Birmingham’s Problem

Just a quick post before I get back to work being a teacher.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about how to improve Birmingham.  Chief among the concerns is the development of a dome stadium and a convention center that can host athletic events and trade shows.  Talk about such a facility hit fever-pitch several weeks back when the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced that it was pulling the finals of the state football playoffs from Birmingham’s Legion Field and placing them in a rotating schedule with Auburn and Tuscaloosa.  Birmingham mayor Larry Langford seized the occasion to remind area residents about the need for a domed stadium.

Let me be fair and say that in some sense Birmingham – the state’s largest city – should have the facilities to host good events, be they concerts, convention or athletic events like the SEC basketball tournament or a Davis Cup qualifying round.  I think Birmingham should probably look at ways to develop such a facility, though I’m reluctant to support taxpayer funding of the endeavor.  Instead, I would rather see private donors and investors take on the responsibility.  There is just no need to put taxpayers on the hook for this sort of thing.  (I also find it interesting that the people calling for a facility – i.e., local sports talk radio hosts – often live well outside the city limits of Birmingham, therefore absolving their own municipalities for any missteps along the way)

On the other hand, Birmingham has far bigger issues than wooing the NCAA basketball tournament or booking Coldplay into a new indoor facility that just hosted a regional interior design tradeshow.  Here’s the bigger problem; most of Birmingham is garbage.  That statement will likely come as a surprise to anyone who knows of my love for the Magic City, but living within the city limits of Birmingham is no good at all.  Now the Birmingham area is great; living in Mountain Brook or Homewood or Hoover or up in Gardendale and Hayden is really nice.  But unless you live in a loft downtown (miles from greenspace or a grocery store), a bungalow in Crestwood, or in a half-million dollar home in Forest Park or Redmont, Birmingham is, in all likelihood, a nauseating place to live.  The taxes are high.  Public transportation is a cruel joke.  The city leadership is so transparently awful that only a fourth-grader would place hope in these scoundrels.  Wild dogs roam streets like a scene from Mad Max.  The only decent neighborhoods within city limits are inhabited by people without children or enough money to send their kids to great schools like the Altamont School, Advent Day or St. Francis Xavier.  Forget about public schools, too, as they are far from adequate.

The point here is that while there are many great things in the Birmingham area – and even Birmingham itself has many great shops and restaurants – existing as an actual resident in Birmingham is not much fun.  So maybe instead of building a domed stadium to house UAB’s woeful football program and host bad country concerts, it seems that Birmingham should spend more money policing its streets and cleaning up bad neighborhoods.  Instead of rallying poor neighborhoods to fund this monstrosity, Birmingham’s leadership would be better served to demand more accountability from its schools and demand that parents live up to their obligations, so that delinquent children would be brought in from the streets, and once lovely neighborhoods could again thrive.  But that would be too difficult, and so our leaders find that demanding new projects and toys is a quicker path to civic rejuvenation.  But it is a false hope, and the only way to restore Birmingham is to make safe for its citizens to live and work and play, and until that happens, no domed stadium will save us.

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