“There’s the guy who wants to get rid of Mountain Brook.”
It’s a bit unsettling, but that’s what a prominent Mountain Brook man says to me every time he sees me.
If you follow his logic, then you would assume I also would be the guy who would like to get rid of Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Trussville, and every other Jefferson County municipality.
Let me make it clear, no one—including myself– is going to get rid of our suburbs–or should they try.
I grew up in Mountain Brook and my children graduated from Mountain Brook schools.
It would be pretty darn hypocritical of me, now that my children are grown, to recommend we jettison our suburban cities.
What’s the problem?
The problem–and I write about it every chance I get—is that because we are experiencing little or no job growth in metropolitan Birmingham, we are losing our children and our grandchildren to cities that offer greater opportunities.
I regularly get e-mails and calls from young folks who would like to return to Birmingham and ask me to help them find a job. Unfortunately, most of the time, the jobs they desire don’t exist here.
Their parents–my suburban neighbors –are proud of our neighborhoods and schools, but most have to travel hundreds–if not thousands of miles–to visit their children and grandchildren.
Not surprisingly, a recent ranking showed that Birmingham was the 178th worst city to find a job of the 182 largest cities in America.
We don’t have to eradicate our suburban cities to get our children back
I understand why some people may think I favor eliminating our suburban governments because up until recently I had been a proponent of some kind of city/county consolidation.
It’s not that a consolidation wouldn’t be a godsend for the prosperity of our region, but most people don’t understand how it might work.
According to 2017 study by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham on regionalism, “In a theoretical sense, (political consolidation) could involve dissolving all municipalities… but in a practical sense, that isn’t how consolidation works—at least in the modern era.”
Louisville was the most recent major city to complete a consolidation in 2003. The report said that if “Birmingham followed Louisville’s model, existing municipalities would remain in place and continue to provide the same level of services.”
Majority of young folks favor consolidation
Currently there’s no thought being given to a government consolidation of any kind.
According to a December 2016 PARCA survey, Jefferson County voters were polled about their attitudes toward the concept of city-county consolidation. 42.2% supported consolidation; 53% were against; and 4.3% were not sure.
However, young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were far more receptive to the idea with 69% supporting merger, sharply higher than any other age group. So who knows what might happen when our younger generation moves into leadership positions?
Mountain Brook and over-the-mountain mayors leading the way
Ironically it’s Mountain Brook and over-the-mountain suburban mayors that are showing leadership in municipal collaboration.
As reported in February, the over-the-mountain mayors of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Hoover, and Vestavia Hills are having quarterly meetings to discuss how they might work with one another to solve common problems and look for opportunities.
And at a Jefferson County Mayor’s Roundtable sponsored by the Birmingham Business Journal in March, several mayors brainstormed ideas on how mayors might collaborate.
Most Jefferson County residents agree
Most Jefferson county residents currently may not favor county/city unification, but a majority would probably agree we need to find a way to work together.
We are hearing the words “regional collaboration” from just about everyone.
Maybe one day soon we will find a way to collaborate and will move into the 21st Century.
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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