“The charter will help provide the information, education, tools, opportunities and connections to help make Birmingham, Alabama, and any city around the world, a healthier, more enjoyable, and more sustainable place to live,” according to a statement distributed by the group at a press conference held near the steps of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on a sunny afternoon in late September.
That statement closed with an invitation: “We are open to all who are interested in helping revitalize Birmingham in a way that communities worldwide can use as a model.”
The response that Birmingham Charter supporters receive to that invitation, especially in the Birmingham area, will be a critical factor in the charter’s chances for success. The organizers must explain to the people of Birmingham what the charter is; how the city can benefit economically from becoming a laboratory for sustainability initiatives, including green manufacturing; and, perhaps most important, what each individual, church, civic group or small business can do to contribute.
As part of this effort, James Smith, CEO of the Birmingham firm Green Building Focus and one of the organizers of the Birmingham Charter, will discuss the initiative at the next "Sustainability Salon" sponsored by the civic group Catalyst and the Green Resource Center. The salon will be held on Wed., Oct. 21, from 6-8 p.m, at the GRC’s facility in Homewood. “This is the first time for the general public to come hear about the charter from some of the people involved,” according to Michael Sznajderman, a GRC board member.
Smith and Sznajderman seem to agree that widespread public participation is necessary for this bold effort to transform the city according to 21st-century green principles to succeed. “The most important thing for the Birmingham Charter is that it’s an inclusive thing, and we want participation from everybody who’s interested in sustainability,” Smith says.
“There is a lot of interest in [the charter], according to Sznajderman. "But if you call it the Birmingham Charter and people and communities and cities in the metro area are not on board and are not striving to meet these goals, people will say Birmingham is not even playing in the game. The GRC wants to have a gathering so people can come hear more about it and hear about the next steps. You have to have the public sector and the public involved.”
Speaking of the public sector, Smith presented the Birmingham Charter to the Birmingham City Council last Tuesday. “They unanimously voted to support it,” he says. “I don’t know how many things they unanimously agree on, but this was one of them.” According to Smith, the council agreed to give the backers of the charter $5,000 to help cover the cost of the meeting that was held in September.
According to Smith, the money from the council will be handled by the not-for-profit Birmingham Architectural Foundation, a branch of the Birmingham chapter of the American Institute of Architects. However, Smith says that at some point the Birmingham Charter organization will apply for not-for-profit status. “The charter will become its own entity,” he says.
The council, according to Smith, expressed a desire to read a draft of the charter when it is more fully developed and before the backers present it at any international conferences. Charter organizers have discussed the possibility that Karan Grover might present the document at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
The Birmingham Charter’s goals are ambitious, but that may be part of its appeal. “It’s a dad-gum ambitious goal to make Birmingham the sustainability center of the world, but I’m a big dreamer, too, and I want to support them and have Catalyst to support them,” Crispin Piazza says. She is co-chair, along with Gail Harper Yielding, of Catalyst’s sustainability committee,
“We need people to think big, and if you don’t it’s not going to happen,” Piazza says. “Here’s this guy [Smith] who has all these connections who can get all these world leaders in sustainability here. For Birmingham not to embrace this and take advantage of this would be a crying shame. It gives Birmingham a better image. It puts us on the world map.”
The Green Resource Center is located at 2564 18th St. South in Homewood. The event begins with networking at 6 p.m. Smith’s presentation, including a question-and-answer session, will begin at 6:30 p.m. For information, call (205) 257-2401.
For more about the Birmingham Charter and the planning sessions that took place in Birmingham from Sept. 25-27, and to see a copy of the organizers' first public statement, read How the Birmingham Charter could change the world, by Jesse Chambers and Madison Underwood.