Eleven New Year’s Wishes

Sure, it’s a little late for New Year’s Resolutions, but these are really more “wishes” than resolutions. And besides, the new year doesn’t really start until college football is finished anyway, right?

As such, we were reflecting on the coming year and what we want for our beloved Montgomery during 2011. Because you can’t accomplish anything without goals. So, without further ado, here are our 11 wishes for 2011:

1. More green spaces

The city has been taking some baby steps, but we’d really like to see 2011 be a banner year on this front. Among the seeds planted that we’d like to see bloom:

• The so-called Hampstead Institute (the academic entity running the town/farm/housing development/restaurant/community zone way out in East Montgomery) is not just running a farm (of sorts) out in their experimental village, but they’re also starting a new urban farm downtown. Their 3 acres out in Hampstead will hopefully be augmented by their 2.7 acres down by the river. News articles suggest that they were hopeful to be up and running by February, but we’ll see. Plans evidently include, “a working windmill, ‘u-pick’ orchards, community planting beds, star gazing hill, wildflower area, gathering area and children’s learning area.” We’re all for it.

• The Full of Life Urban Farm. This is a pretty small scale operation, more a garden than a “farm.” But that’s what they’re calling the happenings at what was once a vacant lot at the corner of Broughton and Emerson. They’ve got rows of something growing over there and there’s talk of turning the operation into something like Birmingham’s highly successful Jones Valley Urban Farm. April will mark the one-year point since this optimism-laden article from The Advertiser. If a project can be something positive for West Montgomery, bringing environmentalism and a local-consumption ethic to our city, we’re all for it.

• The Cypress Nature Park. This blog has covered this proposed plan, but we hope things will really get kicking in 2011 to make this good idea a reality. Birmingham is proud of their new Railroad Park, and we ought to be hot on their heels to preserve ecosystems and green spaces in our downtown urban areas too.

2. Get this recycling thing dealt with for once and for all

Speaking of the environment, we’ve got high hopes for Montgomery figuring out recycling in 2011. Unlike the green spaces issue, there is less reason for optimism. We were bummed when the city stopped doing curbside pickup of  recyclable materials. And maybe there was a good reason to do so. Few people were participating (an education problem) and very little of the material collected was actually being recycled (an organizational and planning problem). With the city’s budget problems, maybe having trucks crisscross the city for minimal payoff wasn’t the best idea.

Yet the city’s budget was doing well enough to commission a million dollar study to examine a technological solution: a solid waste arc plasma gasification plant. Something no other city in the United States has. Sure, the fancy machine would have been great — incinerating waste without having consumers bother to think about separating paper, plastic and glass. Just feed it all into the machine and the emissions will power the city, we were told. As predicted, the study came back saying that the machine wasn’t practical (no wonder no other city has one).

Now, we’re left with a terrible patchwork solution: You can take your recycling to various drop-off points around the city, only at certain times, and they don’t take plastic or glass. Our past reporting complaining on this issue is here and our previous champion on these matters, Martha Roby, is now in Congress. Here’s hoping her replacement (and the entire city) will get together and find a solution to our recycling woes so that we can at least bring our city in line with other leading cities in the state.

3. Big things from Biscuits baseball

The Montgomery Biscuits came into being in 2004 and quickly became a dominant force in minor league baseball. They became league champs in their third year of existing, then became back to back champs, and won worldwide acclaim for their jewel of a stadium down by the river. The team showcased several players that were on the fast track to stardom with the team’s big league parent in Tampa, including Scott Kazmir, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, and David Price. With that much talent being sucked into the big leagues, the winning couldn’t be sustained (as is inevitable with all minor league clubs). But the team is in capable hands under skipper Bill Gardner, and we’re hoping to have a fun spring at the ballpark watching another winner bring the Southern League title back to Montgomery.

4. Local restaurants will survive “ethics reform”

We tend to steer clear of politics here at MML, but we had to throw this one in. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the big political story of the last half of 2010 was that the Alabama Legislature was called into a special session to pass several bills grouped under the heading of “ethics reform.” Now, maybe you think that the bills are great and maybe you think that they’re chock full of loopholes that render them mere symbolic window dressing. But Montgomery’s mayor weighed in against at least one of the proposed bills that would have limited the amount of lobbyist spending on legislators.

Supporters of the bill (which passed) say that it will limit the influence of powerful special interests on our fragile democracy, curtailing the ability of professional persuaders to wine and dine our elected officials. But Mayor Strange was more concerned that capping lobbyist spending might crimp the free spending that area restaurants like to see. Since the bill passed and lobbyists are (at least somewhat) limited in what they can spend on our humble public servants, here’s hoping that our area eateries won’t suffer too much and will find some way to make it through 2011 in profitable fashion.

5. Less blight

Here at MML, we have written about the much-celebrated demolition of blighted properties (and other demolitions somewhat less unambiguously celebrated). And we’re not so naive as to think that getting rid of blighted properties is a simple proposition. In America, property rights reign supreme and people have the right to fix up their buildings at their own pace. And with the economy limping along, we understand that funds for repairs can be in short supply. Still, there are way too many buildings in Montgomery that require substantial investments in order to even be lifted to the level of “safe” and “presentable.” City officials have been aggressive in enforcing building code laws, but because this is a space for optimistic wishing, we want to express hope that the property owners themselves (even the absentee out-of-state landlords) take a little pride and use 2011 to spruce up the buildings (commercial and residential) that comprise our community.

6. Do something with Montgomery Mall

On a related note, this is one that has probably been on every Montgomery resident’s wishlist for over a decade now. Even when the mall was still open, people were wishing that something decent could be done with it. The downhill slide was long and wasn’t pretty. Now, we’ve got an abandoned husk of a building greeting northbound visitors as they enter our city from Highway 231. A giant crumbling mall is not what you want at the gateway to your city (as if you’d want that in any part of your city).

Hope springs eternal. The real estate remains a prime location for something good, something that could energize the surrounding area. The city has been talking for a long time now about being in negotiations with the federal government for some kind of veteran’s health care facility to be opened there. But those talks remain just talks and here’s hoping that in 2011, the old mall will be replaced by something vibrant, beautiful, useful, and of benefit to the entire city.

7. Better live music

We’ve been muttering about this one for a while now. We had a lovely New Year’s Eve at Midtown’s own 1048 club, with a good atmosphere and a great band. But such events are just too rare.

A good friend with a nationally-recognized band told us that he can’t play in Montgomery because he tours with a child and there are no smoke-free venues suitable for bringing a young person. Maybe there are a few bars that host regional bands once in a while, but there’s really no mid-sized venue for touring bands in the entire city. As such, it’s cool that Willie Nelson is coming to the Montgomery Center for the Performing Arts Center next month, but there’s very little for folks not looking to pay $35 for a single concert ticket. And even if we paid to go see Willie (which we might), the MPAC is hardly a hub of live music (unless you count a Beatles cover band that charges $23 for a ticket to be live music … and we don’t).

8. Balance love of history with authentic respect

We love Alabama’s history. We’re the type of folks that go to the Horseshoe Bend battlefield for a good time. We understand the folks who are worried that the history of the Civil War is being lost on a generation raised on video games and Facebook. Really, we do. But the previous generation was worried that television was erasing the powerful history that is carried in books. And before that, people grew weary of hearing their grandparents tell stories about the various wars. Learning about history (military and otherwise) is a favorite pastime.

Yet, it was not without some trepidation that we learned that 2011 would bring to Montgomery a live reenactment of the swearing in of Jefferson Davis on the steps of the capitol building. You see, 2011 is the 150th anniversary of Alabama leaving the United States of America. And there, on the steps of our beautiful capitol building is a metal star to show the spot on which Jefferson Davis became the president of a new country. History is history.

We hope that in remembering those turbulent times, folks will not express a nostalgia for the worst parts of the Confederacy. And we hope that folks who gather in Montgomery to remember the Civil War and the Confederacy will also be respectful of the other folks to whom this kind of gathering seems inappropriate at best, and frightening at worst.

9. Help more animals find a loving home.

Last year the Montgomery Humane Society euthanized more than 15,000 companion animals. Sure, one of the major causes of cat and dog overpopulation is jerks who don’t spay or neuter their animals. Bob Barker was right. And with the low-cost Alabama Animal Alliance spay/neuter clinic over by the Goodwill, people just don’t have any good excuses. More education on this front would be valuable.

But there will always be a surplus of lost, abandoned or unwanted cats and dogs over at the shelter. Here’s hoping that more find loving homes in 2011. Maybe this year more people will decide that they can find a nice dog or cat over at the shelter and adopt them for a fraction of the cost of buying a “purebred” animal.

10. Find something good to go in the Colonial Bank building.

It’s been a full year now since the sixth largest bank collapse in American history, and still their massive headquarters lies empty. We’ve heard crazy stories about what’s in there (safe rooms, nutty security precautions), but we’re hopeful that someone will buy it and put something socially useful in there. Montgomery has more than its share of empty real estate, sure, and we’d rather the Montgomery Mall got filled in before this thing, but still – it’s a nice, new building, and maybe some company can use it to create jobs and help our economy?

11. Re-open Maxwell for public tours of the military museum.

Since 2001, the U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall at Maxwell has been closed to members of the public. We understand that there are security concerns about letting folks on the base, but we sure would like to go see the museum. And maybe tour Air University. The University is, after all, one of the major engines bringing global and intellectual diversity to Montgomery. Maybe they can install some security measures that allow people to tour the base (since our tax dollars do pay for it). Happy 2011 everyone!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Gabbie says:

    Well said, guys-as usual.

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