Birmingham’s misfortune (and how we’re overcoming it)

Rickwood Field--the oldest baseball park in America
Rickwood Field–the oldest baseball park in America

Each year from 2002 to 2008 approximately 100 business and political leaders from Birmingham traveled to cities across the U.S.

The Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce BIG trips were designed to discover ideas that were successful in other cities that could be implemented here in Birmingham.

Much was learned, but every year we came home and lamented Birmingham’s stroke of misfortune.

Other cities are located near rivers, harbors, or other bodies of water.

If only Birmingham had a river!

So we asked the question, “What does Birmingham have that makes us different?”

Many cities were founded because of their rivers and waterways—Birmingham was founded because of the railroads.

Birmingham was incorporated on June 1, 1871, as the anticipated intersection of the North & South and Alabama & Chattanooga railroads.

Railroads are to Birmingham what rivers are to other cities.

We have a rich history of railroads—how were we to take advantage of that history?

Most of you will agree that the creation of Railroad Park was the primary catalyst that jump started Birmingham’s renaissance. (We even had an opportunity to add water)

Regions Field, hundreds of residential units, Publix, Rotary Trail, The Powell Avenue Steam Plant—all sprang out of Railroad Park.

Let’s build on Birmingham’s strengths

We may not have water, but we have other assets that are unique to Birmingham.

What do we have here that cannot be replicated?  Rickwood Field, the oldest surviving professional baseball park in America; Vulcan Statue, the largest cast iron statue in the world; Sloss Furnace, the first industrial site (and the only blast furnace) in the U.S. to be preserved and restored for public use.

You’re not going to find these gems in Nashville, Atlanta, or Charlotte.

We have Red Mountain Park with miles of scenic trails and historic mines; Barber Motorsports, which brings in visitors from around the world, and a one-of-a-kind dirigible mooring station at the top of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel.

We have the Civil Rights Institute, the Lyric Theatre, and the Alabama Theatre with the Alabama Walk of Fame (the “Hollywood Stars” on the sidewalk outside the Alabama Theatre).

Or how about The Club’s multicolored dance floor that inspired the famous Saturday Night Fever dance scene with John Travolta?

These attractions are Birmingham specific.  They are unique to Birmingham

Visitors come from all over the world to learn about UAB, Southern Research, and our Innovation Depot.

It was once suggested that Birmingham build an aquarium—but a Birmingham aquarium would never be able to compete with Chattanooga or Atlanta.

We’ve debated building a domed stadium, but that’s not a game we are going to win either.

What can we win?

What are our strengths?

How are we unique?

Please brainstorm your comments below.

That’s how we’ll overcome Birmingham’s stroke of misfortune.

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 Co-Founder 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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8 thoughts on “Birmingham’s misfortune (and how we’re overcoming it)”

  1. Our hilly terrain is a strength and we have parks that take advantage of this: Vulcan Park, Red Mountain Park, Ruffner Mountain, and Oak Mountain State Park. It is also what so many who move here love about our neighborhoods. We should look for opportunities to highlight and improve the views we have. Where could we create pocket parks with views?We should also clean up the Red Mountian Cut and possibly reopen the sidewalk on the cut that was created by the old Red Mountain Museum.

    Going against your usual theme, I think we should embrace the strength of having so many suburbs. The main strength is, “Government closest to the people governs best.” We have the closest thing you can have to public school choice because we have so many systems. This can also spur healthy competition between the systems. How do we harness that to improve Birmingham’s public schools? 

    I do, however, like your idea of a Jefferson County Mayor, a commissioner who would have to run in a countywide election and would serve as the head of the Jefferson County Commission. A leader in that position might be able to spur cooperation among our municipalities.

  2. *

    *All excellent points!   But the attractions the city has to offer can only take us so far.  Real, sustained and long term growth and prosperity can only come from significant changes to our city government and its ability to manage itself and its relationship with suburban governments.  The city needs to foster positive and productive relationships with all the surrounding suburbs in order to maintain the current momentum we are experiencing, as well as to create a business friendly environment to fuel business development within the city limits.  A centralized county/city government would go along way towards that end…..

  3. *Unfortunately situations like John Archibald described last Sun in the News absolutely do not help.  We simply have to get beyond those attitudes.  Apparently that is not going to be easy.

  4. *We have an abundance of art, artists and literary culture here (as well as the South in general). We need to take advantage of that strength with more public art. Some cities (like Austin) have a requirement that a new development must have a public art component–something I gleaned on the one of the BIG trips! “By ordinance, 2% of eligible capital improvement project budgets are allocated to commission or purchase art for that site.”  The result is a fascinating city to explore!

  5. *Two things need to be done and this city will become the greatest on earth – Completely wipe the Birmingham Business Alliance off the map and replace it with people who actually give a damn about the city of Birmingham. Secondly, vote out all 9 city council members and the mayor. When those things occur, nothing will be able to stop the Birmingham momentum train.

    1. I would like to see the unused rail lines through out the city turned into walking paths or parks maybe linked together so people can enjoy in their neighborhoods an nature

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