ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Jay Taylor. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
It’s been long debated here in Birmingham.
Can we merge some of our central Alabama municipalities into one big, super city? And if so, which ones?
Allow me to toss an idea into the ring.
Boroughs. Self-governing boroughs.
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking of the way they are in New York. But boroughs can be whatever you want them to be.
In fact, six different U.S. states include boroughs within certain municipalities, and each one has its own definition of what constitutes a borough and how they self-govern.
Benefits of merger
So how could boroughs be implemented here? Before I get into that, let me first talk about the tangible benefits of a merger.
First, there’s the idea of eliminating duplicated services. Sure, unifying fire, police, sanitation or other departments across the metro area may prove efficient, but to me that’s just a secondary benefit.
The real value comes in branding
Think about it. When you travel the country or world, chances are you tell people you’re from Birmingham.
Here at home, you don’t have to be in Birmingham proper to find a business named Magic City or Red Mountain or Vulcan.
Face it. You’re a Birminghamian whether you live in Birmingham proper or not.
That means your quality of living is being misrepresented. And it’s costing you and your community big time. How?
Well, we’re like most American cities. The bulk of our crime is reported in our most impoverished urban areas. In other words, Birmingham proper. But since we’re fragmented, all the stats mean our per capita crime rate is higher.
And this has a domino effect. Every time the latest listing of best places to live, or do business or whatever comes out–every time anyone compiles such a list, they factor in crime rate. Not for the metro area, but for Birmingham. The city we all identify as our own. And that puts us all low on the various lists.
And when a business or individual considers where they want to locate, they look at those lists.
Not only that, but it makes us look smaller. We have 1.1 million people here. We’re quite a large market. But when the numbers show 210,000 people in Birmingham, we move down on a lot of lists.
The bigger your city, the more exciting and fun people assume it will be.
How the boroughs would work
We merge several of our municipalities into one big city.
But, just on paper.
The following cities would fall under the umbrella of the new City of Birmingham: Birmingham, Homewood, Mountain Brook, Hoover, Vestavia, Bessemer, Trussville, Pelham, and Alabaster–contiguous municipalities that exceed 20,000 people.
But each one will maintain complete autonomy as an independent borough of the City. In other words, nothing changes as far as government, schools or anything else is concerned. We just move up on a lot of lists–for our common good.
The mayors of each borough will form a commission. Should the commission decide to merge any particular services, great. If not, that’s okay too.
Believe me, I agree that steps should be taken to address crime, so this is certainly not intended as a plan to sweep that problem under the rug. Our crime rate might plummet on paper, but the elephant will still be in the room.
One big Birmingham with several boroughs will more accurately reflect our area’s crime rate, our standard of living, our size, and the opportunities that exist here.
There are many sports teams and complexes, entertainment venues, shopping and business centers across our metro area. To me, they’re all in Birmingham.
But not technically–not yet, anyway.
Jay Taylor is a former Central City Neighborhood Association president, long-time city center advocate, and continues to invest in Birmingham revitalization. He and his family currently live in Homewood. He works as a senior copywriter for a Birmingham-based advertising agency.
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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).
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