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.
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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).