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An Olympic-sized dream

06.23.2008 by André Natta · → 8 Comments

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As I looked at the story that ran on the Birmingham News’ site on Saturday about Mayor Langford wanting to bid for the 2020 Olympics and saw the reaction of readers, a few things ran through my mind.

I found it funny that people will say that all outsiders know about Birmingham is what happened during the Civil Rights movement, yet “no one’s even heard of Birmingham” whenever we want to think big. I also find it funny that people think that downtown is so dangerous. My current plans to move have nothing to do with safety – it’s more to do with the costs. It is probably one of the safer downtown areas I’ve ever lived in. Finally, (at least to me) it’s not about actually getting the Games – though that’s the ultimate goal – it’s about knowing that you could be an Olympic minded city.

I also stumbled across this post over on Daily Dixie late last night. While some of the things in the list are true, maybe having a goal as unattainable as hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics could start to move us in the  direction we want to go in. It would also force us to begin to look at taking ownership of some of the bigger issues in our community ourselves as citizens, an idea whose time I believe has finally come in The Magic City. Why sit back and wait for someone else to do something when you can take initiative yourself?

I’m not saying that I think we have a chance at all to get the Games at all. I think besides the arbitrary reasons people will want to give, I’d point to the International Olympic Committee‘s historic precedent (and dislike) of not having cities so close to each other hosting games so soon after one another, even with the 24 years that will have elapsed between the Centennial games of Atlanta and our elected leader’s goal. Our chances will also hinge on whether Chicago is successful in its current bid to host the Games in 2016 – if they are, it would further hurt our chances. There’s also the quality of the 27 other cities that are hoping for the nod when the lucky city is announced sometime in 2013. While I won’t be as caustic as Scarbinsky was, there are other numbers that don’t necessarily say “over here, over here!”.

This is one time though where I think many of us pundits would love to be proven wrong. A familiar quote has resurfaced during my research and founding UAB President Volker’s comments have never echoed in my mind as much as they do now. We must dream big dreams for the city and the region, but our leaders must realize that they must work together to solve the issues of the day. Compromise and partnerships are two things that, while becoming more prevalent in recent conversations, still seem to elude us when they matter most. The thing is, attempting to win the right to host a Summer Olympics would force the city of Birmingham and its leadership, elected and otherwise, to take a good hard look at the issues that face the city and the region and have significant progress made by a clear and absolute deadline.

The year 2020 has always appeared to be an important one to our area’s community leaders. Several organizations, most notably Region 2020, have chosen the arbitrary date as a deadline for when things need to be accomplished. Mayor Langford’s proclamation while in attendance at the Alabama Sports Festival may have been “classic” Larry, however those around him will realize quickly that many of his ideas, if linked together under this umbrella, may actually get some traction, whether it’s a dome, new housing, new businesses, better transit, etc. So long as the improvements made to the city are done for the good of its citizens and not to be “as good as” any other large Southern metropolitan city, it could be the goal that finally makes us work for it. It also provides something for us to hold him accountable to and a bar to reach for when 2020 finally descends upon us.

If you use Chicago’s current bid for the 2016 Summer Games as an example, many of the infrastructure improvements that would need to be made would have to see significant progress by 2012, giving Langford until the end of his current term to leave what would be an indelible mark indeed. Even if we were unsuccessful, it would be a feather in his cap to see just what could be accomplished for our citizens in order to try to even compete, especially after reviewing the 257-page application completed for consideration to host the 2016 Games. It could also be a great way to measure his success and determine if he deserves another term in office.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

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Filed under: politics · sports

2 comments
Darcy
Darcy

Andre, you offer a new perspective that I've never thought of. I, like so many Bhamsters, groaned, loudly when news of LaLa's bid for 2020 came out. Another hairbrained idea? Yes. Anothe attempt to revitalize the city? Maybe. Whether or not that is his goal, I appreciate your positive outlook. But it ain't gonna happen. I've been involved with the Olympics before, both with the USOC and with the IOC and there's just no way they would ever consider Bham. Yes, they don't like to pick cities in the same region, much less the same country, very often. And Atlanta taught them a valuable lesson: the Southern U.S. is verrrry hot, and the humidity is unlike anything in Europe. You also have to consider that some cities bidding for 2020 have the support of entire COUNTRIES behind them. Sure, we'd probably get some support from the USOC, but it just isn't comparable. I'm not gonna go into how serious the bid for the Olympics is and how you basically need to have already begun aggressive improvements to your city when you bid. We can all assume that. But after reading the above article, I'm kinda hoping that Lala's intentions were everything Andre wrote. And that hope is one of the cool things about the people of Bham.

EJR
EJR

Rich Harwood has a lot to say about "making hope real" on his blog, and I would be interested in his take on these Olympic dreams. He talks about the concept of people being "public innovators" -- you can even take a test on his site to see if you are one. His definition of public innovator includes people who are "pragmatic idealists with a deep understanding of the reality of their community and a strong desire to imagine a path for a brighter future." Check out for a different take on how imagination, innovation, community change and the public good can come together to make good things happen.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the day looking at the public feedback based on Mayor Langford’s announcement on Friday and writing my own commentary on […]

  2. […] (mostly) valid points of ‘why not’ Birmingham.  André Natta at The Terminal has taken a more rational approach to the the […]

  3. […] maybe I'm skeptical, because there are some like Musings and Andre over at the Terminal who think that a push like this could be good for Birmingham. I suppose it could be a good thing for Birmingham… I've just seen things continually […]

  4. […] attitude about the possibility of the 2020 Olympics coming to Birmingham. The Terminal also chimes in. I also stumbled across this post over on Daily Dixie late last night. While some of the things in […]

  5. […] Andre Natta made some very thoughtful remarks a couple months ago. Specifically, the difference between the dream and the reality: The thing is, attempting to win the right to host a Summer Olympics would force the city of Birmingham and its leadership, elected and otherwise, to take a good hard look at the issues that face the city and the region and have significant progress made by a clear and absolute deadline. […]