I got into a heated conversation with a good friend.
She told me she read that Huntsville may soon pass Birmingham as the largest city in Alabama–and was sure Birmingham would soon be relegated to second place.
This made no sense to me.
Who really cares if the City of Huntsville is bigger than the City of Birmingham because Metropolitan Birmingham is nearly three times as large as Metropolitan Huntsville.
Huntsville’s not even in the same league as Birmingham.
U.S. Census 2013 estimate
Okay, the cities themselves are close in size–but that’s only because we in Jefferson County divide ourselves into 35+ separate municipalities. I’m not happy about our multiple municipalities, but Huntsville is still not Birmingham.
In 2000 Louisville, Kentucky became the last major city in the U.S. to consolidate county and city government. Louisville’s big motivation was that Lexington consolidated its government and Louisville was about to become the second largest city in Kentucky.
Birmingham did have an opportunity in the early ’70’s to be one great city–but we fumbled the ball.
Birmingham could have been the largest city in the South
In 1970 when Mayor Vann was promoting consolidating the City of Birmingham with its suburbs, he said…
“I have estimated the population of the area included at 550,000… I believe that this would make the City of Birmingham the largest city in the South and would really give new impetus with Atlanta, vis-à-vis airports and other issues.
I also feel that it would possibly make the (proposed) occupational tax unnecessary for the City of Birmingham.”
Vann’s ‘One Great City’ was defeated and the population of the City of Birmingham went into free-fall.
Birmingham’s population dropped 12% in the 60’s; 5% in the 70’s; 6% in the 80’s; 9% in the 90’s; and 12% in the 00’s.
It’s depressing that instead of Birmingham being one of the great cities of the South that we’re now debating whether we will be second in Alabama.
It’s not too late for Birmingham
Finally, in 2014 the population in the City of Birmingham reversed direction and had a slight increase.
Currently there are more than 2,000 residential units planned or under construction in downtown, Southside, and Parkside within the City of Birmingham.
Birmingham neighborhoods like Southside, Woodlawn, and Avondale are seeing a resurgence. There are even 30-60 new homes being developed in East Lake.
And even more amazing, we’re beginning to have a meaningful conversation about how we might improve our segmented/dysfunctional governance.
Quite frankly, the young generation of Birmingham is not going to stand for the backward white versus black/rich versus poor rhetoric of my generation.
The youth is our future.
Yes, if you look at a 20 year history of Birmingham’s loss of population and Huntsville’s growth, you might come to the conclusion that Birmingham is in trouble.
But we in Birmingham are in the process of turning ourselves around and the best is yet to come.
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David Sher is 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).