Atlanta more screwed up than Birmingham

I have mixed emotions about Atlanta.

There’s no doubt I feel a certain amount of envy —probably because I grew up in the ‘50’s when Birmingham and Atlanta were about the same size. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to Rickwood Field to root for the Birmingham Barons when we played the evil Atlanta Crackers in Southern League baseball.

It doesn’t make me feel any better that Atlanta is now home of the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Atlanta Falcons—while we’re thankful to have the Birmingham Barons.  To this day I refuse to pay money to support any Atlanta sports team.

Also many of my high school and college friends left for Atlanta– and my son, after graduating from Tulane, moved to Atlanta causing me to lose my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson to that competing city.

Of course, there’s no competition now—Metropolitan Birmingham’s population is about 1.2 million and Atlanta’s is over 5.5 million.

Jeffrey Bayer and I do a lot of speaking about regional cooperation/consolidated government—and without fail—someone throws it in our face that Atlanta doesn’t have a consolidated government—and they seem to be doing fine.

Of course, Atlanta got a new airport and huge growth in the ‘50’s and 60’s when it was much more unified and then momentum took over.

But the Atlanta region is not united now and is paying the price.

As detailed in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Metro Atlanta is a poster child of regional disharmony with 150 cities spread across 29 counties.

“Fulton County alone includes 14 cities, with largely white, Republican northsiders famously feuding with mostly black, Democrat southsiders. The city of Atlanta, with only 8 percent of the region’s 5.5 million people, doesn’t have the clout to unify the region.”

Atlanta citizens have divided into two camps: OTP—outside the perimeter and ITP—inside the perimeter.

The OTP-ITP split highlights a divided metro Atlanta and has created “a slew of serious economic, government, business, political, and environmental divisions (that) threaten to strangle the region’s growth, which lags that of several peer metro areas since the recession.”

“Tax breaks seduce corporations across county borders. The Braves quit Atlanta for an eager Cobb County and will leave a hole on the edge of downtown. A road-and-rail referendum to fix traffic fails miserably. A few inches of snow and ice deep freezes the fallacy of counties working together.”

Why would anyone in their right mind want to live in Atlanta?  It is too big, unwieldy, and totally out of control.  The quality of life there will only deteriorate.

Metropolitan Birmingham is lagging behind our peer cities, but as divided as we sometimes appear, we are a manageable size and with a little bit of effort, we could put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

I think you will agree that Birmingham’s a great place to live and raise a family.

I travel regularly to Atlanta, but my best view of Atlanta is through my rearview mirror as I drive back home.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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22 thoughts on “Atlanta more screwed up than Birmingham”

  1. David, As you may know, I moved here from Atlanta over 25 years ago. I moved for a job opportunity among other things. My wife, who is an Atlanta native, often comments that BHM reminded her of ATL when she was growing up. (I’m assuming she means the good thins.) People often ask how we could stand to live in ATL, but I enjoyed it. We were some of the ITP people and lived in a great neighborhood with sidewalks, street lights and neighborhood schools. I took MARTA to work downtown. We didn’t live in the whole city and were able to enjoy its many amenities.

    I’m not planning to go back to ATL. My adult children both live and work here and we do enjoy the smaller scale of BHM, but blanket statements about Atlanta’s poor quality of life are overblown, in my opinion. Each city has its pluses and minuses and are better suited for some more than others. If my situation caused me to go back, I wouldn’t dread the thought.

    BTW, it was the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern League and I went to see them at Ponce De Leon Park.

    1. Jim, I’m not near as anti-Atlanta as I’ve written, but I’ve listened to my friends and neighbors moan my entire life that it’s too bad Birmingham didn’t get the Atlanta airport–Atlanta has this and Atlanta has that. The point is, as you stated above, there are good and bad about every city. I strongly feel, however, that Birmingham is currently in a positon to have the opportunity to become a much more livable city and I wouldn’t trade places with Atlanta.

      You are exactly right about the Atlanta Crackers. It was the Memphis Chicks. I’ve corrected and thank you for bringing to my attention.

  2. This article irks me, it is nothing more than hating a city for arbitrary reasons that really have no merit. This makes as much sense as people and cities hating each other over sports preference.

    1. Michael, I know I said I didn’t like Atlanta–but I was really trying to make a point. I’m tired of many people always comparing Birmingham negatively to Atlanta. Both cities have a lot to offer–they are just different.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this depiction of both Atlanta and Birmingham. As someone who was born and raised in Atlanta, I agree that it is a huge and unwieldy city! Going anywhere is a trial that can take all day at times, depending on the destination. I can remember going to the mall with my mother as a child and spending several hours away from home, simply because it took that long to get to and from anywhere. And they lived (and still do live) inside the perimeter! When I was little I just assumed that it was normal not to leave your home after 5 o’clock; my parents (to this day) will not go out again once they’re home for the day. I’ve lived in Birmingham for ten years now, and I love that I can go out at night to run an errand and count on returning home in under an hour. That’s not something I could do if I lived with my family in Atlanta. Plus, with my salary the way it is now, I would have to live very FAR OTP if I expected to have anywhere near as much house as I have now in Five Points South. I’m so happy with the strides our little town has made in the last several years, as fractured as it is. Nowhere to go but up! 🙂 

  4. *I need some clarification.  While reading the comments on, someone stated that the picture of traffic is actually a picture of traffic in China.  Please clarify.

      1. I can assure you the included picture is not Atlanta. I would double check your hosting site to make sure the image is not used as satire before posting. 

  5. I really appreciated this article. Yes, there was a time I would “bow” up when Bham was considered low rent to Atlanta.  But now, it’s like “a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”……great entertaining goes on there cause it’s a BIG CITY. But like any other Big City, if you want to drive somewhere, you’ve got to account for traffic, and not only traffic, but always a wreck. By the time you get anywhere you’re stressed and then you know you’ve gotta fight it again on the way back. Things are happening in Bham in a slow but productive way. I don’t know if we’ll ever get an IKEA, but we’re getting a Trader Joe’s!  And maybe soon, we can hope for a Metro rail system so that people can get on at The Galleria and have dinner downtown and take in a show at The Lyric and ride back to their car at the Galleria. But if not, they certainly can get downtown in 20 mins by car instead of sitting for hours in traffic!

  6. *David,

    So your source was a single image found in google search or a very non-serious sophomoric blog that has little to do about Atlanta itself? That doesn’t indicate very much.

    I can tell you right now that is not Atlanta, along with Ben. The building style is wrong, the road style is wrong, the vegetation is completely wrong (even someone from Birmingham should catch that! We share that.) If there was a roadway that wide in Atlanta people would know exactly where that particular section was without thinking about it.

    Rather that is a meme photo that has been passed around online quite a bit. It can be found in a number of places and is often used for a road in China and even France. However, this photo is not from China. It is actually the I-405 in Southern California and it is heavily photoshopped. The width and the traffic is shows it completely fabricated. (Sorry Sandra, it wasn’t China afterall, but good catch nonetheless!)

    If you look at the very top of the photo you can see where the photoshopped freeway “merges” to the narrower real freeway. You can also see some blurred out signs that are replicated. One is on the right shoulder and the other is in the middle of the freeway. They copied the width of the freeway over. Many of the cars are even faked.

    Allow me to find another anonymous internet source that makes a slightly more convincing argument.

    This would seem to indicate that you are choosing poor sources online and I am now questioning how well you actually know the Atlanta area further beyond what you haven written.

    If you’re not as Anti-Atlanta as this sounds and your pro-Birmingham, I think you need to take a much better effort at drafting your arguments to fit that. You conclude with the sentence “Let’s turn Birmingham around,” yet you never discussed that in the least bit. You just wrote a piece seemingly critical of Atlanta in the face of its own success and it has little to nothing to do with Birmingham.

     I fully admit I am being a bit hard on you just because this was on, which should carry more stringent standards and editing than the typical wordpress blog, but I wish you and Birmingham the best of luck.

    1. Clay and Ben, you are not being too hard on me. I’m obviously a bit naive and made a mistake–which I hope to learn from. I have changed picture on site and will be much more careful in the future. It’s easy to find many pictures of Atlanta traffic that prove the point. Quite frankly, it never dawned on me that it wasn’t real. I promise to do better in the future.

  7. You’re going to hate. That still looks like Southern California.

    I’d say 8-9 out of ten on the google search you had is actually Atlanta. Most of Atlanta for some reason are going to be those larger angles that show the city. Much of that is because the biggest roadway (where 75 and 85 merge) cuts through the core of the city.

    fyi, sorry for not following the typical reply structure. For whatever reason it doesn’t seem to work for me.

  8. *I know your agenda is to have a unified metro government. You’ve got to realize there is a good reason why people live where they want to live. There is a reason you chose Vestavia and not downtown, Tarrant, Farfield, down 280, Shelby county, or anywhere else for that matter. It was your choice, just like everyone else has choices.

    One of the main reasons people have taken leave from Birmingham to the suburbs is government. Here are some headlines to remind you of the chaos that folks are trying to escape:

    Yes, every small town and suburb has issues, but remember there are reasons why people freely choose to leave the city limits of Birmingham.

    1. Johnny, Thanks for your feedback. You are absolutely correct that I think we need to consider some change to our government structure. I mention consolidation a lot because many of our successful peer cities have some sort of consolidation. Metropolitan Birmingham (7 counties) has less jobs than it did before the recession–while Nashville, Charlotte, Austin and others have double digit increases. Most people think that there is one type of consolidation. That is definitely not true. Charlotte did a ‘functional’ consolidation.’ The County does police and the City does fire (or vice versa)–but you don’t have both governments doing the same thing. Indianapolis consoidated its government, but left out schools.

      The one thing that people miss is that when you have a consolidated government that it is not simply the City taking over the government. You get to vote and I get to vote and government would look a lot different.

      Everyone still gets to live where they want to live and the government changes could be done in away to continue to have our distinct areas.

      Metropolitan Birmingham will never be competitive if there is no common vision for our region and if everyone continues to work against everyone else. This is important if you want to grow a business, increase jobs, or keep our children/grandchildren from moving away.

      Johnny, I welcome your comments and feedback

  9. David:

    I grew up in Birmingham myself and left Alabama when I was 20 to transfer to a design school in Ohio.  I never looked back.  I have lived in New Orleans, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Athens, GA as well as now in Atlanta.  They all are great cities in my opinion including Birmingham and they all have great potential.  They all have also gone through various levels of hardship and booms through the years.  

    One thing I would say is that Atlanta is often misunderstood.  It does have awful traffic and transportation but it also has 6 million people.  Honestly, I have been in worse traffic jams in New Orleans, especially because it is surrounded by water and there are only a few ways to get out!  But more importantly, Atlanta is the cultural Mecca of the South.  It is much more inclusive than people give it credit for.  Alabama should contemplate this, because it is woefully behind in the category, in my opinion.

    I live near Virginia Highlands with my girlfriend and there are some huge developments that are taking place in Atlanta that are currently making the city much more urban and in my opinion, livable.  I would go visit the Beltline if you have a chance, as well as surrounding developments, the Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market.  I am a landscape architect and I can attest that the city is having a park Renaissance and it is fueling millions in economic development similar to the developments of the Railroad Park but on a much larger scale.  A lot of cities will look to this as a successful example of connecting social and economic aspects of urban development.  So whether not you love or hate Atlanta it is what it is.

    1. Chris, so good to hear from you. I appreciate your perspective on Atlanta. The objective of is to begin a conversation about a better Birmingham. Birmingham has not been competitive with our once peer cities. This article is really not about Atlanta–it’s about metro Birmingham’s opportunity to prosper. The ‘meat’ of the piece are quotes from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I don’t know enough about the politics of Atlanta to have an opinion.

      Birmingham is going through a genuine renasissance. Birmingham has always had a great quality of life–now we are beginning to show some real spark. We’re just trying to hold onto our momentum.

  10. I understand the premise of the blog.  I guess my point is Atlanta gets a lot of misdirected hate but like you said, the two cities haven’t really been comparable since the 1950’s in terms of size.  Up until the early 2000’s, when I last lived in Birmingham, there was this crazy notion to build a domed stadium to compete with larger cities in the region.   Of course we all know how that turned out.  

    I think the greater point I want to make is that I suspect leaders in Birmingham have realized that competing with larger cities like Atlanta or even New Orleans is mostly futile.  Instead it is better to accept being a medium sized Southern city, have a minor league ball park, have walkable neighborhoods, have a welcoming small-business climate, etc.  This is the Chattanooga model in terms of urban design – banking on the good parts of the city that already exist instead of trying to constantly keep up with others.  I agree that Birmingham has hit a new stride (although there were small strides in the past) and I have been visiting more frequently with my girlfriend.  Birmingham has a great deal of opportunity to attract young folks from Georgia.  I hope that Birmingham establishes a strong identity like New Orleans and Nashville, which will bolster its attractiveness regionally.  That is one thing that Atlanta doesn’t always have.

  11. David,

    I am surprised at the negative commentary on your post, what’s the point
    of blogging if you cant share your experience? My family and I are <a href=>moving
    to Birmingham</a> in a month and we are actually really excited. I have
    read a couple posts on your blog so far and we were looking at some properties
    in Atlanta, even my sister used to live in Duluth and I really liked the area,
    but it was pretty congested.

    Alabama is a beautiful state and Birmingham (if you pick the right
    neighborhoods) can be a great place to raise a family, as ours is moving there
    for that very reason. We are looking for a city that still offers a decent
    amount of land and distance from neighbors and that was difficult to find at an
    affordable price in Atlanta, so we are happy with our decision.

    Thanks for all of the great posts and wonderful information. 

  12. As an Atlanta native, I would like to offer a compromise to soothe your need to dog instead of learn from a city. Let’s just agree that Birmingham doesn’t want to be Atlanta and Atlanta DEFINITELY doesn’t want to be Birmingham. I’m proud of this city. I applaud it’s growth and progressive, forward thinking. You have negated to look deeper at much pervasive reasons your city will never attract strong economic vitality…your politics. Alabama is a big negative for any corporations because of the circus your politicians are having. Atlanta is more than a city for most of us here. It is the representation that Southerners are just as intelligent and progressive in thought. Atlanta represents success…no matter which way you slice it. And now, most of us here are revelling in the massive growth over the past decade. We have our eyes more growth and are loving it. That means more jobs, higher salaries, a better life in a thriving metropolis. Comparing Atlanta with Birmingham is absurd.

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