Talking About Safety in Birmingham: Residents React to Recent Downtown Incidents

'People who live here are probably not the ones who get into fights,' educator says.

This story is part of a series on downtown Birmingham that explores issues raised by recent incidents, as well as the city's response to them.

An emotional subject — downtown comfort on weekend evenings — has fueled many conversations among families, friends, merchants and neighbors in Birmingham these days.

Incidents drawing police attention have prompted several discussions about community identity, business mix and nightlife regulation. The dialogue — at a city commission meeting, in Patch comments, across tables — is sparked partly by a two-week series of events:

  • .
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  • A credit card theft April 8 at , followed by .
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Concerns also involve clusters of young people crowding sidewalks near theaters, coffeehouses and ice cream shops, an annual warm weather issue. "I'm definitely in favor of a curfew for teens," resident Lisa Kelley, 38, said in the comment roundup below.         

Birmingham Patch asked dozens of community members to discuss the situation and its impact for a weeklong series on safety in downtown Birmingham.

Because city officials are addressing these issues by expanding police patrols, limiting valet parking hours and considering steps involving liquor licenses, they're not part of this series. But you can be heard by posting a comment.          

Rick Haglund: 'There should be a broader community discussion'

Haglund is a veteran Michigan business journalist who contributes to Bridge magazine and Mlive.com.

My wife and I are generally concerned about the incidents in downtown Birmingham. We're not ones to regularly hang out downtown on Friday and Saturday nights, but will probably be even less inclined to do so now.

On the other hand, it seems like there have been a weird confluence of events that have probably made things look worse than they are — such as the woman shooting off a gun (near) South and the kid from Troy deciding to openly carry a gun in Birmingham to see what kind of reaction he would get.

This is one of the downsides of having a downtown that gets a reputation for having a lively weekend nightlife. Royal Oak, Ferndale and downtown Detroit have similar issues. I think city officials and bar owners should have a serious discussion on measures that can be taken to keep things safe in the central business district.

I also think there should be a broader community discussion on determining the best mix of business types and activities downtown. We're all proud of our community and its amenities, and want to maintain them.

Mary Ryan Taras: 'Time to take back the streets'

Taras is a 72-year-old former social studies teacher who retired during the late 1990s after 32 years with . She teaches part time at Oakland Community College.

Is Birmingham being built by community members? Because if it is, then the downtown area should be in line with the values of the community. What has happened is that the developer interests and an interest in making Birmingham a destination have begun to overshadow the values of the community.

So we build these big structures, such as the , which Birmingham doesn't have enough people to fill. These are not consonant with community values. These are dissonant, and this is a problem.

I can't see how it helps the shopping area and those little boutiques to have bars where people get drunk and go out and get into fights. And people who live here are probably not the ones who get into fights.

If it's a destination for people to come, where is their commitment to the community? Where is their contribution to the community?

I'm willing to trade off. Birmingham need not be insular, but we need a civil, safe society here. That's the major point I was trying to make (in comments) at the April 9 city commission meeting.

We need a community conversation with the city commission. I'm not sure the commission understands the depth of resentment about changes that alter the values of the community. Sometimes it's useful to marry perceptions with reality.

I got a call from one neighbor who said, "Mary, I think it's time to take back the streets. All of us old folks out to just go uptown and hang out." I agree — we should hang out in front of South Bar and the Palladium. How cool would that be — though we'd have to bring lawn chairs because who wants to stand?  

Lisa Kelley: 'We are definitely worried'

Kelley, 38, is raising children ages 5 and 7 with her husband Richard in the northeast-side neighborhood.

This actually was a hot topic recently among myself, my husband and some friends. We are definitely worried about the increasing level of crimes happening downtown on the weekends.

On the one hand, it doesn't affect us too much since we have small children and don't go out as much. On the other, it is an issue that sometimes affects our decision on where to go out when we get the chance. I love going to the movies, but I'm more apt now to choose one at the smaller over the Palladium on weekend nights. I also prefer restaurants out of the main downtown areas, like , since parking is usually available close to it and crowds are (smaller) and more adult.

I'm definitely in favor of a curfew for teens. I would even be in favor of a midnight closing hour for all bars and restaurants.

I'm sure this wouldn't be popular with the under-30 non-parent crowd (and most of the bars and restaurants), but let them head to Royal Oak or Ferndale for the after-hours parties.

We have good friends who live in East Grand Rapids and we often compare it to Birmingham. East Grand Rapids has a smaller downtown, but overall they are very similar economically and demographically. That city has none of the problems Birmingham is facing. The reason? Everything closes at 11 p.m.

Trust me, my friends in East Grand Rapids are not lacking in party time. They are probably just a much more well-rested bunch!

About the Series

Residents, business owners and visitors to Birmingham have an interest in feeling safe in the city. This Patch series explores the voices of those who live, work and run the city of Birmingham., We hope it fosters a dialogue that illustrates issues and explores possible solutions.


A dialogue cannot be one-sided. Please add your thoughts below or contact editor Laura Houser at laura.houser@patch.com, or call her at 248-534-9780, if you would like to contribute to this series.

J Peter April 24, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Well written article and some good perspectives. My view is that a few late night bars create visible incidents that draw damaging publicity to the town. These bars are South, Chen Chow and Hamilton Room. Based on the poor publicity alone, I'm not supportive of their business as a Birmingham resident. Beyond the poor publicity, these bars serve as trouble magnets that attract a rougher crowd at the weekend (evidenced by crime data in the city). Even if those people come in early, it's with a view to ending up partying at South et all. Take away the magnets, and the trouble will go elsewhere. It's not that difficult. However, it's hard to have a decent dialog on the subject when the PR machines (particularly of South) litter these boards with baiting comments that suggest you are anti-business, racist, elitist or irrational if you don't support their business. I'm none of those things; I just don't want late trouble spots in a town where I'm trying to raise my kid safely. I understand the need to protect an investment, but I'm hoping the city eventually puts the community first on this one.
Alan Stamm April 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
This comment today from an ex-resident in Florida is excerpted from a Birmingham nostalgia group's Facebook wall: "I haven't visited Birmingham in sixteen months, but I have seen the Palladium and my past teacher Mary Ryan Taras is right. There is a tendency toward bigness when 'big' doesn't necessarily mean better. "And where the bars and clubs are concerned . . . Dick O'Dow's, where people gather for good conversation in the spirit of a true neighborhood pub, is more like Birmingham." -- Wes Borucki | Boynton Beach, FL (Associate professor of history at Palm Beach Atlantic University | Seaholm Class of '88)
Keepin' It Classy April 24, 2012 at 06:59 PM
J Peter made a very good comment, and this point "these bars serve as trouble magnets that attract a rougher crowd at the weekend" is disputed. The incident with the South Bar patron fired gunshots occured on week night (MONDAY, April 2). The bars attract the rougher crowds any given day of the week. Alarmingly, Monday's are the days that South Bar promotes family nights with cheap $2.99 "all kids can eat" meals. Safety for the children are a concern. Let's not forget that the South's pistol packing patron that who fired the gunshots, it has been reported, is a 29 year old mother of 4. So even on "family nights", evidently, a rougher family crowd is attracted to South. Besides the crowd issue, a sign that read "free beer" erected at South Bar spawned multiple violations not only with Birmingham ordinances but with the Michigan Liquor Control, and the issue arose on a Wednesday. The bad news with the bars, therefore, is not isolated to weekends. That being said, J Peter's post is on target.
Alan Stamm April 24, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Actually, the April 2 incident occurred shortly after the end of a "South Sundays" event that began at 10 a.m. April 1 and wrapped at 2 a.m. Monday. South doesn't host a dance party on Monday through Thursday nights. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Kathy Cleary April 25, 2012 at 07:48 AM
I would to connect with Ms. Taras again. I had her for US History and she had a big impact on my life. I rember she had a board game called something like "Life in the Ghetto". I had just come from England and she got me involved in local and national politics (i graduated in '79 so she had me working on the '76 campaign. She always told us she had 2 choices of majors at U of M as a woman - teaching or nursing. I went to U of M and studied Chinese Politics and Society. She reafirmed my feminist back ground. I could go on and on! Thanks Ms. Ryan Taras - Kathy Cleary (kept my name bit have been married 26 years). Class of '79 / i hope this gets to you!


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