BY: JOSEPH BRYANT
A visit from an acclaimed planning expert has sparked dialogue among business, civic and political leaders about redefining and rebuilding Birmingham. Bruce Katz, Brookings Institution vice president and founding director of the Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, spent two days in the Magic City, where he provided frank insight on how cities and regions may successfully redevelop themselves by drawing on their best assets after honest evaluation. “Figure out who you are and do it on purpose,” Katz said.
The co-author of The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, Katz uses Detroit, Denver and New York as examples of cities and regions with vastly different cultures and unique needs that are successfully defining themselves and working to promote their best assets. “Birmingham is poised to do the same thing,” he said.
Katz directed audiences to look beyond government for solutions. Rather, he said regions must begin their own revolution, and then seek creative ways to implement it. “We’re going to be a very different country in terms of what the leadership is and where the innovation is,” he said. Cities, Katz said, are not governments, but are networks spread across a region.
Katz’s visit was a collaboration between Leadership Birmingham, the School of Public Health at UAB, and the Birmingham Regional Planning Commission. Katz met with Birmingham Mayor William Bell, took a tour of the city and made a stop at Innovation Depot. Katz also met with UAB President Ray Watts and elected officials throughout the region. “This partnership and this itinerary of meetings with a network of metropolitan leaders speaks volumes and bodes well for ongoing efforts,” said Leadership Birmingham executive director, Ann Florie.
Katz offered an optimistic forecast for Birmingham and listed several reasons. He said the tour of Birmingham showed that the region has all the tools needed for success and innovation, particularly the presence of UAB. “The UAB asset is a nucleus for innovation and development that other regions would long to have,” he said. But, Katz said Birmingham and its neighbors must begin earlier to tackle educational challenges and expose children to broad options. More than system reform, Katz said students’ individual opportunities must begin at the pre-k level. “You’re small enough to get your arms around it, but big enough to make a difference,” he said.
Katz’s presentation to Leadership Birmingham was a diverse audience filled with business leaders, elected officials, architects, developers and artists. “There were also representatives from a younger generation that I hope can carry on this work when many of us are gone” Florie noted.
Florie said she hopes to create an annual speakers series where Leadership Birmingham collaborates with other groups to foster thoughtful community discussion.
For more information or to purchase the book, go to metrorevolution.org. You can also listen to Katz’s TedX Talk by searching “Bruce Katz TedX Hamburg.”