Alablawg

Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Race Baiting?

Is George Barber taking lessons from Richard Scrushy?

"Shortly after the federal investigation exposed the fraud at HealthSouth, Scrushy began attending Guiding Light Church, a predominately black congregation, and he made a barnstorm circuit of black churches in the Birmingham, leaving conspicuous donations wherever he went." (The quote is from this story, which also includes details on Scrushy's pay for favorable articles deal with a local African American paper.) The goal, perhaps successful, was to influence the jury pool.

Now for Mr. Barber. He decided it would be a grand idea to blow up his house and replace it with a gated community featuring several smaller houses and a large condominium. Problem is the location is in the middle of Redmont which is an historic neighborhood of single family homes on top of Red Mountain. Now these are large homes, created back in the day by B'ham's robber barrens. Though conceived in iniquity, the neighborhood is a very nice place. Not just for those who live there, but for anyone who wants to walk its curving shaded streets, enjoy the panoramic city views, and admire the beautiful homes. The neighbors opposed the condo.

Mr. Barber's neighbors argued to the city council that the condo would ruin the neighborhood's character. It would also increase the risk of flooding from runoff. And there was serious concern that the mountain could not support the complex, so that the whole thing would some day end up at the foot of the mountain in Southside. In a rare moment of lucidity, the council agreed with the neighbors and denied the zoning variance Mr. Barber needed for the condo.

Today, however, I read in the B'ham news that Mr. Barber's assistant, Don (Smithers) Erwin, is still out hawking the idea. He did so at a Druid Hills neighborhood association meeting. Druid Hills is on the opposite side of the city from Redmont. It is African American while Redmont is white. It is economically challenged while Redmont is home to old money.

Am I just cynical or is anyone else connecting these dots? Did the presentation tell these folks what a wonderful thing Mr. Barber wanted to do, but that he was prevented by all these selfish rich white folks? That white folks have been ruining African American neighborhoods for years and its time to strike back?

Who knows. I just hope all of Birmingham's neighborhoods and the city council understand that destroying neighborhoods - any neighborhoods - is no way to build a city. It doesn't matter if its plowing up a black neighborhood to make room for a highway, or putting a condominium in the middle of a white neighborhood of single family homes. They are all bad ideas. No one wants to live in and commit to a city where they have to constantly fear the wrecking ball.