Walk around downtown Birmingham and there’s an energy you wouldn’t have felt a few years ago. Residents are moving to new lofts and apartments. Restaurants and retailers are opening. People do yoga at Railroad Park or take in a ballgame at Region’s Field. They’re visible signs of a Birmingham revival. But that revival is uneven. Talk to some in neighborhoods away from Downtown and they’ll say "revival" doesn’t mean much to them. No fancy lofts, just abandoned homes and potholed roads that never seem to be fixed. And all this takes place against the backdrop of Birmingham’s racial history, with investment, by-and-large, coming from whites in a city that’s been majority black for a generation.
Birmingham’s western business district is one of the city’s oldest. At one time, a thriving community of working class families surrounded it. A shopping mall anchored the retail center, and businesses, large and small, lined Third Avenue West. Now, it's a different story. The area has been in decline for decades. In 2011, the city Birmingham spent $46 million on the Birmingham Metro CrossPlex sports facility in hopes of giving the area an economic boost.
When a city neighborhood rebounds, it’s typically a story of investors buying cheap property, building and attracting new residents. That runs the risk of pushing out current residents who are often poor. This week as we explore Birmingham’s revitalization, we have at an example from Cleveland of an alternative model – worker cooperatives.
You could call schools the glue of a community. They're starting points for friendships and networks, and they affect property values and economic development. For our series on revitalization in Birmingham, WBHM's Dan Carsen returns to a redeveloping neighborhood to see how that's playing out in the local school.
Woodlawn was a predominantly white neighborhood until it was integrated in the 1970s. After that, many whites fled, migrating over the mountain and Woodlawn became predominantly black. And many of them left too. The Woodlawn Foundation is trying to change that with projects like the Park at Wood Station, a 64-unit townhouse complex on First Ave. South.
The neighborhood of Rosedale is easy to miss, quietly tucked at the base of Red Mountain on the edges of Homewood. For years, residents of the community have been fighting to keep its historic character, but the city is expanding and there is a constant threat of commercial development.
Behind every new coffee shop and oyster house and once-vacant building is a real estate developer. The same goes for parks and condos and baseball fields. To understand how developers choose where to invest, we'll start in Avondale.
When David VanWilliams moved to Birmingham, he was looking for a fixer-upper and fell in love with the neighborhood of Inglenook. Inglenook sits just north of the airport. Like its southern neighbors, Crestwood and Avondale, Inglenook has turn of the century brick bungalows and wide streets with sidewalks. But unlike those other neighborhoods, potholes mark the road and many houses are in disrepair. Residents don’t have the money to fix them.
By certain indicators, Birmingham is having a moment. Boosted by the openings of Railroad Park and Regions Field, downtown’s seen almost 40 percent residential growth since 2000. Construction cranes dot the skyline, historic buildings are being restored, and the city was recently named a top destination by Lonely Planet and the Travel Channel. Despite this, Birmingham’s revitalization has only touched part of the city, leaving many longtime residents feeling ignored.
Downtown Birmingham and some nearby neighborhoods are seeing an influx of new residents, mainly young professionals and retired baby boomers. It’s a national trend -- the Census Bureau reports millions of Americans have migrated from the suburbs to the cities since 2010. Experts like Bruce Katz,a Vice President of the Brookings Institution and co-author of “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy," think this is a good thing. Katz believes cities like Birmingham are the new economic engines in post-recession America. Katz spoke with WBHM's Greg Bass about his visit to Birmingham last year, and the central idea behind what he calls “The Metropolitan Revolution.”
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