The Blueprint for Economic Prosperity: Is Birmingham Finally Ready?

Today, in Birmingham’s newest park — the result of community collaboration — comes the unveiling of a new plan for economic prosperity that is also the result of community collaboration.

The Birmingham Business Alliance will formally release Blueprint Birmingham, a strategic action plan that might finally help Birmingham unleash its always latent but awesome potential. If followed with the same thoughtful planning, cooperative spirit and passion that created the Railroad Park, this plan can guide Birmingham toward its destiny as a great city. 

It sounds grandiose, I know. Hope has taken brutal beatings in this town. How many “great city” plans and studies have we created over the years, only to lay them on dusty shelves? Do you have enough fingers to count them on?

I’m beginning to wonder if division is in the DNA around here. Division is everywhere — on every level, across racial and socio-economic lines — even though we know we should come together. Together, we stand. Divided, we fall. Divide and conquer. This place is a virtual graveyard of  vanquished ideas.

I am not saying this to be pessimistic. Not at all. You know me better than that. I’m just wondering whether we have skinned our knees, bumped our heads, and had our hearts broken so many times that we have finally grown tired of being sick and tired, tired of being broke as a joke, and tired of watching the world pass us by as we stagnate on stupid.

I am saying that we must ensure that Blueprint Birmingham never becomes one of those nice, but time-wasted, big vision plans that go nowhere. We can’t afford to let that happen anymore. Birmingham has stood still too long while the rest of the country and the world – heck, even other parts of the state — moved forward without us. Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Raleigh, Louisville, Memphis, St. Louis, and even little Chattanooga have made tremendous strides toward prosperity while we bickered and dickered over racial politics and governance issues of every stripe, on every level.

Now, to be sure, we have had some economic and community successes since the 1960s – a relatively successful transition from the steel industry, UAB’s phenomenal growth, Southern Research Institute’s innovations, Downtown Birmingham’s budding redevelopment (wait, I’m still thinking), the explosive growth along U.S. 280 and in the suburbs, the Oxmoor Valley development, the “Three Parks Initiative” (Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain and the Railroad parks), signature cultural institutions, major arts events and yes, American Idols (go Ruben and Taylor!).

But celebrating these accomplishments is like congratulating your kid who improves to become a C-student when you know she is an A-student. Birmingham has the capacity and power to do more, much more. But we have settled for a kind of middling mediocrity instead of greatness. We have chosen selfishness over unity, racial hatred over brotherly love, divisive politics over unifying principles.

We simply have not set our collective minds and hearts on doing better, with the kind of passion and resolve normally reserved for football games.

I hope this changes. Starting today. Starting from the $23 million Railroad Park, a public and private collaborative between the City of Birmingham and citizens united for a better park.

I hope that we can become a region of cities and citizens united for world-class education for all children, no matter the city or ethnicity. United for reduced crime and poverty in all neighborhoods. United for a regional transit system that works for everyone. United for better infrastructure and technological advances. United for better businesses and more jobs across every spectrum.

I believe Blueprint Birmingham can give us an opportunity to unite and create the better Birmingham we want and need. We just have to be open to the possibilities.

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Blueprint Details

bham_is_open launch at RR Park I have seen the basic Blueprint Birmingham plan, its goals and objectives. It has a lot of good stuff in there. I won’t spoil the show for the BBA and give away too many details. You will get the full Monty after it’s unveiling today at 5:30 p.m. in Railroad Park.

This is what I can tell you now.

Blueprint Birmingham is founded upon a unified vision, condensed into a single statement based on thousands of suggestions from area citizens who participated in developing its framework:

“The Birmingham region will provide abundant economic opportunities, excellence in education, and an unparalleled quality of life for all its citizens.”

To accomplish this vision and address the challenges we face, regional leaders identified four key goal areas:

1.    Public and Private Leadership: turning regional leaders into a corps of unified and progressive drum majors, if you will, who engage the community to implement the plan’s objectives and actively recruit the next generation of leaders who will carry the baton into the future;

2.    Workforce Development: creating a competent force of workers and entrepreneurs through education that starts from pre-K and continues to technical school and/or college;

3.    Economic Prosperity: leveraging innovative research, strengthening existing businesses, and attracting and supporting new businesses (particularly among ethnic minorities) to usher in new economic prosperity for all;

4.    Community and Regional Stewardship: improving upon the area’s “quality of place” by making the Birmingham region and its amenities safe and attractive, and turning its citizens into its best advocates.

You can also hear more about Blueprint Birmingham at the town hall meeting organized by the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists on Tuesday, Sept. 28, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Alabama Power Headquarters Building. (See the press release for more details here.) Refreshments and seating are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. So come early, grab a few snacks and take part in a community discussion on the plan.

Guests include Birmingham’s Mayor William Bell, Hoover’s Mayor Tony Petelos among other political, business, and civic leaders.

This moment calls to mind a line in one of The Matrix movies. (So many powerful principles in that trilogy!). The wise old woman, The Oracle, tells the movie’s hero, “I’m interested in one thing, Neo: the future. And believe me, I know, the only way to get there is together.”

The only way Birmingham will ever reach its potential is by all its citizens coming together, united for a single purpose: a bright, prosperous future for the City of Birmingham and the region. There’s nothing in Blueprint Birmingham that any rational person should be against. Consensus should be easy. After all, it simply embodies our own thoughts and wishes. Who doesn’t want a better community, except for a handful of ruffians and negative Nellys?

The only question is, do we have the passion and will to make Blueprint Birmingham happen? Only time will tell.

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