Birmingham, England What would you do if you had the opportunity to visit Birmingham, the second largest city in the United Kingdom? Well, of course you get a four pound day pass on the bus system, ignore the mad Christmas shopping, and hop off and on the bus and walk through low-and-moderate income communities. And, if you are as lucky as I was and it is a gorgeous, blue sky day with what would almost seem to be unseasonably mild temperatures, what better day could there be to walk some five miles up and down and around the streets and housing blocks of the city?
Birmingham is a city of a couple of million, famed as 19th and 20th century industrial powerhouse, but largely deindustrialized like so many world powerhouses of the time, but still alive as a center of education, health care, and the newly emerging service sector. The neighborhoods and the city itself are caught in the crosshairs of changing times and strained municipal resources with reduced support from the national government in Westminster.
I walked through various “heath” communities, Small Heath and Balsall Heath, Moseley, and more communities than I can remember, filled with council housing, Victorian terraces, and various other housing schemes. I was within sight of the City Centre some of the time and virtually within spitting of the huge University of Birmingham at other times. In one street I passed, sandwiched in between halal shops and Muslim charity shops, the Yankee Clipper Barber shop, strangely tipping a brim of the cap to Joe DiMaggio, the New York slugger and record setter of the 1940s.
I took a long look at a Free Library dating to 1895 and connected to a swimming center dating more than 100 years with a separate women’s entrance and two entrances for men, first class and second class men, whatever all of that might mean. The center was a community issue now though, because the Council had announced plans to close the facility so various groups were campaigning to see if there is a way to save the place, not for its history, but for its future.
In many areas, the issues seemed almost too common. Litter and rubbish untended. Traffic too hard to maneuver easily. Gentrification come slowly compared to London perhaps but steadily nonetheless.
Like any big city, more to do than any set of organizations might be able to muster alone, but clearly a great organizing challenge and opportunity.