“I lived in DC during 9/11 and was a mile away from the Pentagon. I had friends there and saw the smoke. That day made a huge impact on my life. When I came to Birmingham a few years ago, I found that we had a 9/11 Memorial and that most people in Birmingham didn’t know about it because it was covered with leaves, vines, and bushes. The memorial was dedicated in 2002 but it hasn’t been cared for since then. There were people hiding in the bushes and smoking and drinking. People felt unsafe in this area and that didn’t sit well with me so I started cleaning it up, picking up the beer cans, taking out a lot of the bushes and killing the kudzu. We are going to make this a nice grass area and re-landscape it. Now people are coming back and starting to enjoy it because they feel safe here.
This is my summer project, but I have already noticed a big difference. Perception changes everything. You stopped to take pictures, he just slowed down to look and sat down for a few minutes as he walked his dog. That never happened before I cleaned it out. It was almost claustrophobic.
I am not from Birmingham and I see the struggles and at times the town and people feel defeated. There isn’t enough home town pride and I want to help restore that. I want people to be proud to live here. We have amazing things going on, we just have to connect them and get people believing. We have to improve our diversity. There is still too much separation and we have to get across that bridge. A big part of that is transportation and getting people where the jobs are and to interact with others. We need more bike lanes and to build downtown for people instead of cars and parking lots. We can change some basic things and get more diversity and movement around the city. Green space changes everything. It is where people come together.
I work for CAP (City Action Partnership) and we work for the property owners helping make downtown safe and clean. We help the police and public works, we clean the streets and work with the homeless. There are 15 of us and most are military veterans and CPR certified. I get paid for 40 hours but usually work 90 hours a week. I see so much that we can do to make downtown better that I do this on my own time, too.
People gave up on downtown and it takes a long time to change the perceptions. Birmingham is so much safer and better than it used to be, but it is hard to get people to come back and visit it like it is a new city.
I look at city building differently. We are so economic driven but let’s make have public places where people want to be. Businesses will come to the people. Cleaning up the city is easy and actually drives economic development. We have also cleaned up other areas, and people have started eating lunch there or playing music. We have to create places where people feel comfortable and relaxed and want to be open to each other. Change starts there.”