Do we want to be another Atlanta? (vote)

AtlantaIt was painful!

I was driving to Atlanta to visit my family during afternoon rush hour traffic.

It took almost an hour to exit from I-285 to Georgia 400 in Atlanta–almost as much time as it took to drive from Birmingham to Anniston.

I kept asking myself —how can people live like this?

According to INRIX’s 2016 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta’s traffic is one of the worst in the world–70.8 hours in traffic each year. That’s almost nine eight hour work days in traffic. That compares to about 16 hours for Birmingham.

People are always warning me—We don’t want to be another Atlanta!”

I’ve always felt this was an irrational fear—since our seven county metropolitan area has had virtually no population or job growth this century. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to be another Atlanta.  In fact, we’ll be fortunate to remain a viable Birmingham.

Then Amazon made this crazy announcement that it was looking for a second headquarters.

It set public officials and economic development folks from Birmingham and 237 other cities into a frenzy.

People accused me of being the devil

In a previous piece I wrote that I clearly saw the benefits of submitting an offer –which we did–but I was scared to death we would be selected.

People attacked me as if I were an evil traitor.

This intense animosity caught me by surprise.

These were many of the same folks who had warned me that they didn’t want us to become another Atlanta.

We can’t have it both ways.

If we somehow won the lottery and did actually get the Amazon headquarters—we would most definitely become Atlanta 2.0.

The unintended consequences of Birmingham winning the Amazon competition

Dan Lovell, the Director of Graham & Company’s Office Group, in al.com, estimated that “Amazon wants a footprint equivalent to all of Birmingham’s office space in the entire central business district – combined…that includes the power company, city offices, all of the single tenant buildings.  We’d be creating an additional central business district.”

And how about those 50,000 jobs promised by Amazon?

Add an additional 40,000 employees from other companies to support Amazon—as they have in Seattle—and you get a sense of the impact on Birmingham.

To give perspective…Mercedes employs 4,000 people in Alabama after 20 years.

We would be adding 90,000 jobs.

Birmingham should change for Birmingham—not just for Amazon

Ty West, Editor and Chief of The Birmingham Business Journal, got it exactly right when he wrote that Birmingham leaders have promised to make big changes to attract Amazon. “Those same leaders should be willing to stand together, Amazon or no Amazon, and pledge to support transit, nonstop flights and other changes that must be made to put us in position to land Amazon or the next project down the road.”

We have very limited public transportation and highways 280, 31, and 65 are already over taxed. Our airport has very few direct flights, and we need to make significant improvements in our public education.

Why wait for Amazon? Let’s do it for ourselves

There are scores of companies around the world looking to expand or move. Let’s build our basic infrastructure so we can be ready for them.

New Jersey is offering Amazon a $7 billion package of tax breaks. We don’t know what our Birmingham offer includes—but I promise you it’s a bundle.

Let’s take a small portion of that money and invest in ourselves.

Do we want to become another Atlanta?

Take the following poll and let me know what you think.

Would you like for Birmingham to be like Atlanta?

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. dsher@amsher.com

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10 thoughts on “Do we want to be another Atlanta? (vote)”

    1. Atlanta is a great town to be FROM. I lived in ATL twice. US Steel sent me there in 1980 for a year. Returned in 1984 for 20 years. Got fed up with the traffic and moved back to Hoover. My wife is a native Atlantean. I packed my #2 daughter up 4 years ago and sent her to Michigan State Vet. School. Told my wife I have no reason to return to ATL and have not. People that travel the 280 corridor have NO idea what bad traffic is. We lived in an area that has some of the worst ATL traffic – Buckhead.

  1. You miss a couple of points. People want Birmingham to grow into a bigger city, they just don’t want to be in the STYLE of Atlanta. You are not making that distinction. There are plenty of bigger cities that are not sprawling, car fueled nightmares. Birmingham is the least dense metro in the top 50. People, and especially younger people, want DENSITY.

    Secondly, as usual, you ignore the incredible ineptitude of the BBA, You state this – “I’ve always felt this was an irrational fear—since our seven county metropolitan area has had virtually no population or job growth this century. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to be another Atlanta. In fact, we’ll be fortunate to remain a viable Birmingham.” – but don’t explicitly state why. We all know why – Brian Hilson and the BBA.

    But ignoring that for a moment, people are desperate for job growth in Birmingham. So that is why something like Amazon seems so appealing. There is almost zero chance of Amazon locating here, but the thought is nice.

    So no, we don’t want to be “Atlanta”. We want to be a bigger Birmingham. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

    1. The idea that people are demanding “density” is most certainly incorrect and not supported by data. Desirable areas (NYC, Philadelphia, London) that are dense tend to be old cities that developed based on limitations of construction and infrastructure. Modern cities are almost never dense and when people are given the option, they largely do not not settle in the urban cores but migrate to less dense suburban areas for more land and (generally) better school options.

      https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-shift-to-the-suburbs-sped-up-last-year/

  2. I recently moved to Birmingham after 20 years in Atlanta proper, not Roswell, Marietta or Alpharetta, but Atlanta. The impression many people get of Atlanta is incorrect or skewed, at best. If you live in the core of Atlanta, Virginia Highland, Candler Park, Druid Hills, Inman Park, etc etc, traffic is not really an issue, provided you don’t have to drive too far (or you can take transit) to work. It’s the people in the suburbs and exurbs that suffer in traffic on a daily basis. Yes, it costs SIGNIFICANTLY more to live in a good neighborhood in town, maybe 3x to 5x as much as the ‘burbs. Many visitors only see the airport, or downtown or the traffic and wonder, “how does anyone live here?” I get it. If that’s all I saw I’d feel the same way.

    All of that to get to my point. It’s not an either/or situation for Birmingham metro. You can learn from Atlanta’s mistakes. First have a competent regional development authority that has actual political power. Atlanta is still a mess of 7 to 20 counties, and countless municipalities. 50 years ago many of the ‘burbs didn’t want Marta. (Lots of this is race based but I won’t dwell on that). .. well, guess what, those same burbs are trying to get light rail and transit now. You cannot pave your way into growth (Bham) or pave your way out of traffic (Atlanta); yet every year you hear about adding ‘more lanes to Hwy XYZ to relieve congestion.’ Many intown Atlanta neighborhoods are putting busy surface roads on ‘traffic diets’ to discourage people from driving.

    Birmingham is a lovely city full of lovely, friendly people. It has no major traffic problems and the opportunity to make some positive steps towards growth in the 21st century. Don’t make the same mistakes Atlanta made. Look forward for solutions, not backwards. If you want responsible growth, look at cities that have done a good job with it like Portland with it’s readily available regional transit. No one drives there and it’s wonderful.

    Just my 2 cents. I love living here but Birmingham is on the cusp. Learn from Atlanta or end up like Atlanta. Or learn from Jackson and end up like Jackson.

  3. All we need is an efficient high speed rail to ATL so we can take advantage of THEIR airport. Then, the quote above is correct, we should invest in good public transportation and have a plan for SMART growth, so if Amazon selects us (or even if not), we avoid the downsides of Atlanta. I vacationed in Italy last summer and traveled exclusively by train and public transit. I’d rather be a Turin (Torino) or even Rome where public transit was readily available. Rome did not feel like a big city even though it clearly is. Forget wanted to be like Atlanta, let’s aim to be like Rome!

  4. I am from Atlanta – and I love Atlanta. I have lived in Birmingham for 5 years – and I love Birmingham. They are two very different cities. Birmingham should be Birmingham. Own the uniqueness of the city and the people. And YES – we need more direct flights!!

  5. Don’t worry, BHM will never become the next ATL because we choose to invest $30M in “historic” Legion Field instead of a viable infrastructure, mass transit, or a new multi-use stadium that will bring tax dollars to the city

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