It was one of those things where you just felt the level of optimism surrounding you (even as some skepticism tried to sneak in from time to time) and got infected by it. There were approximately 250 people gathered at the Birmingham Museum of Art on Saturday morning to learn about the current status of the city’s first comprehensive plan effort since 1961.
Community leaders from across the city shared breakfast and opinions with the consulting team and the plan’s steering committee (of which I am a part). Yes, I focused on community leaders first. There were only four (4) citywide elected officials in attendance out of a possible 19 on Saturday morning at various points; Birmingham mayor William Bell; city councilors Valerie Abbott and Jay Roberson; and Birmingham Board of Education member April Williams.
The current implied timetable for this effort means that we’ll be starting to look at some of the broader issues next year – so long as its adopted before the end of this one. It also means that it could be used as a measurement tool to hold elected officials and our numerous community organizations accountable, also known as an election year issue. This is where I remind you that in the midst of next year’s commemoration of the events of 1963 (by the way, it’s a Flash-based site), we’ll be choosing who we want to have lead the city forward at the beginning of the next 50 years – in the mayor’s office, all nine city council districts, and the Board of Education.
It’s my hope that the comprehensive plan becomes the kind of issue where we’re asking for our elected officials to voice their continued support for it instead of it being used as a political football. Hopefully as more of our elected officials become familiar with the plan, it’ll make it harder for them to do the former (though not impossible).
We have a chance to offer comment once the draft is released, though for those of you reading this, clicking through to the plan’s website will also enable you to know what’s been going on. There are opportunities to read through materials at the Birmingham Public Library for those who’ll suggest that they can’t find their way to a computer. There isn’t an excuse to not participate just like there wasn’t an excuse to do so during the holidays despite freezing temperatures and the likelihood of snow.
Most impressive was the number of young people in attendance. Yes, there were young professionals scattered among the various tables, but there was a large contingent from UAB as well as a few area high school students – none of whom were afraid of having their voices heard and not necessarily agreeing with the adults in the room. It reminded me of the group of young people who presented their hopes and dreams for the city during the first public forum last fall. They know what they want to see in their city as it moves forward and of its potential. More than anything else, this plan is about their future and not about our legacy and we owe it to them to be involved and to get it right (and adopted) when the time comes.
You might say that those who attended and those children I’ve mentioned are not like most people in Birmingham; those who see a grand future for Birmingham think they aren’t like most people anyway. I’ve got a feeling they’re wrong though and they exist in greater numbers than most think. The key will be making sure they know their voice still matters and that there are several ways to share their comments.
What do you think?
Andre Natta is The Terminal’s stationmaster.