Finding out about the Birmingham Charter

itsnicelogoWell, you can’t accuse Birmingham’s green builders and architects of thinking small. They’ve proposed coming up with a new standard for cities, which they call the Birmingham Charter. And to convince the world that it will work, they want to transform greater Birmingham into a model of sustainable living.

I went to the Green Resource Center last night to find out more. The place was packed, and some latecomers stood outside in the stairwell listening.

James Smith, CEO of Green Building Focus, gave an enthusiastic, rambling address about the Charter, punctuated by video excerpts from architect Karan Grover’s dramatic multimedia presentation at the July conference on green building here in our fair city. The scope of this conference went well beyond nuts-and-bolts topics for builders. It was visionary, arguing for an entirely new philosophy for building cities and living on the earth. Continue reading “Finding out about the Birmingham Charter”

The global significance of Birmingham

itsnicelogoThose of us who live here are apt to forget it, but Birmingham is a powerful symbol to people around the world. We tend to be ashamed of the ’60s legacy of “Bombingham,” but for people behind the Birmingham Charter — Karan Grover, from India, and James Smith, from South Africa — the city represents a triumph. It was in Birmingham that ordinary people, even children, united to defeat an unjust order with love.

We locals often think that our white predecessors had to be shocked out of their complacency by the 1963 bombing deaths of children at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and (what was worse, supposedly) the international attention that this brought. The cynical implication is that it was a concern for appearances that forced white Birmingham to change, or to appear to change.

Grover and Smith don’t see it that way. Continue reading “The global significance of Birmingham”

If we don’t build it, they will come


Attention Conservation Notice: This is about local politics in Birmingham, Alabama, but also about sustainability throughout North America.

Now that the new city council is seated, it’s high time to revisit The Dome, as we like to call it. Despite the strong case against expansion of the city’s convention complex, there is political momentum in favor of floating the bonds and summoning the bulldozers. Mayor Larry Langford actively promotes the project with pep rally techniques (banners, rallies, T-shirts) that evoke his campaign slogan, “Let’s do something!”

Many people, probably including a majority of Birmingham municipal voters, support the dome in the faith that large public works bring prosperity to a community, and that Birmingham has been too slow to perform such works. And when it comes to a project like providing reliable public transit, or passable school buildings, they are absolutely correct. Birmingham has buses that routinely break down or lack air conditioning, and its school buildings often leak, flood, or stink. Investing in projects that solved these problems would bring nothing but benefits.

But not all public works are created equal. Continue reading “If we don’t build it, they will come”