Do folks in Mountain Brook live in a bubble?

Maury Shevin & Joyce Spielberger
Maury Shevin & Joyce Spielberger

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest bloggers are husband and wife Maury Shevin & Joyce Spielberger.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

We got a surprising amount of push back from our blog post:  “Why We Escaped the Mountain Brook Bubble.” 

Some people thought that we were picking on Mountain Brook.

Others accused us of hypocrisy.

Still others said we are both “Pollyannas”.

This started us thinking more about whether folks in Mountain Brook really do live in a bubble.

Mountain Brook citizens love Mountain Brook

A recent survey commissioned by the City of Mountain Brook conducted by the ETC Institute shows what an incredible suburb Mountain Brook is within which to live.

The satisfaction rate for Mountain Brook’s residents is “off the charts” high—97%+ in most every significant category. This is nothing short of spectacular.

If you are looking for the greatest schools, the cleanest neighborhoods and a very efficient infrastructure (roads, parks and sanitation services) and can afford it, there is little doubt that Mountain Brook is your place.

So, what business do we have implying that Mountain Brook is a “bubble”?  To answer the question let’s first explore another question: “What is a city supposed to be?”  That leads us back to Mountain Brook.

Mountain Brook (and by reference to Mountain Brook, we include all of Birmingham’s suburban neighbors whose principal reason for existence is to provide excellent schools and a sense of security) is by all accounts a wonderful place in which to live.

What is Mountain Brook without Birmingham?

The fact is that Birmingham is the economic engine that allows Mountain Brook residents the opportunity to live in Mountain Brook.

Every great city needs an economic driver.  While there is still much to be done, the employment opportunities in our metropolitan area basically would not exist without Birmingham.

Whether talking about last century’s jobs in manufacturing and retail, or new-age jobs in the technology sector, employment opportunities exist because of Birmingham.  Some of the largest employers in the state are in Birmingham.  The state’s largest financial institutions are in Birmingham.  The largest law firms are in Birmingham.

The creative and cultural side of life in our metropolitan area exists because of Birmingham.

One need only consider Sidewalk Film Festival, live theater, The McWane Science Center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, our museums, universities, sports, world-class parks, and entertainment venues, to realize that the opportunities to enjoy these activities locally, reside in and because of Birmingham.

And, we argue that it is the cultural and creative aspects of life that make a difference in our world—the difference between a provincial and cosmopolitan life.

And where are the proverbial public squares for mass action?  Jemison Park?  Mountain Brook Village?  No, they are Kelley Ingram Park and Linn Park.  These are the locations for demonstrations, rallies and speaking-out.

And, then there is the incredible healthcare, offered at Birmingham healthcare institutions—UAB Hospitals, Kirklin Clinic, Children’s of Alabama, St. Vincent’s, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UAB Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital, and an ever expanding list—that adds to the health and welfare of our metropolitan area residents.

There is little argument but that the entire metropolitan area, and the State of Alabama and even the Southeast, seeks and gets world-class healthcare in Birmingham.

And need we mention the location of our airport and passenger and freight terminals?  Try flying out of Shelby County airport on a commercial airline.

Who pays for these amenities?

So, who pays for all of this?  Who pays for what residents in Mountain Brook—and the entire metropolitan area—enjoy?

In one sense, we all pay something.  Birmingham residents pay directly with ad valorem property taxes; non-residents who make their living in the City of Birmingham pay sales tax when they shop at The Summit; and the generosity of many non-Birmingham residents in support of the arts and sciences pay to sustain these services and institutions, too.

But, while Mountain Brook is mostly focused on schools, security and potholes, Birmingham is providing for the infrastructure costs to support services and institutions for the entire metropolitan area.

Birmingham is focused on luring jobs and industry, maintaining the Innovation Depot to promote the next generation of jobs, and promoting the cultural and creative venues for us all.

And, it should not go unsaid that it is Birmingham that reaches out and cares for those whose economic condition mandates a heavy use of public services—including transportation to and from jobs, and providing hot meals and warming stations to those in need.

Quite frankly, none of this – not the drive for economic development, not the building and sustaining of cultural venues, not the caring for the least among us–is the focus of the City of Mountain Brook.

And, nor need it be.  

The point that we are trying to make here is that great cities, provide great employment, social and cultural opportunities to their residents.

It is Birmingham that serves this role in our seven county region.  If there can be a little recognition that Birmingham carries the water for so many, then each Mountain Brook can work with Birmingham to enrich the quality of life for all of us.

As the PARCA Study shows, the Mountain Brooks can maintain their schools, and still partner with Birmingham for the good of us all.

This is the path chosen by many successful cities throughout the USA, which have had to overcome serious challenges — just as challenging as ours.  Others have succeeded.  Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Denver.  There is no reason why we cannot.

Stronger together.  That’s a fact.

Joyce serves as a catalyst for new ideas and initiatives, often convening groups around her table. Maury practices law with Sirote & Permutt located on the Southside of Birmingham.  They live in and are passionate about Birmingham.

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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. dsher@amsher.com

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4 thoughts on “Do folks in Mountain Brook live in a bubble?”

  1. I believe that if one will pay attention, the outlying cities/suburbs DO work with Birmingham to accomplish local and regional goals. So what if MB is a unique place with its own personality? Isn’t it home to the people who live there, shop there, and pay very high taxes? If they have built a place that is neat, pleasant, and safe to come home to, why complain? IT IS THEIR HOME.

  2. This post does nothing to establish the premise, that people who live in Mountain Brook live in a bubble. I personally know many people who invest in and build businesses in Birmingham who live in Mountain Brook. Many of the doctors and lawyers who work in Birmingham and pay the Birmingham income tax live in Mountain Brook. And, I would wager that a big percentage of philanthropic investment in Birmingham comes from Mountain Brook residents. You don’t have to live in Birmingham to contribute to its success, as many of my fellow Mountain Brook residents do.

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