Perpetual Promise? We'll take it.

by Proud Placemaker (and LIV contributor), Wesley Vaughn

We’ve been thinking a lot lately of the seemingly overused, commonly misunderstood slogan, "City of Perpetual Promise” – a nickname given to Birmingham in 1937 by Harper's Magazine. Today, the epithet still encapsulates so much of the city…

At the time the piece was written, the magazine’s editor, George Leighton, intended to recognize Birmingham’s infinite natural resources that would assumingly drive growth for decades. However, Birmingham's population actually peaked in 1960 at 341,000 before its steady decline over decades following both the Civil Rights Movement and as Birmingham families followed the national trend of moving to suburban communities.
 
Certainly there was a time when that spirit of imminent potential seemed to have faded.
 
Yet now, that nickname – “City of Perpetual Promise” - can return as Birmingham's motto as it wholly expresses the vibe that emanates from the city's built environment, as well as its increasing development and active residents. Every community, every building, everything in between – it all possesses that recognized potential that’s putting the magic back in the Magic City.
 
And, really - it’s the perfect phrase to describe exactly how we feel. Birmingham is  definitely on the verge… and it needs your help.
 
Paul Graham writes that cities send off unique messages. For example, he believes Boston's strong academic community drives you to think "you should be smarter", and New York's message is simply that "you should be richer."
 
Graham explains, "A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It's not something you have to seek out, but something you can't turn off."
 
We’ll venture to say that Birmingham's message is you should help. And while our own Birmingham metro area consistently ranks as one of the most charitable in the United States, this message goes beyond donating to a local charity. The Magic City streets are teeming with engaged residents who are pulling their sleeves up and pushing their hands into the infamous red clay Birmingham is built on.
 

Railroad Park by night                                  {Image via blacklocustlumber.com} 

You don’t have to look far to find the work of these residents – these Proud Placemakers -  investing time and money to address the community's challenges. Here are just a few recent examples:
And there’s more motive behind our locals’ urge to lend support the Magic City:  they’re actively making place in their city and in their neighborhoods. Birmingham’s current population of around 200,000 is producing a LIVable urban environment, and they’re proud to call this place home.
 
Aaron Renn, an urban affairs analyst who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, has examined how residents in small cities such as Birmingham and Providence advocate for their cities.
Renn notes that such communities exhibit the "a producer, not a consumer" effect: "People aren’t just there to soak in what the city has to offer, but they are part of building the product in a very real and tangible way."
 
Residents can become producers by opening up their own stores, cleaning up vacant lots, building relationship with neighbors, or simply frequenting and promoting local businesses. Every action in Birmingham produces a noticeable impact. The fear of only "drop in the bucket" just doesn’t exist here.
 
Birmingham's "perpetual promise" provides the stimulus of "you should help" to its residents. It can be exhausting yet it's also exhilarating, and it's our favorite aspect of Birmingham.
 
How will you help today? Where will you make place in the Magic City?
 
Wesley Vaughn, a native of Birmingham, is seeking a master's degree in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. He is enthralled by the Magic City's limitless potential and hopes to improve its built environment through effective policies and community engagement. He also loves the NBA but thinks he can live without a team in Birmingham. Follow Wesley on Twitter, @WesleyMVaughn

 


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