By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Most of his four-plus years in office have been spent removing blight in city neighborhoods and now the focus will be building a better quality of life for residents, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday.
Delivering his “2023 State of The City” to the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham at the Harbert Center in downtown Woodfin outlined priorities and highlights for his administration.
“We want to spend our time…collectively pushing what should be put in these neighborhoods to improve quality of life,” said the mayor, first elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021.
The city’s priorities include, he said:
- Youth services
- Community and economic development
Youth services and education are key components for the city. A new juvenile reentry program, RESTORE, approved earlier in the day by City Council, is designed to help young people stay out of trouble.
RESTORE is part of a broader multi-sector collaboration to focus on root causes of violence in order to enhance the continuance of care to better address prevention and re-entry.
“We know that 69% of the youth ages 13 to 22 who were murdered last year had prior family court contact. Eighty-three percent of the perpetrators under the age of 22 charged with murder or attempted murder last year had prior family court contact,” said the mayor, in a statement.
In addition, the program provides case management for both children placed in juvenile detention and case management for parents.
The city has also invested $1 million each over 2021 and 2022 into mental health services for Birmingham City Schools students and invested in a “safe havens” program which seeks to expand the programming of specific recreation centers in the city beyond school hours.
Also, during a Q&A session at the Kiwanis meeting, Woodfin encouraged attendees to participate in the Page Pals program, an initiative announced last year which has adult volunteers spend time reading to Birmingham City Schools students in one-on-one sessions.
Because of a law passed by the Alabama Legislature, starting in the 2023-24 school year, children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade will have to repeat the year.
“We, as adults, all of us in this room have a very critical role to play in making sure that does not happen. You need to know, a hard fact first. A little over 40% of our third graders are not at reading at grade level. That’s unacceptable. If we leave it to just our teachers and parents and principals, that number will not decrease,” Woodfin said. “We have to join in. Page Pals gives you all an opportunity to do that.”
Here are other highlights from the Mayor’s speech.
Woodfin said the city developed more affordable housing since he took office than in the rest of the decade. For instance, the city was able to secure, toward the end of 2022, the construction of 50 new affordable homes in the North Pratt neighborhood.
In December, Birmingham City Council also approved $10 million for an affordable housing trust fund that would allow for the planning and implementation of efforts to leverage city, federal, corporate and philanthropic funding to continue and accelerate the construction of new housing across the city.
This month, the city approved the first leg of a plan to provide micro-shelters for homeless residents of Birmingham and give them access to wraparound services for job and home security.
In September 2022, Birmingham Xpress (BX), the city’s new bus rapid transit system went online, and additionally the city has recently seen expanded service from low-cost ride-hailing service Via.
“[BX] is a big deal, and that’s important that we continue to provide additional tools in our toolbox to offer public transportation to our citizens,” said Woodfin, who highlighted $12 million recently approved by the city for street paving and ongoing work with the Alabama Department of Transportation to fix interstate lighting in the city.
There has been a 3.4% rise in employment opportunity in the city. The World Games 2022, which took place from July 7 through 17, generated $165 million, with 70% of that going to Birmingham directly.
The mayor pointed to the $10.8 million “Good Jobs Challenge” grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is for the creation of an improved pipeline for health care employees. That grant is an example of the sort of cooperation required to continue improving the city, Woodfin said.
“The biggest thing out of this is the team approach with the economic development organizations in this community…not just Prosper, not just [the Birmingham Business Alliance] but other organizations, UAB and others, that when we collectively decide to do something, there is no stopping the city of Birmingham,” Woodfin said.
Woodfin also said it’s “time to be more aggressive” in Birmingham and surrounding cities’ approach to regional cooperation. To produce good results from that cooperation, “we have to continue to push an economic agenda that works for everybody,” Woodfin said.
“Birmingham can’t just be a commuter city where folks in the suburbs just come in and work and leave. We’ve also got to make sure folks in the city have opportunity,” Woodfin said.
Woodfin also pointed to the recent and ongoing modernization of the city’s trash collection program, as well as a new greenway program, which has removed 36,000 bags of trash from interstate ramps over the last year, as critical to the new focus.
While new attempts to tackle littering “may seem simple” to some, Woodfin said the city must be “very aggressive and intentional” about keeping Birmingham clean.
“What you’ll see in 2023 is more rollout efforts around recycling, the education component of recycling and many other efforts to be very intentional about how our city looks, taking pride in our city and cleaning up our city,” Woodfin said.