Tag Archives: opinion

My modest proposal for City Stages

It’s amazing when you get a chance to look back at what you’ve written on a particular topic over time.

I decided that before I sat down to share my thoughts about City Stages that I’d look back at some earlier pieces both here and over on Dre’s Ramblings. I figured I’d share links to some of the more editorial pieces with you here – just in case:

City Stages is here… well? | My Birmingham, June 13, 2007

City Stages 2007 – some thoughts for the future | My Birmingham, June 18, 2007

Birmingham’s largest block party | My Birmingham, June 20, 2008

Some of the attendees' thoughts on City StagesLast year I said I was looking forward to this year’s festival, assuming that they would build on last year’s critical success with the launch of a social media-influenced marketing campaign.

Then I learned on Tuesday morning that the corporate ticket sales had been budgeted to be close to the same levels as last year (in the midst of an economic recession), leading to the last minute $250,000 request to the City of Birmingham. That, coupled with the virtual nonexistence of money in the Natta household, led me to decide that I will be working on projects and enjoying the air conditioning at Shift WorkSpace this weekend (and hopefully taking in some of the Secret Stages show at Speakeasy on Saturday evening) instead of making the trek down to Linn Park.

I believe George McMillan when he says that there are no more sacred cows in terms of the festival and that he is not sure of its future. How far will they go to secure a future is still to be determined.

The town hall meeting coordinated by Catalyst in November 2006 provided some good ideas for build upon for City Stages in the future, especially when you consider other festivals (even though this is old in terms of reference points).

I’d argue that people need to bring suggestions for real solutions to the table before completely bashing the festival and saying it needs to go. Here’s mine:

City Stages gets moved to the Railroad Reservation Park starting next year. There would be four stages – two at each end of the park. The Cultural Furnace that folks would like to see housed in the current Alabama Power steam plant could be integrated into the planning in later years, including an office for the organization to work out of year round. It would  allow CS to consider approaching Alagasco for the use of their parking lots in the surrounding area as festival space – most likely for things like video game competitions, smaller local stages and an arts and crafts section. You might even be able to scare a spoken word/comedy and jazz stage around out there too.

The festival would be contained in a 12-block area between 14th and 20th Streets, allowing for folks to access downtown Birmingham by car using local streets and taking advantage of a large, open space and a pretty cool view of the city center skyline. No, currently there may not be enough shade for a June festival, but there are no sacred cows anymore. You could even move it to the same weekend as the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in September and make it into a huge event for the region.

We need to actually see what happens once folks get used to this new City Stages and not make another major change just because we are panicking

Now it’s only an idea and of course there would still be issues logistically, but it’s an idea.

I’m not necessarily ready to see City Stages go away and I’d love to hear what some of your ideas are.

You can post them in the comments section below. I’m also willing to invite a few folks over to Shift on Monday evening to share your thoughts about this year’s festival and what it could be in the future. If you’re interested, send an email to info@bhamterminal.com or comment below and if enough folks are interested, we’ll announce a time for Monday night.

If you’re going, enjoy the weekend and the music!

André Natta is the managing editor of bhamterminal.com.

What's next YPs?

2007 YP ExpoThis evening, organizers have planned for approximately 1,000 people to pass through the Birmingham Museum of Art to participate in the 3rd annual YP Expo. Approximately 30 young professional organizations and many of their memberships will have the chance to interact with one another and see what everyone else is doing (or learn that an organization that you’ve wanted to start already exists), much in the same way that the folks pictured here at the first one held in 2007 at the Innovation Depot did.

The original idea behind the Expo was to provide a starting point on two different fronts:

  • the opportunity for newcomers and long time residents of metro Birmingham to learn more about the existing organizations
  • to give the existing organizations a chance to talk with each other and determine ways that they can work together

The question posed by the press release for this year’s event is the right one, “What’s next?”

Introducing young professionals to the existence of these organizations is an important first step, though it is equally as important to make our established leadership aware of the presence of these energetic people in our community. They are ambassadors to the outside world about the potential and the successes that exist in Birmingham. Connecting them to each other is essential; not just for folks attempting to pad their resume with the now necessary community outreach opportunities, but for those that want to know that when they speak of the good that is happening in Birmingham, it is not the only voice in the forest doing so.

When I recently wrote about brain drain, it was more to see if folks thought it existed (I think it’s become more of a trickle myself). What happens after the sign up lists are entered into the databases and the business card swapping ends tonight is the key for those that think that the phenomenon does exist.

The offline interaction and tangibles that come from shaking hands with someone who is as passionate as you are about the future of The Magic City will encourage most to move any obstacle that stands before them. It will be interesting this year to see how many of these organizations choose to work together on projects, pooling resources and talent to help move Birmingham forward the way that they want to see it happen.

I’ll unfortunately show up late tonight and leave early; heading home to play in the dirt in front of the house in advance of a trip out of town tomorrow. I’m hoping that the seeds planted tonight among Birmingham’s rising class of young professionals grow pretty strong… and fast.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Photo: 2007 YP Expo. André Natta/bhamterminal.com

Tea Party a hit in Hoover?


Alabama Conservative Tea Party in Hoover

Hot barbecue sandwiches, potato chips, Southern sweet tea, vintage American Flags, lawn chairs, kids playing with their dogs in the open field, music, and green grass. Sounds like just another picnic day in Alabama. Add some clever protest signs and some great radio personalities speaking and you’ve got the start of a revolution!

Last week I attended Birmingham’s conservative Tea Party protest. It took place at Veterans Park next door to Spain Park High School in Hoover. Being a Libertarian leaning Conservative myself, I had been looking forward to this for a few weeks ever since I found out about the Tax Day tea parties on a few conservative web sites like TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter) and some of the radio talk shows like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

Satillite Uplink truck for Fox NewsI got there right as the sun was starting to set over the rolling hills of the Spain Park area and already there were at least 300 people chilling out, setting out blankets on the lawn, and setting up booths with food, patriotic t-shirts, literature and information about the Fair Tax, the Constitution, and fact sheets about the current administration’s backward policies.

Up-link vans from ABC 33/40, WZZK, and WAPI were set up and a satellite up-link truck for Fox News had set up, ready to simulcast on the Sean Hannity show on Fox News later on that night. Dogs were chasing Frisbees and people were crowding in to get a front row spot.

The action started about 30 minutes later with Matt Murphy of 101.1 FM The Source and a few other local personalities. They spoke their minds about some of the hot topics like the government bailout and taxation. There was some great music in between and we saw a lot of creative signs.

At about 7:30 p.m., nationally syndicated talk show personalities Rick and Bubba arrived on stage and entertained and informed for a few minutes while we were waiting for the Sean Hannity show to do the simulcast. During this time more and m0re people had continued arriving. According to law enforcement reports, Hwy 119 was backed up all the way to Hwy 280 with people trying to get in and park and it didn’t stop until about 8 p.m. When the big on-air moment came, everyone “went nuts” as Rick and Bubba would say, flags waving and people chanting “USA, USA!”. Overall the unofficial headcount from the event coordinators was somewhere in the 3,000 range with more than 4,000 coming and going making our tea party one of the largest out of the over 800 parties held in the nation last night.

What I came away with from that night was, that THIS was the first step that a citizen can take to let yourSigns at the tea party voice be heard. The tea parties are a completely non-partisan rally. It wasn’t about Obama hatred (although I’m sure the sentiment was there), it was about the common man having a voice and letting Washington hear that voice. I was also impressed that the conservatives were finally embracing social media using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to organize the event. The Birmingham party was almost completely organized grass roots with a Facebook page and word of mouth and throughout the country real time details were posted on Twitter.

The common person these days has no idea what they can do, if anything. I think that the tea parties has shown people that they CAN make a difference. Start little, do something big! Let’s keep our government accountable for their actions.

Photos: Josh Self/Flickr 

Josh Self is a contributor to The Terminal. He also maintains two blogs – a personal one, The Horse, and The Wedding Photogblog.

Birmingham's internal battle has got to stop

Yesterday’s debacle at the BJCC board meeting shines a bright light on some of the issues still facing our region despite having attempted to put on a face to the outside world that we’ve overcome.

Even more disturbing were the comments that have been appearing after hearing about the exchange between Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford and State Representative Mary Moore. The underlying tone of the discussion seems to insinuate that all African-American contractors do bad work (not to mention the fact that other minority contractors don’t seem to exist) and that the facility shouldn’t even be built because we can’t support a professional sports team.

I’d ask those throwing that second stone all the time to take note that in most cases, the problem has not been lack of community support for the team but the lack of success of the league. In many cases, the city led league attendance figures. Plus, if we do so poorly supporting sports teams, why do we even get considered for things like U.S. Soccer and the upcoming Davis Cup matches. More importantly, the facility should not be seen as only being used for those 8-10 sporting events a year.

Our convention center needs the space, period. Whether we want to admit that or not, it’s true. Despite the fact that the new facility will never fully recoup its construction or operating costs for itself, it is something that can provide long term jobs and revenue for this region. We spend so much time in this city taking pot shots at each other and not realizing that the true change is going on despite what loud mouths with bully pulpits say (and I’m not talking about Larry). As we continue to grow and change regionally, we must start to act our age and put the petty bickering behind us.

The fact that a state constitutional amendment can be introduced at the whim of someone feeling that there is not enough being done is absurd and speaks to the issue of self-rule and why the 1901 Constitution should be replaced as soon as possible. This is an example of wasting taxpayer dollars on an issue that should be settled locally without having to run to Montgomery to have Daddy or Mommy fix it for us. The mayor is correct – he represents the city on the board. Having council members appointed may take us down a very slippery slope, especially considering some of the positioning that people are starting to do now for 2011. It should not be political and should serve the best interests of Birmingham and the community.

While in Washington for the Inauguration, I was surrounded by people of all races and creeds. I was part of a mass of humanity that did not have one incident or arrest (save for that one person falling from a tree trying to see The Mall). The issue of race, at least in that corner of the world, was there but ceded to the idea that we had to work together to solve problems without finger pointing and the We do need to do something that will allow for more minority contractors and minority businesses in general getting that foot in the door so that they can achieve the American Dream. It is our duty to help change things to make them better. However to ignore those groups that are truly minorities when looking at the numbers in Birmingham and the surrounding area while doing it makes it shallow and pointless.

But maybe that means that I’m not Black enough…

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

A road to somewhere… soon

Several things pop into my mind when thinking about our regional Chamber of Commerce’s plans to form a not-for-profit to push for moving forward with the Northern Beltline. When I boarded the airplane back from Denver, I was in agreement with John Archibald and the mayor about the timing of the renewed focus. As the last flight made its final approach however, I was reminded about my recent trip out west and just what a completed beltway would mean for Birmingham and the region. I may be late to the party (blame that stomach virus), but hear me out.

I’m cruising back in on the Interstate to Denver International Airport after a peaceful weekend in Fort Collins, complete with hiking and microbrews that we can’t enjoy here because of the stupid alcohol content amendment (but that’s for another post) to pick up one of the other resource team members so we can start the 5-hour drive to our next assignment on Monday morning and I drove past, with some trepidation, the exit for E-470, the toll-based portion of Denver’s yet to be completed beltline (BTW – it may never be). This is where I remind folks that the Chamber’s BIG Trip in 2007 was to Denver.

About 5 miles later, I had to turn back around and give in to the need for speed (I was driving a Pontiac G6 after all) as I’d hit the wall of rush hour traffic with what would be estimated later to be another 45 minutes of driving – and I only had 20 minutes. Four dollars, 15 minutes, a stop at the gas station and three rounds of “Which level do you really pick up passengers on?” later, we were on our way – and ended up using a non-toll portion of the road for part of our trip to Southwest Colorado. There was steady traffic both ways, and there were also several other things that would be interesting to point out.

Park and ride locations were plentiful on this journey (and filled with cars) – meaning that folks were using the bus and had plans to use the light rail service being funded by the region’s FasTracks program when its supposed to be completed in 2012. There were also newly built shopping centers and renovated historic properties along the way as well, meaning there was some level of smart growth being observed, especially taking into account some of the surroundings.

Fast forward – as my plane made its final approach into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport last week from the north (Nashville), I was able to immediately pick out Corridor X/Interstate 22 from the air – it was the one with the last bit of road unfinished and a couple of the exits closed. Our current road to somewhere has been planned and due to be for completed for years with the best of intentions – and we’ve still got some time before we can truly say it’s done. Despite the length of time it would take to complete the beltline, I’m hoping that if I must see it, that it happen in my lifetime.

My involvement with two organizations (see below) would (and should) lead folks to believe that I’m not necessarily thrilled with the current plans for the location of the Northern Beltline, or I-959.

I will admit however that as Birmingham’s metropolitan area continues to expand (despite warnings from all corners that our recent dip in oil prices is temporary), the development of a road to ease traffic congestion for those choosing to move farther out must be considered as part of a comprehensive transportaion plan.

The disagreements over where this new portion of road will be constructed must be dealt with now and not later when some of that same green space that is attracting them to the region is torn up for the sake of more lanes for cars.

It would be nice to see a compromise reaches with those parties that are currently against the plan as proposed. That’s the trick behind the chamber’s efforts. One of the other Chamber initiatives, an expanded transit system, would still require a few more roads to be built. The historic structures, environmentalists and families that may one day be driving our sales tax based economy here in Jefferson County and Birmingham proper would be most appreciative if a bully in the china shop didn’t just blow in and demolish the very things that make us unique, environmental or otherwise. We’d just regret the mistakes we made… again.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal. He also serves as the vice president of Ruffner Mountain Nature Center‘s board and as a city appointment to the Jefferson County Historical Commission.

Sweat that corner on the grand stage

I was on my way to a meeting late last week, walking westbound along 1st Avenue North when I got to 22nd. I suddenly wished I’d had my camera with me because of the tableaux vivant before me – one that would definitely tell a story to Birmingham area residents. It would have been one that no doubt confused them and enraged them at the same time.

The easternmost lane of traffic was blocked off as city crews worked to restripe 22nd Street. The westernmost lane was occupied by one of the MAX buses that had been purchased right after I arrived in town four years ago – broken down at a bus stop. The driver was standing at the door to the bus, leaning on it and looking as though it had happened many times before. A passenger looked quite animated as he vented the frustration of all the others at the driver, who appeared as though he cared, but knew that he could do nothing.

In the background because of the angle one could look at The News’ new building and the cranes signaling construction on a much-needed garage addition next to former corporate headquarters soon to become a luxury hotel.

I said the scene would tell a story to Birmingham residents, though some who stumble across this post will no doubt wonder why, since some would argue that this scene takes place in cities across the world every day.

In college one of my architectural history professors introduced me to a phrase I often use to describe urban life:

The city’s a stage.

All of life is a theatre, a play if you will, with some sets more dramatic than others. We’re all actors, whether intentionally or not. The big city is normally viewed as that stage – the place where you pull out all the stops. My favorite story from living on the coast is of Charleston’s mayor, Joe Riley, choosing the gravel for their waterfront park based on the sound it made under his feet. People still revel in his attention to detail as well as the constant examination of whether or not he was doing what was best for the city and its citizens. He has had his critics as well for other reasons but that’s more of a Dre’s Rambings post anyway…

Here in Birmingham there are some projects that will move forward visibly in the near future, among them those first two legs of the Three Parks Initiative, our new downtown hotels and the expansive campus green that now punctuates that you’re on an urban college campus on the city’s Southside. Improving that main stage of downtown is tempting and necessary, though perhaps it is more important to look at the realities of the situation and determine how to help the understudies – the folks that help the theater continue to run from day to day – enjoy their stages as well.

Some of the “realists” out there would say that paving city streets in the midst of an economic crisis doesn’t make sense. It makes perfect common sense however when streets without potholes make it easier for us to get from point A to point B without it tearing up our cars. This way we can earn money to keep a roof over our heads.

What the realists should question is the idea to stripe the same streets that you’re proposing to repave first as part of an ambitious infrastructure improvement campaign. Especially after stating that one of the reasons that you’re undertaking it involves some of the patch work done by work crews when servicing our utilities. Perhaps it will take a while for that project to be awarded (and winter is coming) but maybe folks need to have that explained to them.

We don’t even have to go into the bus situation and why it needs to be addressed.

As breathtaking and as necessary as some of these upgrades to our sets are going to be, we’ve got to pay attention to those “little” details while the big changes occur. While some will not care initially about the public’s opinion on this matter, they will eventually vote – with their wallets first as they continue to lament for the good old days and then in the booth.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

What would Larry say on a blog?

Larry Langford - acnatta/FlickrCould you imagine the conversations that would result from Birmingham’s mayor, Larry Langford, taking his ideas directly to the blogosphere? We had definitely thought of it and all of the possibilities – that’s why we offered him a chance to write a weekly column here on my Birmingham during the early days of his administration. We also tried to include him in the interviews that we conducted as part of our election coverage. We never received an official response from him on either of those invitations.

One may ask, “Why would the mayor want to share his thoughts with us using a blog platform?” The better question may be “Why not?” Mayors across the country have turned to the blogosphere to share their thoughts for the future of their city, to control potential spin on comments and to help shape their image of #1 cheerleader of the city. Maybe some folks would be a little nervous about giving Larry that much access to us, or that he wouldn’t have access to enough people. That hasn’t stopped Mayor Slay of St. Louis, who recently used his blog to voice his opinions surrounding what’s become today’s announcement about IN Bev’s purchase of Anheuser-Busch. Huntsville’s mayor, Loretta Spencer, hasn’t posted since late January but saw the benefit of having one set up. Mayors in Richmond, VA; Phoenix, AZ; and Miami, FL all use their blogs to broadcast announcements affecting the day-to-day lives of their citizens and to share their ideas for the future of their cities.

Maybe the immediate feedback would help temper some of the grandiose aspirations that have come out of the mayor’s office – though we were all warned that we were going to have to hold on tight back on Election Night. He also doesn’t seem to be one that likes to be criticized or second- guessed (that’s why we’re still expecting fireworks at 5:15 p.m. tonight). It would be funny to see how he’d react to the instant, immediate and sharp wit shared both in support of him and against him via blog comments.

Some may wonder why we wanted him to participate on this site in the first place. Our answer is simple, “Wouldn’t you?” It would be a great way to truly encompass all thoughts and perspectives on issues in our community directly from mayor’s mouth. “Where does he actually want to lead the city?” “What has to happen to get there?” “What else do we need to know before a decision can be made?” These are all questions that are asked by a lot of people nowadays that would be easily answered if he or anyone else in his position chose to join the conversation wholly. Until then, it remains a guessing game, one that could lead many to wonder with all of the ideas floating in Larry’s head, imagined or otherwise, what more don’t we know.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.