Birmingham Metropolitan Audit

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The Birmingham Metropolitan Audit was a "management audit" conducted by survey to investigate the the status of community interests and public institutions in Birmingham. Howard Bowles, President of the Southern Institute of Management in Louisville, Kentucky, proposed the undertaking to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1958. Sponsored locally by Sidney Smyer, James Head, Lewis Heffers and Joseph Johnston, it aimed to present a "total analysis" of the contemporary community as a basis for "non-political" plans of action.

The surveys began that July and were followed by more in-depth interviews which led to a number of preliminary reports on particular topics being released in 1960, but no final report was ever published. Among the preliminary releases was a general report on "The Personality of Birmingham" which attempted a kind of psychoanalytic profile of the city as reflected through the survey and interview process. The report made note of a strong sense of inferiority and defensiveness which marked almost all the respondents' attitudes when speaking of Birmingham.

Preliminary reports

  1. "Research and Procedural Description", described the methodology of the audit, insisting that its conclusions were "findings", supported by data, rather than opinions or judgements.
  2. "The Personality of Birmingham", found Birmingham residents to tend toward defensiveness and negative attitudes, concluding that the city suffered an "uncertainty of self and others." It tentatively ascribed this attitude to the city's youth and the historical context in which it was built and suggested ways to overcome such negativity by the aggressive application of community planning.
  3. "The Leadership of Birmingham", a profile of 126 white civic leaders found that the vast majority were interested in accumulating personal wealth and prestige. It suggested that a process be designed by which they could settle their attentions on specific major community goals so as best to utilize their leadership potential.
  4. "The People of Birmingham", described the rapid growth of the city since 1900 and the proportionally large African American population (40% in 1950 and growing). It also found that the city had the highest proportion of any large American city of single-family dwellings, though a similarly high percentage of those were in dilapidated condition.
  5. "Education in Birmingham", found a troubling lack of concern for basic education, even among those with vested interests. It found that public spending per pupil was abysmal when compared to other cities and that the difference was chiefly in local levies. It also found teacher's salaries to be embarrassingly low. Nevertheless, it recommended that much improvement could be made through gains in efficiency as lack of funds was often given as an excuse for what was in fact poor management. The report also noted the fact that despite the economic base of the city in metallurgy, no accredited public engineering or science programs were offered in the area.
  6. "The Arts in Birmingham", found the city's few strengths to lie in the visual arts, music and theater. It made note of the valuable public collection at the Wells Museum of Art and found a number of painters eking out poor livings. It praised the musical culture of the city and also found high quality among the city's six theatre groups, but suggested that fewer companies would serve the city as well. Conversely the study found no literary tradition native to Birmingham, mentioning only Octavus Roy Cohen as being of historical note. It concluded that the city was actively improving upon what had long been a barren art scene, but that artistic culture remained "drab in every respect."
  7. "Religion in Birmingham", verified that Birmingham is a city of churches with over 700 in the city almost all enjoying high attendance. The great amount of church construction was counted a weakness, however, as more efficient use could be put to a smaller number of structures by alternating days of worship. The report found that Birmingham residents place great stock in personal morality, but that the city's congregations, on the whole, failed to engage community-wide moral issues (notably, segregation).
  8. "Government in Birmingham", characterized the city's government as efficient and uncorrupt, but also unimaginative and ill-prepared for growth. Law enforcement was found to be very effective in preventing crime and violence in the city, including social strife that might arise from "the integration issue". The city was found to be in neat and trim order with an excellent fire department, public health system, parks and recreation centers. It did point out the inherent inefficiency in having 34 municipal governments all acting alongside a county government and recommended that enormous benefits could accrue from merging them.
  9. "Politics in Birmingham", found that citizen involvement in political action was weak, but also marked by less corruption than in comparable cities.
  10. (not released)
  11. "Sociological, Recreational, Health and Medical Services in Birmingham", found an unusually high rate of illegitimate births and questioned whether the city's liberal public health and welfare systems were supporting those "unfortunates". It found the city's recreational facilities to be comparable to those of other cities, despite the frequent complaint of "too little to do". The city was fortunate to benefit from the state's medical center, but still needed improvements in care for the indigent and victims of highway accidents.
  12. "Communications in Birmingham", was complimentary of the city's newspapers. It found the programming on the city's 11 AM and 4 FM radio stations to be wholly "unimaginative and unconstructive" and found the television offerings in the city not to exceed the standard, with the exception of educational programming, which was credited as being a remarkable accomplishment.
  13. "Natural Resources and Transportation in Birmingham", acknowledged the abundance of mineral resources supporting of the city's economic activity. It sharply criticized the glacial pace of highway building, warning of "civic arteriosclerosis" which had too rarely been avoided in growing cities. It found public transportation to be adequate and a small proportion of the area to be suitable for intensive agriculture.
  14. "Business, Finance and Economics in Birmingham", expressed a need for improvements in labor relations, recounting the city's history of strikes and shutdowns (which produced 371,000 idle man days for the period from 1953 to 1957, third-highest in the US). Banking services and investment capital were found to be adequate to the expected overall growth of the business sector.

References

  • Southern Institute of Management (1960) "The Birmingham Metropolitan Audit: Preliminary Report. Louisville, Kentucky: Southern Institute of Management
  • Johnston, Joe F. (January 1961) "The Birmingham Metropolitan Audit — The Psychoanalysis of a City." Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 2, pp. 7-13