Seven people are vying for the District 5 seat on the Birmingham City Council in the August 22 elections. That’s the area representing most of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods from Crestwood to Smithfield. Managing this district won’t be easy. Some parts stand out as hip places to be in Birmingham, while others languish with extreme poverty and blight
It’s a tale of two cities in one city council district. And it’s as simple as souse meat and sushi. Better yet — pickled pork and chicken scraps versus bite-sized seafood wrapped with rice and veggies.
With about two bucks, you can walk into the market on 23rd Street North behind Bankhead Towers and buy one slice of souse meat, a slice of cheese and about six saltine crackers.
About a mile away at the new Publix supermarket in Midtown, there’s fresh-made sushi throughout the day.
In part of the district, lots of breweries, restaurants and other amenities have popped up in the last five years.
Lizzie Griffith lives near Railroad Park and says she loves living downtown. “It’s really diverse, which I enjoy,” she says.” There’s always something to do.”
Sometimes she walks to work at UAB. On the weekends and after work she often goes to the park.
But revitalization hasn’t happened yet in District 5 neighborhoods north and west of downtown.
In Druid Hills, there’s a park named for Arthur Shores, a pioneering civil rights lawyer and the first black person on the Birmingham City Council. Most days that park is empty. The grass is cut, but the park’s sign bearing Shores’ name is rusting.
Druid Hills Neighborhood Association President Amie Evans says the neighborhood has told city leaders of their concerns.
“Right now up here we don’t have anything to draw anyone. So much blight,” Evans says. “People drive up here, they’d probably soon drive away.”
She’s lived on 15th Terrace more than 45 years on a hill that overlooks downtown. She remembers the glory days when people were proud to say they lived in Druid Hills.
“We live in a beautiful area, if we could just get some assistance up here and everyone clean up and fix up, and put some more pride in this neighborhood,” she says.
Evans is planning to meet soon with the city’s community development department to discuss what happens next in Druid Hills under the city’s framework plan. She has a wish list: a grocery store and a community center, for starters. The city has already started upgrading the infrastructure north of downtown – like lighting and curbs.
Eva Melton, a computer analyst and minister from Crestwood, says not everyone benefits from the redevelopment around downtown.
“I have those concerns about the people who are being impacted whose voices may be getting lost in all the new things and all the things we think are great tourist attractions or great to go do on the weekend,” Melton says.
She says city leaders have to keep in mind people who can’t afford high rent or an expensive night out on the town.
Ulysses Smoot, a convenience store owner in Smithfield, has concerns too. His store is on the western edge of District 5, down the street from Parker High School. Just up the street, the building that was home to the barber shop where civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., got his hair cut, is vacant.
But there is lots of activity at Smoot’s store. A steady stream of people flows through the narrow store aisles. The major purchases — cigarettes, soft drinks and cold beer.
Smoot likes seeing his customers, but he says the neighborhood has problems.
“It is drug infested. Anything from marijuana to pills to cocaine. It’s also a violent community,” Smoot says. “And I think a lot of the violence derives from drug usage and selling.”
But he says things can get better if the people respect the police and the police respect the people.
Councilman Johnathan Austin currently represents District 5 and is seeking re-election.
His challengers are: