I walked into the restaurant and ran into an old Mountain Brook friend.
He greeted me with, “There’s David Sher, Mr. Birmingham–who’s always pushing for metropolitan government…
…You know when that will happen–when hell freezes over!”
Unexpectedly, the guy who was with him, commented, “I lived in Indianapolis when it combined county and city government–it was the best thing that ever happened to Indianapolis.”
I wanted to ask my Mountain Brook friend a question, but he was gone before I had the opportunity.
Here’s the question I would have asked…
Where are your children and grandchildren?
Of course, I know the answer.
His children moved away when they left for college and didn’t come back.
Here are those dreaded words parents don’t want to hear…
“Mom and dad, I’ve graduated college and I’m moving to (fill in the blank). Birmingham seems to be doing better, but it doesn’t offer me the job opportunities I’m looking for.”
It hurts when we lose our children and grandchildren to cities often thousands of miles away.
How did this happen to us?
Alabama is one of only a few states that allows municipalities of 5,000 people or more to establish their own school system–most states mandate county schools.
So when our federal government began enforcing school desegregation in the ’50’s, there was a rush in our Birmingham region to split apart and create municipalities with separate schools.
In 1959 Homewood and Mountain Brook had an opportunity to stop the flight from our city, but both voted not to become a part of Birmingham.
Actually, Homewood voted in favor of being a part of Birmingham, but that election was voided by a technicality. It failed the second time and Mountain Brook’s referendum was defeated also.
But community leaders didn’t give up and another effort was attempted in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to create “One Great City.”
A consolidated Birmingham would have become the largest city in the South, eliminated duplicate services, and allowed existing municipalities to retain some autonomy and identity.
Existing school districts would have been allowed to remain independent under local boards of education, supported by taxes within the jurisdiction of each system.
The legislation was killed by suburban members of the Jefferson County Mayors’ Association.
Our region is losing 25-34 year olds
According to the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ), “Between 2011 and 2015, our seven county metro area lost 3 percent of its population between the ages of 25 and 34, while nationally, the age group grew by 6 percent. The reason? Job scarcity is driving many of our young people and others to nearby Nashville and Atlanta, for better employment and higher salaries.”
Our region is not growing jobs
Many millennials interviewed by the Birmingham Business Journal envision they will leave Birmingham because of job and career opportunities that don’t exist here.
So please enjoy your children while they are young because most likely they will pack up and leave when they find it necessary to earn a living.
It’s ironic our children will leave our excellent schools and neighborhoods we’ve worked so hard to create.
We don’t have to give up our schools
Large unified urban school systems don’t work anywhere and no option being considered would involve the dissolution of our existing school systems.
Yes, my friends in Mountain Brook, Vestavia, Trussville, and suburbs everywhere, we have provided great schools for our children.
Too bad we’re losing those children.
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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).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org