Reality of perception

Madam, may I escort you to your vehicle?

The City Action Partnership (CAP) is the uniformed security force which patrols a section of downtown Birmingham, in cooperation with the Police Department. Due in large part to their effort, crime within their service area is down 67% compared to 1995 (when CAP was formed); their area is safer (in terms of violent crimes) than the wealthy suburbs of Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook. Property owners within the CAP district pay $1 for every $1000 of assessed value to fund the non-profit organization; besides security patrols, the CAP guys provide escort, tire-changing, left-the-key-in-the-car door opening, and other  great services to any worker, resident, or visitor in the district–free of charge. Modeled on similar security forces in other US cities (pretty much every major city has this sort of thing), CAP feels like a win-win for everyone downtown. Levels of security have not only objectively increased, but the perception of security (often even more important than the reality) has increased dramatically in surveys of people’s opinion of downtown.

Smart move to expand the range of these handy trucks

When CAP was formed, its district was aligned with major corporate and governmental entities to primarily serve a 9-5 business community (see the map of the current district). Downtown has changed in the last 15 years–and with thousands of new residents calling it home, CAP is proposing to increase its boundaries to better serve these new residents, and the businesses that have accompanied them. The new expansion would move east to add about 8 square blocks to the exiting 80-plus. Despite the relatively small size, it’s been hard to line up support because the effort involves obtaining consent of individual condo owners and small landholders, which is very time-consuming. At this point, CAP has collected support representing 60% of total expansion area land value, with the goal being 67% (as mandated by law). How to get the remaining 7%? There are 4 major holdouts, briefly examined below.

Sidebar: Is the use/parking of Lindsey golf carts really kosher on downtown sidewalks?

First, Lindsey Furniture, the office furniture business which owns numerous properties downtown, including in the 2200 block of First Avenue North, above. In one sense the most understandable of the holdouts–they are a conventional, 9-5 business–still, their employees and customers would benefit from CAP services.

The tenants say yes, but the owner says no

Next is Crook Realty, again the owner of numerous downtown properties which house popular destinations in the expansion district such as Pale Eddie’s and Rogue Tavern, above. While all of the tenants have said “yes” to wanting CAP service–a no-brainer for keeping their late-night patrons feeling secure and happy–thus far the landlord has said no.

Maybe the thinking will turn

Residents would ostensibly benefit the most from CAP services–they are frequent users of streets and sidewalks in the area, they are walking their dogs in the evening, etc. Oddly, the final two major holdouts both have ties to the residential community–the first being the Ticheli family, which owns properties in the area, and developed the Gallery Lofts, above (seen in the 200 block of 24th Street North).

Bucking the tide, for now

The Avenues, a rental apartment property shown above, was developed by the Morrow family (2300 block of First Avenue North). So far they’ve not supported a “yes” for expansion. Understanding all the benefits to their residents will hopefully change their minds.

A positive response from any two of the above four would put CAP over the 67% threshold. The relatively small amount of money required to fund the expansion is well worth the increase in security–real and perceived–as well as all the other services that come with it. CAP, and volunteers working with them, would be very appreciative if these major holdouts came around, as would the rest of us who’ve voted “yes” to support this great initiative (the other remaining holdouts are very small, often without published phone numbers or other info, so it would be much more difficult to reach the threshold that way). Onward and upward with increased CAP coverage–integral to a more vibrant city center!

[thanks to CAP for the escort image]

10 responses to “Reality of perception

  1. BTW, if you visit their web site you will find a map of the area they are seeking to expand into.

  2. Why exactly are these people opposed to the expansion?

    • From my understanding, they just don’t want to chip in the assessment in return for the services: they don’t see it as worth it. Plenty of others along the way were initially skeptical, but then became convinced once they fully understood the benefits. Hopefully at least two of the 4 major holdouts will change their minds so CAP can start its patrol. Thanks.

  3. No brainer, indeed. Maybe younger more enlightened members of each family will be able to positively encourage their clans to agree to the expanded coverage area. After all, they stand to benefit from an extra layer of protection for their properties and patrons.

    All these little successes add value and desirability to the heart of the state.

  4. If I may add, the attitude of these “one percent” families is so typical: They have no compunction to aid in the civic life of our nation (certainly not in Birmingham itself), then turn around and try to undermine the government policies that The People (non-neighbors or country club members, essentially) desire; those policies that add value to the community.

    Fortunately, this mindset is becoming increasingly intolerable by everybody else.

    • Well, it may be more complex than this. These particular families are not necessarily “1%” type families, or they may have a mix of generations in an ownership position making it difficult to come to a single decision. And in my opinion, some of the current “no” votes are actually “maybes” that could be converted to a “yes” with some persuasion. So I remain optimistic!

  5. Kudos for calling them out in public.

  6. I support the idea … but it makes me sad. Not because there’s a need for protection, etc. That’s just life in a city. I love life in cities.

    “…pretty much every major city has this sort of thing….” Well, I guess that in the cities I’ve lived in previously, they’re called the police. What makes me sad is that we live in an area in which what should be payed for by public money has to be supplemented by voluntary contributions. And no one even mentions it. I’m going to say it: Taxes are fundamental to civilized life.

    • Interesting point. I think a lot of us wish the regular police were able to handle all security items. But, remember something: CAP (and I’m not sure which other cities you’ve lived in, but I believe 49 out of the largest 50 cities in the US have at least one program like this–New York and others have many) doesn’t replicate police services. They provide services that the police have never offered (except maybe in Mayberry!) like escort, changing tires, etc. At a relatively low cost, they’ve done much more for the security (real and perceived) for urban neighborhoods than adding regular police could accomplish. Taxes ARE fundamental to civilized life. In an era where new taxes are hard to raise for this sort of initiative, the CAP funding mechanism is really a local tax. Same as asking the public to vote on a new one, really. Thanks for your comments.

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