The dreaded words Mtn. Brook and Vestavia parents don’t want to hear

Old Mill in Mountain Brook
Old Mill in Mountain Brook

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

Over the past decade Metro Birmingham lost an average of 2.79 jobs a day ranking  102nd out of the 106th largest metro areas in private-sector job losses.

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.

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).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham.

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19 thoughts on “The dreaded words Mtn. Brook and Vestavia parents don’t want to hear”

  1. All great points. Thank you for the piece. But we are still waiting for you point out the number one reason why there are fewer jobs in the metro compared to 2007. You know it, I know it, anyone who gives a damn about Birmingham knows it. The Birmingham Business Alliance is a weak, pathetic organization that has the third highest paid non-profit dictator in the state, while it stands idly creating ZERO jobs in Birmingham.

    When will you point out that since Brian Hilson – the lifelong Huntsville transplant – became CEO of the BBA, that Birmingham has lagged behind every other southeastern city in terms of job creation? When will you interview Brian Hilson and ask him where the BBA’s incredibly bloated budget goes? When will you ask him what return the city of Birmingham receives on its substantial annual investment in the BBA? When will you ask him why company after company, startup after startup, entrepreneur after entrepreneur all cite a lack of support from the BBA, a lack of desire from the BBA to attract and retain businesses, and a lack of even a shred of a backbone from the BBA?

    When will you ask him why the BBA did NOTHING to support ride-sharing in Birmingham? When will you ask him why they immediately denounced the killing of UAB football only to reverse stance 2 days later, anoint Watts Chairman less than a week later, and now a second time? When will you ask him why this line of text of on the BBA website, when it is 100% false – “The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) works tirelessly on regional cooperation between our elected leaders and business leaders to move this region forward.” When will you ask him to be accountable for the farcical 5-year, 10-year plans, blueprints, et al and show how many milestones and goals the BBA actually missed? Hint: Almost all of them.

    In fact Mr. Sher, you at one point in time started to truly become the voice we need and call out the BBA for its pathetic silence regarding ANY issue on which the business community could actually make this a world class city. In this very column in 2013, you wondered why the BBA refused to take a stand against ALDOT and its shortsighted 20/59 plan:

    “And you may be wondering why a poll by the BBJ shows 85% of business people against the development, and yet the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) remains silent?” – David Sher

    The fact is that the Birmingham Business Alliance and Brian Hilson are as guilty or more guilty than any other entity in holdign Birmingham back. Yes the Birmingham city leadership is wretched. Yes the state hates Birmingham. Yes, there needs to be more regional cooperation. But almost none of that would matter if the business community gave a damn about Birmingham and put even a fraction of its weight behind truly worthwhile initiatives. We have non-profits relying on peanuts from individuals creating more jobs, transforming more city blocks and turning more hollow buildings into revenue generating businesses in 1 year than the BBA does in 5.

    Why don’t you truly do the region a service and dig a little deeper into the questions you began to ask on July 23, 2013? Instead of telling us how we need regional cooperation, tell us HOW LITTLE THE BIRMINGHAM BUSINESS ALLIANCE has done to promote regional cooperation, to create jobs, and to improve the city.

  2. Birmingham Only makes very good points and I found his editorial very enlightening as a transplant from the Chicago area. We moved here for my husband’s job that is with a national company that has had it’s corporate headquarters here forever. As a transplant it is my observation that a good bit of the reason that Birmingham had the growth that Nashville and Atlanta have had is because many of the “old south” residents don’t really want it. We can talk all we want about what the BBA is or isn’t doing, but until you get the residents of the area to be brave and step out of their archaic comfort zone and embrace a little bit of change, none will happen.

  3. I’m from Bessemer and when I uttered those “dreaded words” to my mother, she told me, “Go! Bessemer can have a mean grip on you.” She encouraged me to leave so that I would have more opportunities. Once I experienced the diversity of the DC/MD/VA area, I knew that I found my new home. I felt more freedom from that “mean grip” my mom referenced. I guess it is a matter of perspective. Depending on where you live in the area, getting out is the goal.

    1. Tonya, obviously the objective is to build a community where young people can envision and live their dreams. That’s what we should be doing in our Birmingham region.

      1. I’ve tried so hard to find the silver lining in Birmingham and Hoover, but I realized that this area is just a place to live and die. Having a business here is almost pointless as there are way better areas with more customers. Birmingham is smoking some old drug that can’t be purchased anymore, but somehow its lingering smoke is still giving people contact highs. You have to take this area for what it is, a place to live and die. I would love to say that it’s affordable, but our soon to burst real estate bubble in places like bluff park and homewood make home prices disgusting and help ensure that the people who own them will be trapped in their jobs instead of helping create new ones. It’s a dillusional death race. Unless we unify and focus on the essentials together.

  4. It has been 5 years and still no plan from anyone at Comeback Town. Mr. Sher, put a plan together and meet with business & civic groups of the region. Then present your plan to Birmingham & surrounding suburb city councils. I’m beginning to think you have no plan nor do you any desire to share with your Vestavia city council.

  5. People in Mountain Brook and Vestavia see a unified government looking and acting like the Birmingham Water Works Board. They also see their children’s schools being redirected to accommodate the lowest common denominator and generally going to hell in a hand basket. Better for your kids to get a good education and move away, maybe to move back, than get a lousy education and not have the option of moving away. Face it, any local government is going to be a reflection of a majority of its electorate and the aggregated gene pool in the Birmingham metro area is not the same as that of Nashville or Indianapolis.

    1. Louis, I hear you, but keep in mind there are about 650,000 people in Jefferson County and about 210,000 in the City of Birmingham. Currently, you and I can’t vote. Regional governance would look a lot different than current city government. Also, as the article states, there is no option being considered that would combine schools. That would never work. You might consider reviewing, Mt. Brook & Vestavia don’t have to give up their schools for a better Birmingham: According to an article in the BBJ this week, Jefferson County is projected to grow 1.4% to 2040. We are losing our children, our businesses, and our jobs. That’s not okay.

      1. But if you lived in the city of Birmingham, you could vote and you could make a difference. As it stands , your credibility withers each day you remain in Vestavia.

        1. Birmingham Only, you and I could both vote if we had a regional government–then we could both make a difference for what is now the City of Birmingham and for our suburbs.

  6. Please don’t think consolidation is the answer to any problems. I live in Jacksonville, FL and consolidation has made a mess of this city. Everyone simply fled to nearby counties find a good school system, and with so many competing interests, residents don’t rally behind any type of urban redevelopment. We would love to have the growth and city pride that Birmingham is enjoying.

    1. LWS, our Birmingham region is not growing in jobs or population. The Birmingham Business Journal published last week that Jefferson County Alabama where Birmingham is located is projected to grow 1.4% over the next 23 years. (not 1.4% per year) Birmingham metro area has fewer people working today than 10 years ago. We are considering several options for our government structure–none involve a unified school system–which is why there has been flight from Jacksonville schools.

  7. It seems Millennials (people in their teens through their early 30s) are drawn to cities that offer a sense of ‘authenticity’:

    It can be intimidating for young people to find authenticity in a city where “who’s your daddy?” is the most important question. Inbred mindsets die hard in such cities, and the price is stagnation and youth migration. Good ideas and innovation are the spawn of a diversity of thought.

  8. I was going to ask what are the benefits to those of us who already live in Birmingham city proper. Then I read the following…

    Cities competing(wasting money) against each other to that degree is ridiculous. The combined 66 million earmarked for Walmart & Trinity Medical Center could have gone to much better uses. As far as I’m concerned those savings alone are enough to put the idea of consolidation on the table.

    That said I still have a major concern as pertains to policing. As someone who has grown up in the city(east lake area) I’ve had relatively pleasant encounters with Birmingham PD. This is in part due to substantial amounts of officers/leadership being from around their themselves and knowing the people/spots. In the same way that people in the suburbs have no desire to consolidate school systems I have no desire to consolidate police departments.

    Though to be fair I’ve had no real problems with police in the surrounding metro either.

    To be clear I’m not interested in diluting the vote those of us who live in the city currently have; but I’m highly interested in creating an extra “metro level” governance layer for big projects that require more coordination with all parties in the metro.

    I’m currently down here in Auburn where I moved for University. I plan to move back home to Birmingham after my online business becomes profitable enough for me to finish off my senior year of software engineering. Y’all keep the city warm for me!

  9. I’m sorry, but looking to government to solve issues is the problem. Trying to dilute the corruption in Birmingham government by rolling it out to external areas (regional planning) will only spread the disease. Aside from the “a rising tide raises all boats” mentality, what do Mountain Brook, Vestavia and Trussville have to gain from this exercise? Reduce taxes, fix the schools and city council, shrug off the victim mentality that Birmingham not only embraces but has also created an industry upon, and THEN start talking about regional government. To use the housing example, clean up your own yard and house rather than complain about how much more the ones next to you are worth when compared to yours.

    1. Hey Jason, thanks for your comments. I don’t know you or where you live, but I live in Vestavia Hills and before that Mountain Brook. My family and I have been negatively impacted by our narrow-minded we vs. them attitude in our region. When I travel out of state, even though I’m from Vestavia, I am judged negatively because I come from Birmingham. When my company tries to hire a high level employee from out of State, most won’t consider because our business is perceived to be in Birmingham–Actually it’s in Hoover. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to visit cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and Austin. They’ve got their act together while we divide by city and race. Most of my over the mountain friends (including me) have lost our children and grandchildren to competing cities.

      You and I may not live in the city of Birmingham, but our businesses can’t grow and our children don’t have the opportunities for jobs as they would elsewhere. It’s shocking that in our seven county metropolitan area, we have less people working today then 10 years ago.

      There is no government option being seriously considered that would eliminate Mountain Brook, Vestavia, or Trussville or their school systems.

      I welcome your feedback.

  10. I am new to this blog/site and have been binge reading your content, new and old. Allow me to contribute some 1st hand millennials testimony. You truly hit the nail on the head with “losing our children”. I graduated from a local JeffCoEd School (Minor HS) and went to Tennessee St Univ. in Nashville for undergrad and grad school. My brother followed me to TSU a few years later and before he graduated, got an internship with the Tennessee Education Lottery and recently got a job as an entry level accountant with the State of Tennessee.

    Nashville and Atlanta both inherently offer qualities that Birmingham does not. Three that stick out to me are:

    (1) Both are state capitals where the best interests of the state and the city seemingly work more closely with one another without the state attempting to overrule the interests of the city (as with Birmingham) or the city over taking the interests of the rest of the state (as I have heard is the relationship between Chicago and the rest of Illinois).

    (2) Equitable Black Education.
    HBCUs like Fisk Univ, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State Univ. in Nashville and Clark-Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman in Atlanta provide higher education opportunities for a higher concentration of minorities in cities that host national and International business and entertainment offices that are committed to a more diverse footprint.

    (3) Other INDEPENDENT educational institutions.
    In addition to the aforementioned HBCUs, Nashville is home to Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb Univ. Atlanta is home to Emory, GA Tech, and GA State and others. While UAB calls Birmingham home, it is evident that the largest employer in the state’s largest city is often puppet-stringed by the powers that be in the parent institution in Tuscaloosa. Similar to the point I made regarding the HBCU presence, the various choices of and autonomy of the institutions in Nashville and Atlanta again provide easier avenues for high quality education and business relationships to its natives.

    The Millennial Migration from Birmingham is real. My brother and some other Birmingham transplants I know are in Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. I am a physical therapist and health care might be Birmingham’s most healthy (no pun intended) industry so I am back home in Bham. Temporarily. What else can I do? How else can I envision my hometown to make me want to stay by choosing it over other more diversified, progressive places? Thanks for the content!

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