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Maybe Larry was on to something…

01.11.2013 by André Natta · → 3 Comments

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Larry Langford - acnatta/FlickrIt’s been awhile since I’ve written about former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford. It’s been so long I had to add his name to my spell-check list again. It’s a lot longer than the last time he was mentioned in the press.  This summer we learned he’d been moved to a prison medical facility in Lexington, KY for undisclosed reasons. I for one hope he’s doing well.

Whenever someone brings up Langford’s name, there’s normally some snickering about several of his proposals and their effects on the city and surrounding community. There is none that draws giggling and snark quicker than his attempt to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

If you approach it on face value, it didn’t make sense at all – at least it shouldn’t have. When it was presented in 2008, I suggested folks consider looking at it as a blueprint to measure his effectiveness as mayor. I got comments and emails from visitors to the site suggesting it was a noble interpretation, but the idea was still unrealistic.

I’ve left the notion alone now for the last 4+ years, thinking I may have missed something. Then, as I sat at my desk towards the end of last year, starting to shift my thoughts towards the city’s efforts to recognize what happened in 1963, it hit me. I’d found a new way to look at Langford’s proposals – one many wouldn’t want to acknowledge or admit to even if pressed. It was still compelling.

Langford’s proposals were his way of trying to get the city ready for 2013… and 2021.

Another look at Langford’s list of ideas

There is an entry dedicated to the list of initiatives proposed by Larry Langford throughout his political career maintained over on Bhamwiki. The collections of suggestions made during his time as mayor is extensive (and exhausting for some), but reviewed through the lens of getting a city ready for its international close-up, it is impressive.

Some, like the proposal to demolish the Birmingham Board of Education headquarters across from Linn Park to allow for redevelopment, sounded crazy, but now it appears as though it’ll happen now. Others, like suggesting we build fountains and plazas in Pratt City, Five Points West and downtown, seemed too far out there.

Now we get to the 2020 Olympics bid.

No, I’m not saying we had a chance, but it goes back to my original point from the June 2008 piece – it was a goal to place in front of the city. It was the ultimate target. It intrigued me as the math began to make sense. The proposal would have to go in during 2008, getting us media attention (which it did). There would have to be significant progress made on the infrastructure by late 2012/early 2013 at the latest, regardless of the situation in which Langford found himself. This would mean the city would be “ready” by 2013 – the moment Birmingham would once again be in the international spotlight for not just one, but two reasons.

It would provide a different angle for visiting journalists and bloggers to take on the city; it becomes less an issue of what we’re commemorating and more of where we are and where the city is going. It would also provide some buzz on which you could build on and realize several significant changes to the city for 2020, when journalists would undoubtedly come back to see if we’d taken advantage of those necessary improvements.

By the way, those improvements would have us ready for the following year, 2021. The significance of that year? It’s the 150th anniversary of the founding of Birmingham, AL.

I’m not asking you to anoint Langford a saint. I’m trying to demonstrate the madness had a method, albeit a haphazard one. It led to several of the things we’ll be celebrating and recognizing this year:

He asked us to do something, even though we didn’t necessarily want to play along. He will go down as a polarizing figure in Birmingham history, but he’ll also have a place in the hearts of some who’ve started to connect the insanity of the dots – as insane as they may be.

He even ended up scoring one of those proposed fountains downtown – over at our new Uptown entertainment district. The first groundbreaking – yeah, he was there, too.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

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Filed under: Commentary · leadership

Jeff Moore
Jeff Moore

I have to think that if he had such a grand plan that he would have articulated it. It's not like he didn't enjoy talking to the media.

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

I'm not sure the general public would have bought into it if he'd laid it out. As much as he appeared to enjoy talking to the media, he didn't always share everything he was thinking. He still thought he wasn't going to be convicted; there was always tomorrow. Even if he didn't it's still been interesting watching all of this stuff begin to happen.

Nanci Scarpulla
Nanci Scarpulla

I think the prolific writer (for housewives everywhere and myself), Erma Bombeck, once said, "Dreams have only one owner at a time. That's why dreamers are so lonely." :)