Bham Now got the chance to sit down with one of Birmingham’s most influential innovators this week at REV Birmingham’s downtown office. Read our interview with David Fleming who’s leading Birmingham’s urban revitalization!
What does REV Birmingham do?
“Our mission is to revitalize commercial districts across the city by creating vibrant spaces, filling vacant spaces, and creating sustainable businesses. It’s a blend of economic and community development.”
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job with REV?
“The most fun thing is trying to think outside the box about how we do what we do. With REV we try to break the mold and do something different.
We do a lot of creative demonstrations, placemaking projects, and pop-up shops to demonstrate the potential for urban vibrancy.
Those things are not only really fun and rewarding, but also impactful and meaningful because it changes peoples’ minds about a place or gets them interested in it.
Being a preservationist, one of the things that’s been most rewarding to me in the last few years has been to find adaptive reuses for these historic buildings that have been vacant for a long time like the Pizitz and the Thomas Jefferson building. It’s fun to see you do something that really leads to some positive impact.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on?
“We’ve partnered with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and were responsible for putting the rainbow tunnels downtown.
We’ve started Birmingham Restaurant Week to help celebrate Birmingham’s food scene.
And we’ve started the Woodlawn Street Market that helps bring local businesses to the public in Woodlawn.
What projects are you working on right now?
“Monday we announced we’re partnering with the Alabama Theatre on a project that has the potential for them to get a grant to do some preservation work. Hopefully, we can leverage our local efforts to get them some national funding for that.
We’re involved in bigger initiatives in the city like Innovate Birmingham which is trying to create a more tech business friendly city. Some exciting projects are going to be coming out of there.
Our Big Pitch competition is in November which is about driving people to become better potential entrepreneurs. Applications are open now!”
What would you tell someone who has never been to Birmingham to do if they have one day here?
“First I’d tell them they need to stay more than one day. I would certainly tell them to pick out some of the good restaurants. To understand the story of Birmingham they should go to Sloss Furnace, they should go to the Civil Rights Institute to understand the civil rights history.
They should also go to Vulcan to get the story of Birmingham. I’d tell them to explore some of our great new neighborhood streets like Avondale, 2nd Avenue North, and Pizitz Food Hall. If they can check out a show at the Alabama or Lyric theaters, they should definitely do that.
There’s always some interesting event going on. If somebody decided they are going to be bored here, they’re really not paying attention.”
What do you think Birmingham should do to keep improving?
“Twenty years ago it was very hard to find people with a whole lot of optimism about Birmingham. That’s completely turned on its head now. It’s a whole lot easier to get things going when people have a positive attitude and believe in its potential.
When Birmingham was founded in 1871, the city itself was an entrepreneurial venture. It was started because people wanted to make some money, they wanted to build an industrial city. We had iron, ore, coal, and limestone here but there wasn’t anything else, we didn’t even have a river. And they figured out how to make a city happen.
That whole first 30-40 years of Birmingham’s existence was very much a startup mentality about the city and about the possibilities. That’s what produced the Vulcan statue. It’s what produced a whole lot of the ‘Hey look at us we’re Birmingham’ mentality. Maybe that’s beginning to creep back into us a little bit and I hope that it keeps coming because we need that.”
How can Birmingham residents partner with REV to keep the positive momentum going?
“Campaigns like the one we’re doing with the Alabama Theatre is a big way. That benefits Birmingham more than it does us, so we need the people’s help.
And to continue to think positively. It’s a whole lot easier for us to do our jobs if there’s a positive feeling in the city. We all benefit working together more than apart.”