applied for permits to do business inside the city limits of Birmingham.

    It’s a Culture of No.

    In 2000, Birmingham had 243,000 residents. By 2006, the city had shrunk to 229,000 people. It’s now losing between 5,000 and 10,000 people each year.

    And everyone left inside is saying “No” to new businesses, “No” to new construction, and “No” to new jobs.

    Now, this paints an unfairly negative picture of The Magic City, but the point here is that Birmingham can change the above. It can say “Yes” instead of “No” to new jobs and construction, if desired.

    To paint a fair portrait of Birmingham, I’d have to name myriad positive things that the City is doing, but there is no need to change those great things, so I omit them here for brevity, and ask the reader’s forgiveness because I realize that leaving out the good makes for a dark hue.

    However, I can at least show *positive* and *tangible* methods/ways/tricks/gimmicks/solutions to bring wealth to all in Birmingham:
    http://www.u-drift.com/TheNewBirminghamPrimer.html

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