Birmingham not worst place to live in America

View of Homewood from the top of the Mountain in Vestavia Hills
View of Homewood from Vestavia Hills overlook

I’m sick and tired of some people saying how bad Birmingham is.

I love our Birmingham region!

I constantly meet folks, who move here ‘kicking and screaming,’ but later refuse out of state job opportunities and retire here.

Birmingham retains its small town values and has a strong sense of community.

Quality of Life

I recently had a chance conversation with a young man who I’d never met.

He was born in Guam and his parents still live there.

He’s in the military–stationed in Birmingham.

Because of his military service—he’s lived in a lot of great places—like Hawaii.

He and his wife just had a baby.

When he leaves the military in eight years, he plans to make Birmingham home.

I asked, “Why Birmingham?” and he replied, “The people here are the most generous and hospitable I’ve ever met.”

Birmingham transplants recognize the value of our city—while we natives tend to take our blessings for granted.

When you need help

We hear stories about people falling down in the street in a big impersonal city and bystanders walking right over them.

That would never happen in Birmingham.

When you have a flat tire, are in an accident, or have some other misfortune–complete strangers by the dozens come to your rescue.

Over my lifetime I’ve found myself in difficult situations and have always been overwhelmed with the generosity and support of others. It’s our small town Southern way.

Our generosity is legendary.

Our United Way is ranked 4th in the nation in number of donors who contribute $10,000 a year or more. That’s more donors than much larger cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Our United Way raises more than $38 million annually.

As a United Way employee told me, “Our community is truly what we might call a ‘brother’s keeper’s community. We are not content to sit by and watch others fail.”

When you are ill

My wife was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in 2000. She’s doing fine now, but we believe she would not have survived if we didn’t live in Birmingham.

The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB is the only National Cancer Institute designated comprehensive cancer center in a four state area.  I often hear stories of cancer patients who travel to one of the more well-known cancer centers only to be sent back to UAB for care.

And when my wife checked into Kirklin Clinic for chemo or other treatments, clerks were often surprised that she was from Birmingham since many patients travel hundreds of miles or more.

Ten medical specialties at UAB Hospital are ranked in the top 50 in the nation, according to the 2017-2018 Best Hospitals ranking from U.S. News & World Report. UAB topped several peer institutions, including Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina and Emory University.

You don’t want to get sick—but Birmingham is the place to be when you do.


Almost every day I drive down the mountain on Highway 31 from Vestavia Hills towards Homewood and I’m awestruck by the magnificent scenery below.

Visitors and newcomers to Birmingham are universally surprised by Birmingham’s beauty—mountains and greenery—and the most dazzling autumns and springs.

Great place to raise a family

The Birmingham region has many great suburbs with excellent schools and an unequaled quality of life.

Some folks are going to point to the shortcomings of the Birmingham School System—and that is a problem. But Birmingham City Schools have only about 23,000 students. This compares to poorly rated school systems in Nashville with 82,000 students or Jacksonville (Duval County Florida) with 128,000 students.

Many families in our region are able to give their children a high quality education without the added expense of a private school.

The 20 minute city

One of the biggest negatives to quality of life is to live in a city where you spend a disproportionate amount of time sitting and stewing in traffic.

We have family in Atlanta. We often travel to see them on weekends, a time when you’d expect little traffic, but that is not always the case.  The traffic can sometimes be suffocating.

Birmingham has the reputation of being a “20 minute city.” You can get just about anywhere within 20 minutes.


“I live like a king in Birmingham!” That’s what a friend told me who just moved here from California. He said he could live in a mansion compared to his previous small cramped house.

According to the Birmingham Business Alliance, “Metropolitan Birmingham has leading public schools, nationally recognized museums and restaurants, all at a cost that is about 90 percent of the average national cost of living.”

Many embarrassing rankings for Birmingham are nonsense

Birmingham seems to be near the top of some really nasty lists: high crime, oppressive poverty, and poor education.

But it’s unfair to compare the urban City of Birmingham excluding its wealthier suburbs like Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills to cities with one county/city government like Nashville, Jacksonville, or Louisville where the richer suburbs are included in the totals.

Birmingham compares very well when you match metropolitan Birmingham (not just the city) to other metropolitan areas.

Pay it forward

Recently I took my granddaughter through the drive through at Chick ‘fil A in Hoover. The car in front ours paid for our meal. That is so typical Birmingham.

  • Quality of life
  • Generous and caring people
  • State of  the art healthcare
  • Beautiful
  • Great place to raise a family
  • Easy to get around
  • Affordable

When you evaluate the attributes that really count, our Birmingham region may be the most livable in America.

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 more prosperous Birmingham.

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13 thoughts on “Birmingham not worst place to live in America”

  1. This describes our favorite city showing that it is being the best that should be our goal, not just being bigger. Let us not let it decline, keep it going as livable as it is, and think how to make as as good a possible. Improve road maintenance, traffic flow, cooperation with neighborhoods and local municipalities. Keep its impressive architects active, do NOT just build something! Take care of its glorious natural environment (the trails are wonderful. I have used some) Find ways to bring new assets. The bigger cities if not worse now will be getting worse as they get bigger. I am not ‘eating my heart out’ for Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte or others any longer. My heart is in great condition with Birmingham as it is and as it can improve along it present pathway. Just Better, not Bigger!

  2. This is all very true for someone who is retired and looking to stay on the downlow. But it’s very much not true for a young college educated person looking for the most opportunity and the best bang for the buck.

    Young people don’t want boring mansions that costs thousands to upkeep. We want stress free apartments close to entertainment.

    There are plenty of southern towns with the same southern good-guy vibe that are far beyond Birmingham economically and in overall attractiveness to young people who have to sustain a career.

    1. There are now more than ten thousand delightful new fresh apartments in downtown a favored place for all who do not want a mansion. Many are in historically interesting old buildings repurposed and many others built from scratch as well. There is a wide variety of choices. They go from four story to twenty five stories. Many are Very accessible to UAB and many to offices and venues downtown for business, fine food and entertainment. I think you might not really know enough about the actual Birmingham of today! BTW I am not retired and have no reason to even think about it!

  3. JimminyCricket is right. Our kids are leaving for better opportunities and finding more things to do and see in other cities that truly offer much of the same southern hospitality mentioned.

    I’d say that Birmingham is very impressive to someone from Montgomery, West Virgina, Mississippi, etc. But once our kids move off to Nashville, Austin, Denver, or Atlanta, most of them don’t want to come back home.

    So, here is the problem. The youngens have left us old retired folk home, yet we don’t bring much in the way of commerce to the city. Also, many of us end up following our kids to wherever they land.

    The growth that Birmingham is seeing is primarily service industry and blue collar in nature, which is great! But, it’s not what spurs a city forward to compete with it’s rivals.

    1. By all means the younguns should go outside, taste these places love them and stay. At least it opens their eyes to the real larger would and that is
      very valuable. If they then come back home they will do so knowing more, and perhaps with fresh ideas about how to improve their home town

  4. I love Birmingham I’ve lived in many other cities Nashville Asheville Charleston but when it was time to retire I came back to Birmingham .please don’t shortchange the Magic City.

  5. Lived in Mountain Brook for the first 6 years after moving to AL. Have lived in Forest Park for the last 33 years, and – when it’s time to downsize – hope to move to a smaller place within Bhm city limits. Our children went to private schools, then Ivy League colleges; now – predictably – they live elsewhere. Until the City schools improve, we will never get off the “bad” lists. Our booming hospitality scene is so vulnerable to a downturn: folks won’t be hanging out at restaurants/bars when discretionary income shrinks. How can we improve the City of Birmingham, rather than continuing to flee to the suburbs?

    1. How can we improve? Stop losing companies and good paying jobs. No one is impressed with Railroad Park, a brewery, or Avondale after living in Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Austin, Denver, Dallas etc. They “feel” like growth if you live in Birmingham but they’re not competing and our kids are planting in other places. Yes it’s a great place to retire, but that does NOT bring growth.

      1. All those cities mentioned in this reply are filled up with too much junk, partly nice and some very bad. It is simply a bad way to go to create the best city. size matters, and too big is terrible!

        Who is the idiot that does not understand or like Railroad park? Did you know that in the year it completed with New York City’s
        High line for the American Landscape Architects top award of the year, it was Railroad park that won?! It is a magnificent open public pleasurable central gathering place.

        Don’t even think about converting Birmingham into one of those bigger cities, in which the pro’s are smaller than the cons! If you must, just move to one yourself! I know you are fully able to figure that out for yourself. Thanks for your attention to this response.

        1. Again, no one hates Birmingham or Railroad Park. I think people this is indicitive of what I see alot from Birminghamians, being overly sensitive to the state of their city. They HATE being compared because they rarely match up well. Again, it’s great for a retired person because the living is cheap and easy. But Birmingham has little allure to a young college graduate. And THAT’S the type of person who will make/break the city.

          Don’t bring up a list. They’re fun but stupid. For ever list where Birmingham is listed high, I can find 5 where it’s listed at the bottom.

          Also, “all those cities” mentioned are also filled with many of the large corporations that left Birmingham that pay people huge wages to make their cities even better. AKA, disposable income. Would you like to count how many companies have left Birmingham? You know they do this for a reason right?

  6. I am native of Birmingham who retired to Sunnyside FL in 1993. I, too, am sick of the city and its metro area being bad-mouthed. Something that always riles me up is to listen to Birmingham people moan, “…we could have been like Atlanta if we had tried.” That’s true. When Atlanta began outpacing Birmingham in the early 1960s, we could have easily competed against them. Fortunately, we didn’t. Who on earth wants to be like the Atlanta of today? No, thanks!

    1. I agree 100% Who needs big and ugly, only the stupid and insensitive. Don’t spread the word too much about how wonderful Birmingham is. It is not more people that are needed, but protection of its hidden high quality for the benefit of the next generations to come.

  7. No one is saying Birmingham is bad or Railroad Park is bad etc. All they’re saying is that it’s nothing special when compared to other cities that have done far more to attract and keep people who spur a city forward. Look at Highlands Bar & Grill. Great restaurant, but seriously, there are hundreds of those in Atlanta. It’s not uncommon or unique.

    Birmingham is a great city and I love it, but yes, when I go to other cities it’s clear that there’s just a growth energy to the place.

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