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A change in perspective is in order

11.27.2007 by André Natta · → Leave a comment

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I started out today writing an editorial about transit and how people’s perspectives are skewed based on how they’re looking at an issue – in particular, transit. After attending this morning’s city council meeting, I’m saving that one for tomorrow; now I want to explore the issue of perspective on a different scale.

I’m a resident of Birmingham’s Central City neighborhood – been one since my arrival in Birmingham a little over three years ago. This morning I can honestly say that I’d never seen those residents any happier. They’d brought an issue before the City Council (the Screening Room). About half-way through the public comments, Mayor Langford asked to speak. He said that he was willing to send a tactical force unit out and have it sit right in front of the business until a decision had been reached. After the council unanimously approved revoking their business license, the mayor said that he’d be willing to sign the order as soon as this afternoon. He also spoke to the group assembled in the chambers, but also geared his comments to those that would be watching the meeting as it was being rebroadcast. He asked people to take note of what had just happened – that people wanted to take back their city and that once the elected officials were notified, the issue could be addressed. People from outside would have loved to say that nothing was going to happen. Those 20+ residents that appeared in chambers this morning would have a different perspective this afternoon.

Langford loves to say that no one should be able to tell someone what they should not be able to accomplish (forgive me mayor as I did not take great notes during the session today, I was enjoying the WiFi access from council chambers). Nowhere is that more evident than with regards to the pending increase in taxes and business licenses. While I believe that we should make one more effort to work regionally, a conversation with one of my best friends reminded me of a philosophy that’s worked in the past.

There is a need to improve the perception of the city. Whether we like it or not, that change in perception is going to cost money. The state of Alabama is not known for its support of taxes, but guess what – because we play some of the lowest taxes in the country, it’s hard for us to compare ourselves to other cities since their tax base, in particular their property taxes, are in an entirely different league. We have expectations for our city that carry price tags that are quite exorbitant. It would be like wanting the amenities associated with a Ritz Carlton at a Motel 6 price. Many of our perceptions come from the driver’s or passenger seat of a car doing 60 MPH (OK, maybe a little faster) on our area’s highways. How often do you spend your time outside – truly outside? Away from a car, your home, a restaurant, etc.? I’m guessing it would probably be somewhere around 1 hour a day. Maybe if we spent our time outside and took a look at things from a different perspective, we’d see what could happen…

I’m not sure if the Chamber’s executive committee did the right or wrong thing with regards to wanting to see things happen. While potential increases would affect few of them, their motivation was pure frustration about the perception of the city from outsiders and visions of what their city could look like if all of the items identified in the mayor’s plan are implemented. They’ve wanted to see something happen for a long time. The need for change and progress is enough to take a chance – to do something.

People want to be proud of this city. The majority of folks are very proud of this city. The time may finally be here to make sure that everyone else knows how proud we are, or to convert a few more folks over for the cause.

Anyone who says they’re doing more than speculating about the effects of these increases is lying. I will say that looking at 15-20% of the costs of driving one of the cars that your two-car household and having that money available to offset the increased sale taxes may be a utopian pipe dream, but it’s giving folks some hope and optimism – maybe even a change in perspective.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

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Filed under: Alabama · Birmingham · Commentary · regional