Tag Archives: bham

For some, it's about a lot more than a "sign"

PepsisignmidinstallSt. Patrick’s Day reminds me I’m a product of Catholic schools in New York City. The first nine years were because my parents told me so; the last four were by choice. The result was being greatly influenced by the thirst for knowledge central to the core of the Augustinian and Marist traditions. A summarizing of that thirst is the need to seek knowledge, particularly the truth. In order to accomplish this, you have to remind yourself often to look at the entire scope of a project – not just the part central to whatever fight you hold dear.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve been laughing at some of the commentary about the dislike of the Pepsi sign. Among the popular arguments presented against those speaking out about it is that there are bigger issues affecting the city of Birmingham. After all, it’s a little ridiculous to be all worked up over a sign paid for by a long-time Birmingham-based business advertising a New York-based multi-national business founded in North Carolina, right? (Granted, that’s the least of PepsiCo’s problems right now…)

Yes, here are a lot of major issues facing the general population of Birmingham. However, if you think about the original reason for the sign it is covering, its placement, and its visibility, you realize it speaks more to the pecking order of major issues affecting the region. At least, that’s why I’ve been vocal about the sign. I’ll explain:

Those finding issues with the installation of the advertisement probably wouldn’t be as vocal as they are if the skirting of city law wasn’t flaunted in their faces in the form of a party overlooking the city. While forgotten in recent years, the display board it covers was installed to brag about the potential for Birmingham as part of its centennial. It leaves many, including myself, wondering if the choruses wouldn’t have been muted ever so slightly if the money spent on this unveiling were publicly shared with one of the city’s missions or outreach programs, tackling an issue of significance directly. Well?

The sign is visible from much of the city proper, especially areas west of downtown. When poverty grips approximately 30% of our city (or more based on the screenshot of an interactive map created by The New York Times earlier this year), does it give them hope as they see a sign installed for an undisclosed amount of money advertising one of many soft drinks that lends itself to the state’s ranking among states fighting obesity (regardless if it places us in the top 5 or farther down the upper reaches of that kind of list)?


When quality affordable housing is not a reality for many and the ability to find some in an area that allows you to get to work and have access to the basics is increasingly hard for citizens, what does that sign say to them? How many homes could be renovated or built with those funds? Whether intended or not, and regardless of where the conversation is taking place – fellowship halls, barber shops, libraries, parks, living rooms, or Facebook – discussions are taking place that vocal online participants aren’t as plugged into as we may believe.

Maybe the sign serves as a more powerful mirror to the community about its priorities, placing corporate objectives above the social needs of the city? What if you’re so concerned with fighting against “the man” that you blow off people willing to help with some piece of a solution? Could a removal of the advertisement include monies being given to those organizations and initiatives working to battle the bigger issues? The need to polish a public image can lead to some interesting partnerships, but we may not find out.

Recent weeks have reminded me of just how polarized a community can become, potentially keeping people from realizing they might be working towards the same goals. The opportunity for those partnerships to be forged and acted upon become harder when antagonistic baiting of a captive audience becomes more entertaining to some instead of digging a little deeper to find out how others may tick. There are far more constructive ways to make noise and hold up that mirror than saying there’s only one way to fight a battle. The city will move forward in spite of the nitpicking. It could move a lot farther if it was more civil. We’d also do a lot better of we looked at the entire situation when thinking about how to tackle one piece. Isolating yourself from being a true part of the solution is a sad thing indeed.

Maybe it’s time to rewrite former UAB president Joseph Volker‘s famous quote? Instead of dreaming “too-little dreams,” we need to start accomplishing more and more goals. The pointing, waving, and name-calling is doing more to destroy potential progress before it even begins, though it’s being done in the name of raising awareness. Awareness is needed, but so is the need to recognize how to act like adults and agree to disagree.

Otherwise, we do a great disservice to Birmingham if we continue to isolate, name-call, and posture too childishly.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the City Positive

Birmingham Railroad Cut - East End. Curtis Palmer/FlickrI got into a conversation about an area of downtown known as “the cut” yesterday with someone very familiar with it. It runs down the middle of 1st Avenue South between 20th and 24th Streets South and is considered an important piece of the continuation of the soon to open Railroad Park – providing a pedestrian connection to Sloss Furnaces.

I’d recently walked across the 21st Street Viaduct, looked down and noticed a great deal of garbage and debris inside of it. It disturbed me because I’d taken part in one of several clean-ups of the stretch of land while I was a resident of the Birmingham’s Central City neighborhood.

I suggested to the individual that it was probably time to organize another clean up the space again, perhaps engaging a new group of concerned individuals in the process while they suggested that perhaps a phone call to the city to do so would be better while finding another way to get citizens involved, like a charrette.

When I asked why, he said that it would most likely be the same group of folks who always came out that would do the clean up again since it probably wouldn’t attract any new people.

I’ve got a feeling that people visiting Railroad Park in September who’ve still haven’t heard of it as of yet (and live in metro Birmingham) could be motivated to clean up a piece of property for the first time if invited.

Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the usual suspects all of the time that we don’t always think of new ways to reach out to more people and engage them as well (maybe even using some of the same things that don’t work on the usual suspects anymore).

Maybe it’s because it appears to some that others are always looking for something to complain about or they immediately have a negative reaction to any idea that is presented to them – for no really good reason. If you hang around a lot of people like that long enough, it tends to rub off on you too…

I write those last statements knowing that the majority of the voices that we normally hear online are those of a small minority made vocal due to the majority not necessarily wanting to share their opinions.

It would be nice to hear more of those optimistic and positive voices across more of the platforms that we use for communication here in Birmingham, AL. There are some people that need to hear from others like them; from imagining what this portion of Jones Valley can be in a few short years. Luckily, there are a few of them online (and offline – that you will run into every once in a while.

Avondale Brewing Co. home in progress. Courtesy of their fan page on Facebook.I headed over to the future site of the Avondale Brewing Company on the city’s east side today. I went over to check out the progress on their building – one that I’ve looked at optimistically for years in my former life at Main Street Birmingham. It was great to see the progress…

I was also over there scouting out a potential location for the office/collaborative space that I’ve talked about before on these virtual pages (BTW – the survey results and other news regarding that project will be posted on Monday morning – along with a few other minor changes to the site in general).

As I parked I noticed that the space that I was heading over to stare into again was in fact open, leading to one of those weighted moments where you’re thinking “I know there are other places there but…” That feeling went away when I figured out that the person leasing the space was a long time champion for the neighborhood.

His plans for the space reminded me of the hope that I used to hear from merchants and residents in parts of this city that many of the folks in the know actually don’t know. One of the great things about my former job was the level of passion that you could feed off of after a conversation with a property owner who’d been there for 50+ years or a new business that wanted to be where they were because they truly believed in the city’s future. It’s something I’m beginning to find again as the site begins to churn out content again.

Getting back in a positive frame of mind is one way to combat the “we’ll never do better” attitude. As more things come online those here in Birmingham, AL will learn to once again accentuate the positive (and eliminate the negative).

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.


Birmingham Railroad Cut – East End. Curtis Palmer/Flickr
Avondale Brewing Company under construction. Courtesy of their fan page on Facebook.

Parking problem? Depends on where you have to go

Time out on parking meterIs parking availability really a major issue in Birmingham, AL?

An issue that has drawn considerable attention in recent months is the number of broken parking meters that currently exist in downtown Birmingham.

I recently stumbled across a couple of posts that suggested that Birmingham has a parking issue – one that would serve as a great reason for not considering a downtown baseball park. We’ll talk about the ballpark later on in this series…

We have a parking problem, but not the kind that will keep people from coming downtown because they can’t find a parking space.

Besides the obvious fact that we like to park right in front of the place we’re going and don’t like having to place our cars out of view, we also are having an issue collecting the total potential revenue that these spaces are supposed to be providing (which could be an issue unto itself).

As the city faces a budget deficit from this year and the City Council looks to the city’s reserve funds as part of a possible solution for the coming year, some have turned to the vandalized parking meters as a symbol for what’s wrong.

The lack of revenue due to several people (including LKW and myself) taking advantage of the “free” parking available on-street makes the situation the perfect poster child. If you remember, the plan was once to increase parking ticket fees and increase revenue coming into the city’s coffers.

It’s ironically something that most states do not encourage as parking meters are meant to be a way to regulate parking options and not to be viewed as a source of income. A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry for parking meters provides several examples of how the revenue argument does not hold up in a court of law even if it would in the court of public opinion.

It was also a shame to learn just how many resources were available to deal with the issue earlier this month while reading Kyle Whitmire’s account on Second Front .

Despite the city’s reliance on the automobile, it would be safe to say that people are becoming more strategic about when and where they drive, especially as gasoline prices fluctuate and some choose to boycott some stations due to the crisis in the Gulf.

A quick drive around any section of the city not called the UAB campus shows that parking options are plenty. For those wondering if there are enough parking decks available in the city to handle the number of vehicles, a recent Heaviest Corner post should put those worries to rest (and give you a heads up on where to consider parking next time you’re downtown).

Perhaps increasing the urban tree canopy would make walking a couple of blocks farther just a little more bearable if you had to park a couple of blocks away from your destination. Encouraging the city or an organization to take on a project similar to New York’s MillionTreesNYC may help us reach that goal. The more comfortable and enjoyable it is to talk, the more likely some of these beliefs of parking issues may start to dissipate.

There are other potential solutions, but I’ll save some of them for inclusion in tomorrow’s piece.

We could also use this need to replace our current collection of meters in certain sections of the city with pay and display units, moving some of these newer units into sections of the city that are not seeing a heavy demand on parking. It would allow for individuals to pay for parking on the street using credit cards and dollar bills, perhaps dissuading the desire to break into the units for money (it wouldn’t necessarily stop those just doing it for the fun of it all – as stupid as that is).

Money is still needed to implement improvements to our network of parking management solutions as well as its maintenance. The issue may warrant a serious look in the budget and perhaps an examination of whether or not the city’s parking authority should take over on-street parking as well (something currently not officially in their purview).

One day parking availability will be a major issue in the City of Birmingham; I just don’t think it’s there yet compared to the other issues facing the city. We’ve got a parking infrastructure issue (and a psychological one) to deal with first.

What do you think?

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

A Five Points South folly in progress

The Story Teller - Five Point South. stanroth/FlickrAccording to Glenny Brock’s tweet shortly after the Housing Board of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold the Design Review Committee’s decision to deny Chick-Fil-A’s proposal for a new local at the corner of Highland Avenue and 20th Street South, much cheering took place.

The battle’s been won (for now). The issue that we’ve got to worry about now is winning the war.

The war in this case is what will happen on the site where the Chick-Fil-A was proposed (that is assuming that a lawsuit doesn’t materialize). It’s been reported recently that a long awaited renovation of the 103-year old Terrace Court apartment building across 20th Street South from the site is set to begin, with as much as $4 million planned to be spent on the project. That should somehow influence what is considered for the site.

The points (courtesy of Elizabeth Barbaree-Tasker’s comments at the meeting) highlighted by Jeremy Erdreich in this blog post recapping the meeting provide another set of criteria for what could potentially be considered on that site.

There are some saying that Panera Bread would be a proper alternative for the proposed Chick-Fil-A location. Any solution that looks at a chain placing a suburban solution on that site is missing what the major point of the battle should have been.

It’s been an issue of preserving the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

While I’m a huge fan of Panera Bread, I look at their suggested arrival in Five Points South on that site as simply providing a nicer visual but not necessarily dealing with the issue at hand.

You will still have a one-story suburban structure with surface parking taking up one quarter of a major intersection in the city’s greater downtown area. The drive-through will not be there, but the traffic from people picking up their take-out lunches will be.

I’ve long held the opinion that we live in a region that could serve as an example of what a New South metropolitan area could do in the first part of the 21st century. This intersection and the surrounding community provides a golden opportunity to demonstrate just what that could look like and how it would function.

Perhaps it would help if the property owner wanted a solution that was more befitting an intersection that sees an average of 38,000 vehicles a day. Despite the community’s desires, a lot will be determined by what he wants to deal with on that site. This currently means that it will most likely be something that’s one story, at least for now.

Joey Kennedy’s hosting a live chat at 1 p.m. on al.com to discuss the issue further, though I’m thinking that people will be willing to accept a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than actually affect a change in mindset about what Alabama’s largest city truly lives like at its core.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Photo: The Story Teller – Five Point South. stanroth/Flickr

Constantly interdependent

Magic City Art Connection (6 of 18)3.14 | 5.6.2010

There are much more online sources for information locally now than there was when this site started 3.14 years ago today.

Those numbers we shared via our Facebook and Twitter accounts back there in March should be making more sense now.

The recent conversations about the existence of an online news outlet have led several people to wonder (via email, chat and phone calls) what this website’s place is in the ecosystem.

I’d argue that as more voices continue to emerge, The Terminal’s role is easier to define for people than ever before.

We’re “micro local!”

That’s how Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) fellow Michele McLellan categorizes The Terminal in her list of promising local news sites. She’s compiled it as part of her research on the concept of community news sites and how they’re influencing civic engagement in an ever changing digital landscape.

This site was established to become a hub for Birmingham, AL though a better term to use nowadays may be a curator of what’s being said elsewhere.

Our news outlets are becoming more important than ever before, with each one, regardless of medium, being better at one area of interest more than anything else. The public is best served by the different perspectives each of these voices bring to any given topic, but currently we tend to stay within our own silos, not necessarily understanding the importance of truly “getting” the other side of the story.

The local opinion leaders, especially those that share their views online, also serve an important role in our city’s digital (and physical) information exchange. They help the media outlets see the city’s pulse, perhaps influencing how important an issue is to the general public.

I’d argue that several issues have received attention recently because of being the focus of blogs that are read by influential voices in the community. Here’s one of them – parking meters.

Local media realized the issue’s importance because of paying attention to all of its voices. The opinions helped continue to raise awareness.

Perhaps we view some of these stories as minutia now but it is always interesting how certain pieces eventually affect other broader issues in the region.

It’s been interesting attempting to pull together these various perspectives on computer screens across metro Birmingham. That’s what a curator’s job is – take different perspectives on an issue that currently exist out there and maybe get people to see just how they are intertwined. Every once in a while we get the chance to share an original story as well.

As The Terminal works to do this (and get better at it), it’s my hope that people realize that we need to be aware of all of the voices around us. If we’re successful people will know that the city can speak with one voice and know that it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s from one person.

Perhaps the use of the word conversation has been flawed as it relates to this journey of storytelling and awareness that we’ve been on. Engagement is the goal of most outlets, particularly knowing that the information that you’ve shared can potentially influence the revitalization or renaissance of a city like Birmingham.

The hope is that for every post shared about an event, new website or inconsequential point of interest people will pay attention to the other issues that will have an impact on their lives and feel the urge to either learn more or do something about it.

It is a lofty, perhaps insanely idealistic goal, but it is one that hopefully drives the intention of every person that hopes to share another piece of the ever emerging story of the city at the center of Jones Valley.

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be included in McLellan’s list of websites (and the operators I’ve been able to meet both virtually and in person) and am thankful for RJI’s allowing us to share this visitors survey with you.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the survey after RJI has completed tabulating them and figuring out just how to work to improve. They’re offering to help in that arena as well and I look forward to what the results will help The Terminal become.

I’d argue though that many of Birmingham’s sources for news and information have learned a lot from each other already – sort of the way an interdependent community should be.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Photo: Magic City Art Connection (6 of 18). Josh Self/Flickr.

My recent brushes with wild speculation

While engaged in expanding Bhamwiki the last several days, I’ve had a rash of encounters with some of the wilder forms of speculation. The aim of Bhamwiki is to put forth the facts about any given subject, with the hope that doing so will give readers the means for drawing their own conclusions. What I’m itching to share here, in the form of a commentary, are the “facts” about the speculations themselves.

First, a tame example: Last October Patti Muldowney and her husband John, of Rapho Township, Pennsylvania voyaged on Royal Carribbean’s “Adventure of the Seas”. At their first port of call, they went on a snorkeling trip to a shipwreck. While her husband stayed on the launch, Patti snapped photos of the wreck and marine life with a disposable underwater camera.

In December, their friend Evette Dimm was flipping through the album, and that’s when pareidolia struck. She saw a human figure with a skull-like head half-buried in sand. The Muldowneys both had a “gut feeling” that they were looking at Mountain Brook High School graduate, Natalee Holloway , whose absence has become one of Aruba’s leading commercial exports since May 30, 2005. Early that morning Holloway was lured away from Carlos ‘N Charlie’s Cantina in Oranjestad by a 17-year-old boy for a long walk on the beach. She subsequently missed her flight home and hasn’t been seen since. Over the years several tourists have reported finding skeletal remains in and near Aruba. Most have been identified as shipwrecked sailors.

After showing an enlargement to other friends, their family doctor, and local police, the Muldowneys sent the photograph to the Philadelphia FBI office. When they didn’t hear back from the FBI, even after numerous calls to Quantico, the Muldowneys contacted the media — namely The Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal. Other outlets, including The Birmingham News and local television stations, quickly picked up on the “story”, and now Aruban authorities are sending divers to investigate.

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The local music scene just took a detour

Scott Register referred to them as “The Uprising” during Sunday’s broadcast of Reg’s Coffee House on Live 100.5.

That would be the group of people on Facebook now numbering more than 16,000 that have  joined the Save Live 100.5 Facebook group since last Friday in an effort to save the station from a pending format change this week. I’m one of them.

It wasn’t necessarily your usual online campaign to save a local radio station either, considering the names of the people that lent their virtual voices to the cause this weekend.

The last song ever played by a human on the popular radio station (the video for Muse’s Uprising is over to your left) was a fitting tribute to that group and to all that have come before them in the battle for local radio stations with an independent voice and spirit. It may also become their battle cry as they work towards their ultimate goal regardless of the issue – having their voice heard.

“What happens next?” is a question that no doubt plays repeatedly in their minds even as they continue to make phone calls and send emails to the suits in Las Vegas hoping that Citadel will change their mind.

One thing for folks to keep in mind is the fact that as Reg said several times during yesterday’s broadcast, this group’s creation and actions “shook the foundation” of one of the nation’s largest media corporations.

If this group of 16,000+ can do that , imagine what it could do for Birmingham?

Imagine if this group became a rallying point for supporting the city’s music venues? What if it was the first step in creating a clearinghouse for information about publications sharing stories about different local musical acts around the metro area?

Imagine if they threw their support behind those businesses that once sponsored Live 100.5 and used it as a way to circumvent the current system (or possibly reward those who were willing to provide them just a taste of what they were looking for)?

They could even try to pool together the necessary resources to launch an online station of their own (or look to influence another station to give them another spot to congregate via terrestrial radio)?

That is the power that 16,000 people have when they’re focused on one issue, one goal.

It is quite possible that we may get to enjoy that diversity on Live 100.5 again. We should never say never.

I’ve seen several people online say that “the end of Live 100.5 will be the final nail in the coffin for the Birmingham music scene.”

That is one thing that I don’t believe. I’d argue that the attention that this modern day virtual protest has caused may very well be one of the first things to get folks re-engaged in the city’s music scene, so long as the movement doesn’t splinter into different segments. It’s a sad detour, but only a detour as the movement continues to grow and gain momentum.

This same force could be incredible as we hope to see more accomplished in the region than ever before. Perhaps it’s time to stop waiting for someone else to do something and do it ourselves.

As the song says:

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious, so come on…

So let’s see where this movement takes us, in regards to music and life in The Magic City in general, before declaring all is lost.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.