Mountain Brook parents, aren’t we tired of losing our children?

Bridge along Jemison Trail in Mountain Brook
Bridge along Jemison Trail in Mountain Brook

By David Sher

To grow or not to grow–that is the question.

A couple of years ago I sat down with the CEO of a successful Birmingham family owned business.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how we might grow our Birmingham region.

He took copious notes and asked a lot of questions.

I thought things were going great.

But at the end of my presentation, he looked up and said, “I don’t see the problem. I like things just like they are.”

Oops! I wasn’t expecting that.

But I get it.

Why would he want a different Birmingham?

He likely lives in a beautiful home in Mountain Brook, plays golf at a prestigious country club, and he and his family enjoy a 2nd home at the beach or in the mountains.

This column could have been written for Vestavia Hills, where I live now, Homewood, or for Birmingham or one of its many suburbs, but since I went to Mountain Brook Schools, as did my children, I’m writing it through the lens of a Mountain Brook parent.

I was probably naïve, but when I began publishing ComebackTown ten years ago, I assumed most people wanted to see our Birmingham region be competitive and grow.

I’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

ComebackTown has published numerous columns from people who have creative ideas on how to give Birmingham a boost.

Most are met with this dire warning, “We don’t want to be like Atlanta.” We don’t want to be like Nashville, Austin, or Charlotte with big city problems.”

Don’t worry, we are a long way from being like Atlanta, Nashville, Austin, or Charlotte.

Greenville, Chattanooga, and Huntsville will pass Birmingham

Daniel Coleman, the President of Birmingham Southern College, in a plea for reasonable growth, recently wrote, “If we look at the growth rates of the economies of Greenville, Chattanooga, and Huntsville, it is a matter of time before these metro areas have larger economies than Birmingham.”

Birmingham’s lack of progress may be okay with our older and more affluent citizens, but not so much with our youth.

Here are comments from a young professional who left Birmingham that sum up the responses I’ve received from others…

“I started my career at a Birmingham big 4 accounting firm. They only offered two paths, tax or audit. Atlanta’s office was about 10x’s larger and offered much more opportunities to do something interesting like Investment Banking, Valuation, etc.

“Then I started working for private companies in Birmingham and they all got bought and moved the Corporate HQ’s to larger cities. That messed my resume up pretty badly and I had no choice but to move. I wasn’t going to take a chance on another small Birmingham company where you BETTER love it because there aren’t a lot of other options.

“Eventually, I found myself in Dallas (because my Birmingham company moved here) and I realized that here, you have choices – lots of them – making it harder for the employer to screw you because good employees go somewhere else fast. Whereas in Birmingham, I had to take the abuse from the company/boss because I didn’t have other good options.

“My parents are begging me to move back to which I respond with the lack of opportunities. I tell them, ‘If you want your kids/grandkids to stay near you, put yourself somewhere they want to be and can flourish.’ They hate when I say that. I was educated at a prestigious Birmingham university and most people in my class moved away for a reason and have found no reason to move back.

“Birmingham used to have 9 Fortune 500 companies. Today it has one and it could up and leave at any time. That’s very little motivation for someone looking for future career options.

“Does Birmingham have jobs? Yes. Could I do ok there? Probably. Could I do better elsewhere with many more options? Yes!

“Also, if I were to move back to Birmingham, I have little confidence that my children will not move away; leaving me in the same ‘what happened’ situation that my parents are facing now.”

A concerned parent wrote,

“My daughter left Birmingham for the Research Triangle 15 years ago for work in the video games animation industry. My son-in-law followed her and they moved to Durham for his software engineering job. Bear with me…They then moved outside Greensboro, NC for his job, my daughter quit her career and blessed me with three grandchildren.

“Now they desperately want to move back to grandparents in the Birmingham metro, but he cannot find work that touches what he makes in Greensboro in either income or benefits.

“That, for me, tells the story of what’s missing in Birmingham.”

As Birmingham Southern College President Daniel Coleman warns “I want my children to want to move home after college without sacrificing their ambitions. I want them to be able to pursue opportunities that are as exciting and competitive as opportunities around the country.”

“Without economic growth, our trip to see our grandchildren may be on a plane.”

To grow or not to grow, that is the question.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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44 thoughts on “Mountain Brook parents, aren’t we tired of losing our children?”

  1. David, I completely support the idea of making the community better including more amenities, greater collaboration between communities, and better jobs. However, I don’t find the idea of children staying in the same community they were born to be very compelling frankly. To me, it’s natural to move from place to place for any number of reasons. I realize many families have a long history here and I respect the desire to preserve that. My only point is that not everybody sees things like that. Other people have a different lived experience. My grandparents were from Eastern Europe, my parents are from Canada, I was born in California, and now my children were born here in Alabama. Where will they go? Who knows.

    1. Marc, I completely understand what you are saying and it might be selfish to want to have my children and grandchildren nearly by. However, with lack of job opportunities here, young professionals from other areas don’t move here. What kind of future does that leave for our region?

      1. David, the pandemic has reshaped the professional work world. Many people can live anywhere – companies do not necessarily need to be physically located here. A community will be compelling with a reasonable cost of living, excellent schools, good local healthcare, and amenities. By that measure, the nice suburbs in Birmingham score pretty well in my book. I’m not saying things can’t be improved of course. Two things I would suggest however: 1) Endow one or more of the STEM departments/schools at UAB to increase it’s profile and resources. That would be a huge magnetic draw to the community; 2) Expand the airport to include more direct flights to make business and personal travel easier. Do those two things and much of what seek will evolve organically.

        1. Marc, from what I understand (and please chime in if it’s not accurate), BHM had the opportunity to make our airport into what the ATL became…but shortsighted councilpersons and/or mayor in the 70’s shot it down. As a result, probably 80% of Delta flights get routed through ATL, and a sizable portion of the rest go through Detroit. I find David’s assessment to be frustratingly accurate.

          1. Mayor Hartsfield won the Air Mail contract in 1928. Postal Service thought BHM was a better location, but Atlanta pressed hard for the bid. Delta started with crop dusters, grew revenue out of this mail contract and then started passengers flights. I read this in the Hartsfield biography.

        2. Employees are being called back to the office. Hybrid work schedules are the future which does not allow people to live in BHM when their company is located in another city. When I lived in NYC Boston Philly Chicago is was difficult getting a flight home.

      2. David, I love reading your articles and what you are doing for Birmingham and Alabama. Young adults move away from BHM because their well educated, traveled and cultured parents have shown them what other cities offer and BHM does not have those things. BHM is a great magical city with outstanding neighborhoods and outdoor activities but it lacks the job opportunities, artsy scene and nightlife and parks with city hiking/biking trails. Bhm is not a walking city and does not have public transportation and activities like other large US cities. We left for the jobs other cities offer and long to return to Bhm when we are older and appreciate the city more but cannot find a job.
        BHM lacks an industry. No banking, oil & gas, engineering, etc. That is why Huntsville is growing more rapidly than Bhm. Young adults get great educations in Bhm and hear their professors speak about NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc. and we want to live there. Other cities have professional sports teams and they are much more welcoming to different cultures and religions and lifestyles. The older generations in Bhm are still very closed minded to new ideas, different cultures, art, foods, music and they are still racist. This is less true in Mtn Brook but true in other areas. Bhm is a hidden gem that people in other states do not know about. Please keep up the good work. Your efforts are making Bhm a better place and educating people all over about how great it is and the possibilities Bhm has. I tell everyone in other parts of the US how great Bhm is but they don’t believe me. Thank you. Michael

        1. David, it is very simple, no matter how beautiful and exciting a home is, when you graduate, most young people want to move to the city in which their industry is the strongest. They do this for their career and the excitement of future growth. Ex. if you want to b in banking, you may move to NC where many banks are headquartered. Sadly, there is no industry in BHM to move home to and grow your career. The schools are awesome but the political climate has not allowed growth. The leaders do not provide incentives for organizations to move to or grow in BHM like other cities do. I wish this where not true. Young people are trained in BHM schools, escpecially in Mtn Brook to leave the area if they want to grow and excel in their chosen industry. BHM and Decatur could have been major US cities but its leaders chose not to allow this and now future generations are moving to other southern cities like Chattanooga, Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Atlanta, etc. that did choose to grow and evolve during the 60’s. I am thankfully for what AL football has done for the state in bringing a new more positive light to the state with so many students coming from other areas of the country. Nick Saban has don more to improve the state’s image than the politicians just like the Bar did more for race relations than the politicians did. Alabama is growing only because it is in the southern climate with empty land despite efforts to not allow outsiders in. I love BHM but I wish it had more career opportunities and the climate was more progressive.

  2. Marc, most people don’t want their kids moving away. I sure don’t and it hurts my parents every day that I did. I have looked for ways to come back but just cannot justify it. Sure there are nice suburbs but other places have nice suburbs too, often similarly affordable and much closer to more things to do. Look at home prices in Alpharetta, Frisco, The Woodlands, Fort Worth, they’re very similarly priced to MB, VH, and Homewood. For the same price, most young folks would prefer to rub elbows with Atlanta, Houston, or Dallas than with Birmingham.
    Think about this too: If I’m going in debt for a new house, my confidence in creating equity is far greater in one of these cities than in Birmingham because there’s underlying growth to support increasing home prices. Birmingham does not have that underlying value. While prices have increased there, it’s not to the same extend and when the bubble bursts, those cities with no underlying growth will suffer the most. All that to say, there’s no darn way I’m paying $1M for a small home in Homewood when I could get the same home in Buckhead, Uptown Dallas, Franklin, TN, etc.

    This is not to bash Birmingham at all, but it’s generally not attractive to young folks who are dazzled by the fast growth and energy of these new bustling places where people like them are pouring in by the thousands. It’s fun, there’s a bright future, there are always new places to go, and they’re places that will probably be attractive for my kids to come home to one day. I should also mention you don’t have to live in the most premium suburb to get fantastic nationally ranked schools either.

  3. I travel as a nurse and have had the experience of living in different states wand cities. After a while Birmingham is going to be ancient compared to a lot of cities. They are way behind, which is also affecting education. Our youth, most of the time, are looking for something bigger and better. They are also looking for the open doors of opportunity. I’m seeing right now that our youth are bored and not interested in living nor staying here. It is as if they are reaching out, but can not grab anything. They are also tired of and not tolerating working for someone that wants to talk to them any kind of way. I’m getting feedback from my nephew and other youth that he hangs around. He has also been offered to go live in another state, but I told him to make sure it is a city where there are bad policemen. As the article mentioned the old Birmingham that the older population are just satisfied with us not developing and growing at all and is becoming the last state of choice for a family or youth to want to live. The number one reason that I see why Birmingham is behind is that our community and politicians are all talking and agreeing with that same old “We Don’t Need” that is their FAVORITE thing to say, which is taking Birmingham 10 Steps Backwards. We also want to vote for someone that we went to school with or grew up with us, just because we know them, which put us right back into that same routine of not changing. As I lived in Atlanta, I noticed that they welcome people from outside or other states and cities to bring new ideas to the city. Atlanta seen how their ideas were not moving things. They opened doors for growth and opportunities outside of their ideas and that is when it kicked off. They even allowed people to come in from out of state to run for mayor. If we keep voting for people just because we went to school with them and they made straight A’s, we are never going to get anywhere. We need something and somebody to come in with new, good opportunities not just for a certain group of people, but for everyone.

  4. Hey David, as a non-native Alabamian but a college graduate from an Alabama University, your message holds just as true. Once I finished school, there was no reason (or attempt) to keep me from moving back to Atlanta.

    We have some extraordinarily talented students attending Alabama Colleges and Universities from across the country and many countries around the world that would make tremendous residents and workers in our Alabama economy.

    Birmingham is about 30 years behind Atlanta and 20 years behind smaller growing cities like Nashville. There’s a lot of opportunity to learn from these cities and maximize the positive strategies and avoid some of the negative. One thing you can’t fake is just how wonderful and friendly folks are here in Birmingham!

    1. | smaller growing cities like Nashville

      I’m not sure what decade you’re talking about, but Birmingham is smaller than Nashville. Nashville is 4x larger in area as a city (i.e. consolidated), with a slightly higher population density within that area, and its metro population is estimated to have surpassed 2M, with Birmingham’s metro population still sitting around 1.1M. In fact, Birmingham LOST population since the last census! You could argue that Nashville’s metro area is larger, but it also has a higher population density at 258/sq mi versus Birmingham metro’s 214/sq mi. By any measurement, Nashville is larger *and* growing, while Birmingham is slowly shrinking.

      Nashville’s economy has eclipsed Birmingham’s, too. Nashville has as many Fortune 500 HQs as Birmingham has Fortune 1000 HQs. Companies are starting up in and flocking to Nashville while they are fleeing Birmingham. That’s a major point made in this article.

      Birmingham is at real risk of being the next Detroit.

      1. Nashville, Austin and many other cities have a larger population with highly educated citizens than BHM because they put an emphasis on quality education. This results in places to live where the public demands the amenities of great cities. BHM needs to emphasize education and create an industry for highly educated people then everything will fall into place. The city will grow, beautify, crime will decrease, income improve, etc. One of the reasons I left was because people where always talking about how great the past was and not about how great the future can be. BHM was left behind by forward thinking cities however, I do feel BHM is turning the corner and rapidly improving.

  5. Andrew, I agree, people in Birmingham (or Alabama in general) are friendly but that’s common throughout the South. Also, friendliness is much more appreciated when you’re 40+ years old. By that time, they’ve already gone elsewhere.

    You’re right, there are some incredibly smart top-tier students graduating from Alabama schools every year. Those top students want top-tier companies at the top of their resume too. Living in Dallas, I see grads from UT, A&M, TCU, SMU, and Baylor all landing jobs at really cool major companies. This is not really an option in Birmingham. Having one of these top-tier companies on your resume is priceless and they’re often some of the best places to work in the country as they prize their employees because they know their people have plenty of other options. That’s not the case in Birmingham – in general! Obviously, there are some excellent places to work but “some” isn’t very motivating compared to “tons”.

    Moving back to Birmingham mid-corporate professional career is scary. Sure I could probably find something, but I wouldn’t have the handful of choices I might have elsewhere.

    So David, it’s unfortunate but it’s not going to change in several decades. My life plans don’t account for several decades. So maybe Birmingham could land a huge awesome corporation tomorrow, but my sentiments wouldn’t change. One win, sporting event, or magazine credit doesn’t change the tide.

    1. Totally fair point and I guess this depends on what industry one is in. As somebody who works in the technology sector, this used to be more of a concern, but as I mentioned before, the pandemic changed everything (everybody is working remote in my business unit). I am primarily working with a group in San Diego and folks over there are asking to relocate in droves to cheaper places. I have people on my team in every time zone in the United States. I was just out to San Diego on business last month. Definitely a cool city with lots to do, beaches, great companies, excellent restaurants etc. However a two bedroom apartment will rent for close to $3000 / month and good luck getting any house for under a million. With all that said, this is my perspective as a 50 year old with kids who is past the point of exploring bars and restaurants. I can certainly understand a young professional seeing things very differently.

    2. I hear and agree with much of what has been said here but I feel the overall tone is quite negative and pessimistic, an old tendency when it comes to discussing Birmingham and its position and potential, and I wanted to respond. There is actually movement now in this city, visible and tangible movement, after decades of total stagnation. No, it is not at the pace of other comparable cities and it looks different, but it is noteworthy. I feel that the task at hand is to make this place…this very unique and special thing, like every city and individual, the absolute best Birmingham it can be. We can learn from other cities and their paths for sure, but comparisons don’t serve us, because we are not them and striving to be facsimiles of these places is a disservice. There are people in Birmingham, natives and transplants, who are passionate about it…something that is new. The old model of some big corporation coming to a city and bringing thousands of jobs like manna from heaven is changing, and will not work for Birmingham because of all the reasons stated in this thread. However, young people more and more are Creating their own jobs, creating the lives they want. THIS is the future, and Bham is trying to incubate this startup economy right now. 100 small companies with 10 employees each could be the model for Bham, not the 1000 employee corporate move. This provides the same impact and the options for employment that one person spoke of. Yes, Over the Mountain housing is expensive and overpriced. But you can get a home in areas of the city for 15K and a renovated palace for 100-150K. This is Not Possible in these other places. Why can’t we market that to young people? Of course we must then discuss the schools, gun violence, litter, ect. To me, the solution is still the same. WE, the people who love our city, are the solution. We can run for school board and city council, we can start charters, we can create community organizations that do litter patrols and violence interventions and apprenticeship programs for city students and charter schools…EVEN IF WE DON’T LIVE IN THE CITY.
      The good and best news to me is that, THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING all over the place in our city. So what is needed is all the things mentioned in the thread, sure, but what’s needed more of all is more of THIS. We are the solution to our city, and more of us are realizing it every day.

      As that trend continues, watch out Hville and Nashville and Chattanooga and Raleigh and out because we have and are something they don’t and are not. We are Birmingham!

      1. I am VERY PROUD of what is currently happening in BHM and HSV and Tusc. These cities are doing the right things to catch up to the rest of the country. I love the revitalized downtown and parks and cultural, sporting events in BHM. Please keep it up. I tell people all over the US about how great BHM is and the the things located there but why is it that the citizens of BHM do not support their area. For example, I met people all over the US that know about Barber’s Motor Museum and the people I speak to in BHM have never ben there?! Support local businesses.

  6. I have lived in Decatur, Alabama, since 1961. When we moved here, it was a rapidly growing city. Fortune 500 companies were locating here, the city leaders were investing in schools and building wonderful recreational parks.
    It was great. So great, that those leaders eventually said, “We like everything just as it is. We don’t want to change.”
    That’s the minute Decatur began dying.
    All around us, Huntsville, Athens, Hartselle are all booming. We would have like 5 new houses a year built. No new subdivisions. Recreation centers stagnant.
    Finally we are getting some growth…and even now, people are saying “Not in my backyard!”
    You MUST have change to grow.
    Nothing stays the same. If you don’t grow, you die.

  7. It is true! my daughter just graduated. She studied Digital Marketing. Finding good job opportunities in Birmingham is not easy. Birmingham is a very beautiful place. of wonderful people. but they have to go out and look for better opportunities.

    1. It is very sad that for kids to go to great schools in Alabama their families have to live in only a few neighborhoods. This is not the case where in other states many neighborhoods have exemplary rated schools. A great education should be available to more young people in Alabama that don’t live in the best neighborhoods. The state is beautiful, the universities great and exciting but the citizens are narrow minded in not allowing progressive thinking. Alabama will always be a great place to visit but not live unless your family owns a business there.

  8. I reside within the city limits of Birmingham after moving here almost two decades ago from one of the cities that is frequently cited as having a growth rate that we in the ‘Ham envy. I talk from time to time with a friend from my former city who is a venture capital professional. He shared with me that a company he was involved with was being courted by a number of cities. These other cities picked the young entrepreneurs up at the airport, took them to nice hotels and to dinners that were paid for, and gave them pitches detailing what the other cities offered that was strikingly more business-friendly and welcoming than our pitch. My friend’s comment was something along the lines of “Birmingham needs to get its act together.”

    You may recall the Governor being asked during a civic meeting in downtown why Mobile and Huntsville were receiving more state funds than Birmingham. She didn’t realize a reporter was present and candidly stated that they were reticent to direct funds to Bham because too much of the money ended up in the pockets of local officials and not enough in the projects the grants were intended to fund.

    Then, we have local business leaders who tried to renovate a vacant building and re-purpose it as community center at no cost to Birmingham. The project was about to get underway when a city official stepped in and demanded that construction money be directed to more costly minority contractors who the business leaders suspected had ties to that city official. That project was cancelled.

    Similarly, we have Top Golf, which invests in downtown Birmingham but during construction it gets shaken down by local authorities for not having enough minority contractors. As I recall, Top Golf argued that it had met its requirement, or was making every good faith effort to do so, but having no leverage at that point during construction, Top Golf capitulated. I’d like to see the money trail there. Keep in mind — Top Golf received around $2 million in tax benefits because it was projected to have a $250 million(!) economic impact over 10 years. Imagine if Top Golf execs had decided to walk!

    One company that did walk was Red Diamond, which in order to expand operations, tried to buy city owned property (which I think was vacant) that was adjacent to the Bham city location where Red Diamond had operated for over 100 years. They became so frustrated and stymied in dealing with the local politicians that they relocated Red Diamond to Moody.

    There are other examples, but I think the point is made.

    While not perfect, my former city didn’t have the above problems and I have no doubt if it were laden with the impediments created by Birmingham officials that it would have similar growth problems to ours. The people in the suburbs and surrounding municipalities are almost identical to those outside Birmingham proper (they want functional government, clean and safe neighborhoods, and good schools) — the striking difference between the two cities is the orientation of the local officials.

    I greatly appreciate Comeback Town — and I know it is a little uncomfortable for you to do so — but no serious conversation is taking place about our economic future if it avoids the significant hinderances caused by our local officials.

  9. Growing up in Al. Was a great experience. My parents were fortunate enough to be able to show me the world as a child and I visited Europe and south America every year. When I graduated college and moved to NYC the alumni group all noted that they left beautiful Al. Because football was the only exciting part of the state and we didn’t want football to be our only focus 365 days a year. While Al is naturally beautiful it has not invested in it’s land and cities and transportation like other states and cities. When I learned to kayak in the NE I realized that I could do this in Al but in Al the outdoor activities and culture is not promoted like in other states. Grow up Al and learn progressive thinking from other states. The south will rise again as people and companies leave the north but Al will not be one of the states to enjoy the new growth because they do not welcome and promote growth and revitalization.

  10. I brought this up before and was ignored, but in order to have a first rate community you have to have first rate schools which something that Birmingham City and Jefferson County does not have. I am talking about schools from K-12. Most people and companies are not going to relocate when the education system is so poor. The work force is not what you need due to a lack of education. The Mountain Brook, Vestavia, Homewood, Trussville children when they graduate are moving on due to lack of opportunity.. Housing in Birmingham is improving, but not necessarily housing for families. Down town looks 100% better than it did 10 years ago. Look around the country at where high tech or large manufacturing facilities are going and you will always find the education system produces work competent work force. and also attracts people from other areas. We are sorely lacking in that area.

    1. In regards to the comments on education, i think it is awesome that the automobile manufacturing industry has moved some operations to Al. but I wonder if that is because they think we are cheap uneducated labor like in other areas of the world where the majority of manufacturing is located. Politicians in Al. are too proud to realize that the world has left them behind and that their education system is poorly lacking. I have many friends from other countries and religions where their culture puts a high value on education. They come to the US with great minds and have great careers and they improve themselves and the area they are from. Al needs to learn from this mindset and improve education before people and companies will relocate and invest in their community.

  11. David: as you have long preached, BIRMINGHAM must become ONE GREAT CITY! ONE GREAT METRO! Combining public services, setting common goals, master planning , transportation, infrastructure, safety,
    fire protection, education, attracting and encouraging more businesses /entertainment /industries /technical/ medical/research! To me, this is STILL THE ANSWER.

    1. agree; we will always be held back until it’s a unified metro area and not chopped up into different school systems etc,

  12. It is important to distinguish population growth from economic growth. Imagine we could shift the income distribution curve to the right. Well, despite the loss of iron and steel and the consolidation in the banking industry, that has happened to some extent through the growth of the biomedical research/education/clinical complex at UAB. If you think it through, the challenge is how to be more like Switzerland with its high per capita GDP and its high density of highly skilled people and not more like Atlanta. It starts with education and continues through creating a culture that provides fertile ground for entrepreneurial activity such as is taking place at the Collat School of Business at UAB, Innovation Depot, etc.

  13. All of these “we should” comments might be true, but it doesn’t matter at this point. Birmingham fell behind decades ago and it’ll literally take decades to change it so where it can compete for our kids. And it’s not looking like Bham is swinging in that direction. You can point to a couple of “wins” here and there but they’re only keeping your head above water. No one moves to Birmingham because of minor league baseball, Frank Stitt, Top Golf, or a 40,000 seat stadium. We don’t notice those things as “progress” per say.

    BUT, what I do notice is Whole Foods closing in Hoover (that’s unheard of!), Sprouts closing in VH, a Galleria I don’t want my kids going to, a dilapidated Brookwood Mall, and Hwy 280 that’s literally nothing more than a large strip mall. THEN, I see home prices in Homewood and laugh!

    The geographical locations of Homewood, Vestavia and Mountain Brook, are such that they should have EXPLODED in the past decade, instead, they appear to have demised. The MB villages are for old rich grandmothers in search of a blouse, no recognizable brand stores. It’s a tragedy those villages are not trendier and vibrant. Again, seeing that speaks to us. It makes us wonder what’s wrong.

    1. Brett, you posted an outstanding comment. Remember when BHM had a vibrant Southside and Homewood and English Village with great clothing and audio stores and restaurants. I can’t believe those areas now.

    2. I’ve lived in Birmingham 90 years. Born here. Watched the blast furnaces turn the sky bright orange. Got my education from dedicated teachers in the public schools. I am NOT complaining. I am proud of my heritage. It is what it is. I understand many of its founders were miners , poor and working for the boss man. When we lost STEEL, we were blessed with HOSPITALS. We survived CIVIL UNREST and embraced BROTHERHOOD. We have been battle tested and READY TO MOVE FORWARD! Our enemy is COMPLACENCY! Our METRO is spacious . WE CAN GROW AND PROSPER only if it is ARDENTLY DESIRED by our children.

  14. If Birmingham is going to grow, it needs a professional sports team. That’s something to build a city around.

  15. My parents begged me to move back every year but I could not find a decent job and only saw a poor economy and no growth. Also, there were no young professionals. Great place to live married with kids but not if you are single trying to start a career. I love BHM and Al but the area does not offer enough opportunities for young professionals. I do plan on retiring their and want my kids to live there. They love the area but also want to live in exciting cities. It really bothers me that BHM did this to it’s self in the 60s by the near sighted leaders. Every area of BHM needs great schools for all citizens to become more worldly. The city needs more beautification. People driving through the city only see the ugly parts. I really want BHM to be seen as the great city it is but to do that the metro area must be unified in the goals and must work together to create better infrastructure and a better place to live. We must stop the negative publicity in the national media and work to improve the perception people have in other areas. If they visited they would love BHM.

  16. I realize that the “tired of losing our children” complaint is about a larger point regarding economic opportunities for young people. But speaking from experience, what’s stopping older retired residents of Birmingham’s OTM suburbs from moving to one of their kid’s city? It’s never too late to seek new horizons. They might actually like living in Atlanta, Dallas, or Charlotte. Could it be the same complacency among the older generation that sometimes holds back the community?

  17. David,

    I believe your experience as a wealthy, affluent white man in Mountain Brook does not accurately represent the experience most people have living in Birmingham. I found the city itself to be dirty, ridden with criminals, corrupt, and expensive. Not exactly a compelling argument. I get that life is easy breezy in the ‘burbs outside the city making more than 6-figures, but that isn’t really the real Birmingham experience. It’s not even the end of April and already this year we’ve had 31 murders, 17 rapes, 100+ cases of robbery, and over 450+ aggravated assaults. Non-violent crime is triple these figures, it’s insane. These are actual criminal bookings by the way- stats provided by the Birmingham police department accurate as of April 4, 2022. You probably don’t even realize it’s happening though, and how would you if your experience with Birmingham is zipping over to Bottega on a Friday evening?

    Your blog is typical of what I read from the affluent suburban dwellers that surround Birmingham- endlessly extoling the virtues of the city is from your security camera equipped, multi-million dollar fortress overlooking the city.

    In the real world life is a lot different, and you HOPE your kids make it out of the city. The thought of kids being stuck here, doomed to live out life as a gig worker for Shipt (best case scenario) with no healthcare benefits is an awful prospect. There’s no opportunity, and the crime stats prove it.

    1. Great response David. I lived in Mtn Brook and my college friends are from that area but they have no clue what life is like outside of their beautiful neighborhoods. If only the schools and jobs in other areas of Birmingham were as good as the best areas the city would be booming. Other cities have great schools even in the lowest income areas. Birmingham is only great if you are priveleged.

    2. But of course! One can easily infer that if even someone whose experience of a city is its affluent, safe suburbs can look at the metro and see it declining, that things are that much worse for the less fortunate and less upwardly-mobile populations in the middle of the city.

      I think it’s better from that point of view if you reframe the idea that “Birmingham is a great city that should aim for growth” to “Birmingham is a city with *great potential* that should address its problems and aim for improvement *at every level* to attract the kind of businesses we need to grow”. Because you can’t grow the metro without addressing it in whole, at least not more than temporarily.

      Are Nashville, Atlanta, and the like without these same issues of crime, corruption, and rising costs of living? Absolutely not! But they do, at least, *try* to address them and not just allow the Good Ol’ Boys club to run the place and enrich themselves at the cost of everyone else. Super-progressive cities might have their own set of problems, but most of them aren’t shrinking economically and by population — Birmingham is. The difference, IMHO, is that much of Birmingham metro, like David says here, is saying, “We’re fine with things how they are” instead of saying, “How can we make our home better?” Even if you have the wrong ideas about how to get there, the goal is right.

    3. David, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I really try hard not to be defensive and if you think I am, please feel to call me on it. When you describe ‘wealthy, affluent men in Mountain Brook, you are stereotyping just as someone might stereotype all ‘African Americans’ or all ‘Mexicans.’ I’m sure you don’t think that all people of a race or class are the same. I have certainly not had the experience of living in some of the more dangerous neighborhoods of Birmingham. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of it and don’t care. The point of this piece was with growth opportunities are created for everyone. Please consider reading other columns in ComebackTown, so you get a better feel of the purpose of the column. The previous week it was about how to help minority businesses prosper in Birmingham. This weeks column will be on domestic abuse in Birmingham and how it impacts the high crime rate. Yes, crime is a problem, but I’m hopeful we will make progress. I welcome your feedback.

  18. David Sher,
    I am very proud and thankful for what you are doing for BHM.
    Please don’t stop. Your efforts are paying dividends to the metro city. Every city has the same issues as BHM and you are successfully addressing them and noting the potential of a unified metro BHM. Thank you and your team, sir!

  19. David, I grew up in the fifties and sixties in Birmingham and I only have fond memories. We lived near each other and had special times together for several years. I re
    member going to the YMHA with you and spending summers at YMHA camp even though I am not Jewish.
    All of this has made me love BHM and I have become a Birmingham apologist.
    Despite what Bull Connor and his associates have done to set us back, this is a special place.
    I have 4 children and I have strived for them to understand what a unique place this is.
    I went to college in Tuscaloosa and to medical school at home at Alabama in Birmingham. While I wanted to stay in Birmingham, I found an better opportunity in Pensacola, Fl.
    While it has been good for me and my family (Pensacola is really South Alabama) , I have always missed Birmingham.
    My children have known Birmingham well and while I have encouraged them to consider moving there, none of them have found good job opportunities there.
    I have found your site and I follow it religiously, and anything I can do to make anyone understand and believe in our potential just let me help.
    Michael Hartsfield

  20. David, I agree 100 percent with what Mr. Hartsfield wrote. My experiences and actions have been and are very similar to his and he stated my feelings well. Please continue fighting for a better BHM.

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