Can our suburbs survive if B’ham’s a donut hole?

DonutEditor’s note: ComebackTown’s celebrating its 8th anniversary.  I thought it might be insightful to republish the very first piece (Jan. 3, 2012). Since publication, the City of Birmingham’s population has stabilized…and our region’s making great  progress–all good news!

I live in Vestavia Hills—I don’t really want to live around a donut  hole.

The numbers are frightening.

Birmingham’s population fell…

  • 12% in the 60’s
  • 5% in the 70’s
  • 6% in the 80’s
  • 9% in the 90’s
  • 12%–2001-2010

Birmingham has lost 2,600 people a year since 1990 and soon will be the second largest city in the State.

According to the 2010 census, Birmingham has 212,237 residents and Montgomery has 205,764.  As noted above Birmingham lost 12% of its population since 2000, while Montgomery grew 2%.

Hoover, on the other hand, grew over 30% and Shelby County 36% over the last decade.

This is devastating to our region.  Birmingham can’t close schools fast enough and Shelby County students are relegated to trailers.

And Shelby County’s exploding population is mired in traffic and lack of resources to build and maintain infrastructure.

When we travel out of state, we are from Birmingham—not Mountain Brook, Trussville, or Homewood.  Do we really want the City of Birmingham to disintegrate?  If Birmingham is an embarrassment, then we are an embarrassment.

Companies won’t want to relocate here.  Our children won’t want to live here.

The City of Birmingham funds most of our necessities and amenities.  We can’t depend on the Trussville International Airport or the Midfield Museum of Art.

Do we really want a large barren area in the center of our suburbs?  We’re all in this together.

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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 for free about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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15 thoughts on “Can our suburbs survive if B’ham’s a donut hole?”

  1. The solution to the Shelby County traffic problem is simple. Ban construction in Shelby County for at least fifteen years.

  2. When comparing the 2010 Census Bureau number for Birmingham population which is 212,237 to the 2019 Population and Housing Unit Estimates number of 209,880, there is a 1.1% decrease. This is tiny compared to the decade by decade population loss numbers quoted in this article. This suggests that there is a glimmer of hope for Birmingham.

  3. David unless the city wants and is allowed to move out existing residents and rebuild areas such as West End, Ensley, Bush Hills, Center Point, Huffman, College Heights, Central Park, etc. nobody is ever going to move to BHM. Not everyone can afford an expensive “loft” in downtown. Schools must greatly improve, too, if you want middle class families back in BHM.

    1. Karen Hubbard, I agree. Young working couples, and retired, well-off couples can live in the loft district downtown. As a retired nurse with limited income, I cannot afford even most rental apartments in Alabama. Our suburbs still come for events in Birmingham, but isolating themselves hurts everyone. There needs to be a Metropolitan government so that we can work on the areas of schools, better roads, attracting new businesses, etc. Birmingham cannot survive without more money and good leadership.

  4. David, how much I admire the work you do for your beloved community! Despite not being “all we can be” as a region, we’re certainly not “as bad as we once were” either. Your leadership in promoting cooperation among municipalities has produced great results, as evidenced by our mayors working more closely together than ever. Your goal of a county wide government, which is spot on, may or may not happen, but still, as a region we are making great strides. My compliments and admiration to you my friend. Let’s hope 2020 continues our great progress!

  5. Why (for the past 50 years) have people moved out of BHM and headed for the suburbs? Why the white flight? Why is it now total flight?

    David, you are smart enough to answer the question. It’s the same reason you chose to raise your family in the suburb…you want what is best for your family. So do the rest of the population. If Birmingham had better schools would you have raised your kids in the city rather than the suburb? Maybe but probably not.

    It isn’t just schools, or safety, or skin color, or city services….Adults would much rather live in a suburb and have a commute to work than to live in fear. Moving to the suburbs, whether north, south, or east eases those fears. Because the truth is most adults don’t fear much for themselves but rather they fear for their families and for the future of their families.

    David, figure out what it would have taken for you to raise your family in Birmingham. Champion those changes and maybe, just maybe this thing can turn around.

    There’s your roadmap.

  6. Why (for the past 50 years) have people moved out of BHM and headed for the suburbs? Why the white flight? Why is it now total flight?

    David, you are smart enough to answer the question. It’s the same reason you chose to raise your family in the suburb…you want what is best for your family. So do the rest of the population. If Birmingham had better schools would you have raised your kids in the city rather than the suburb? Maybe but probably not.

    It isn’t just schools, or safety, or skin color, or city services….Adults would much rather live in a suburb and have a commute to work than to live in fear. Moving to the suburbs, whether north, south, or east eases those fears. Because the truth is most adults don’t fear much for themselves but rather they fear for their families and for the future of their families.

    David, figure out what it would have taken for you to raise your family in Birmingham. Champion those changes and maybe, just maybe this thing can turn around.

    There’s your roadmap!

    1. John, There’s no question that Birmingham has serious problems with crime and education. And I’m not suggesting anyone should feel guilty about not living in the city–that would be hypocritical. But in the early 2000’s virtually no one lived downtown–now there are about 13,000 people living downtown. After decades, Birmingham’s population is finally stabilizing.

      All I’m saying in the piece is that we should all root for Birmingham’s progress. It will benefit all of us.

      I very much appreciate your comments and your point of view.

    2. I think David has figured it out, and has been providing us a roadmap to just that for eight years now. All of your point are valid, and well taken John. We are indeed fortunate to have such a leader as David Sher to provide positive dialogue to guide us in continued dialogue on our regions future. I’m for David’s work and for Birmingham, and our Region. I know you are too! Thank you for your contribution!

  7. The picture is very bad for Birmingham, for the reasons you mentioned and also because of the trajectory factor. Think about this.

    See, in 2020, people are far more able to move, find and go to greener pastures. It used to be that it was very hard to move! Home is home, family is there, I’ll make it work. You were unaware of the opportunities in Atlanta or in Nashville. Not the case today. The allure of a “better” life slaps us in the face with social media and job opportunities from the net or from a recruiter on Linkedin. It’s MUCH easier to make the move to that “greener pasture” now days for young people – primarily college degree’d professionals which is why Birmingham is seeing the brain drain.

    So let’s say Bham totally turns things around… How long does it take to see a notable difference to the point that makes our young professionals have a reason to move back? It takes decades! Without anymore major kicks to the groin. I’m not sitting around waiting on that. I’ll be long retired.

    The mindset of our youngsters is “I’m moving out tomorrow for a better job/life, not sitting around waiting 20 years for it to MAYBE get better.” By that time, they’ve planted their family elsewhere and doing very well. There’s no reason to move back to Birmingham.

    What’s the best that can happen? Even the BEST case scenario here will take decades and still probably not be all that impressive. It will survive, not thrive. None of the change items will land a new large corporation. None of these changes will catch up to the other metro competition. So, the people we NEED to stay, are saying “forget it, I’m out.”

  8. Wow let I was born an raised in Bham graduated Phillips in 77, an move to Los Angeles same yr we talk about white flight, but Black flight is very I haven’t moved back but would consider it been living in Las Vegas last 20yrs I travel to Bham 4,5 times a yr Bham has amazing changes but Black flight is what killing Bham all my friends that stayed live in the suburbs No.Bham is a wasteland nothing new has happened over there ever!!! same small business still there but most has closed no new homes when kids get grown they move then its awaiting game till parents die an house becomes dialapadate if we could get young Blacks to start moving back to their old neighborhoods and restore to family friendly like when I lived there would be a positive step

      1. The Carraway development is hugely difficult for me. My Dad worked there for 40 years until it closed. He died last year. My father is gone. Now his workplace will also be gone.

  9. Mr. Shapiro,

    Having been retired for ten+ years, I have recently seen many young graduates begin to appreciate the opportunities that right here in Birmingham and continuing to expand daily.

    Atlanta, Nashville, etc. are no longer the greener pastures they were once perceived to be. Go Birmingham!!!

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