Opinion Column By Mike Goodrich. Originally published in AL.com on November 12, 2014.
Real change in Birmingham’s poorest neighborhoods is possible. In fact, it is happening.
In the Woodlawn community, students are learning in a new STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts, math); new mixed-income homes are under construction; long-time homeowners have received new roofs and electrical improvements; new businesses are thriving; and citizens are on patrol, alerting police to potential crimes.
Woodlawn is seeing the results of the Purpose Built Model – a holistic and “place-based” approach to revitalization. Through the coordination of Woodlawn Foundation, residents, business owners, and community partners created a vision for a future community in which children learn and play, families live in quality housing, parents work in stable jobs and businesses grow.
The hard work of realizing that vision is under way. There is much work still to be done, but the seeds planted over the last few years are producing first fruits. The Park at Wood Station – the first phase of a mixed-income housing strategy – is under construction on nearly five acres between First Avenue North and Georgia Road. Nineteen homeowners in the neighborhood are enjoying healthier and safer homes after receiving thousands of dollars in construction rehabilitation assistance.
New businesses have opened over the last three years with hopes of attracting more private investment into the commercial district. Crime in the area has decreased thanks to the strengthened relationship between the Birmingham Police Department and the volunteer Citizens on Patrol. “America’s greatest untapped resource, human capital” is being discovered and fostered within students and teachers in the Woodlawn Innovation Network, a partnership between Woodlawn Foundation, A+ Education Partnership and Birmingham City Schools.
Most importantly, conversations are happening and hope is alive and growing in the neighborhood. Residents are actively engaged in the groups and committees that are shaping the community in which they want to live.
While many cities across the country have adopted this holistic model of revitalization and are getting results, the work remains challenging. Funding is scarce and significant change takes time, many years, actually. But this work is crucial for our city, our state, and our country.
While the goal is a better Woodlawn, it is our sincere hope that the change we seek is not confined to our community. The Purpose Built Communities model – the Woodlawn model – can and should be replicated in neighborhoods across Birmingham and throughout the state. That will take a dedicated leader in each community. It will require a commitment of neighbors, business owners and community groups. It will require private and government money.
But above all, this work requires us to believe. We must believe we will all be better off if our least fortunate neighbors are earning a living and providing for their families. We must believe that hard work will pay off. We must believe tomorrow’s children are worth the investment.
Mike Goodrich is the Chairman of the Board of Woodlawn Foundation, the lead organization for the Woodlawn United comprehensive community change effort. This week, Woodlawn Foundation will be named Outstanding Charitable Organization by the Alabama Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals as part of National Philanthropy Day.