By David Sher
I never saw it coming.
According to recently released U.S. Bureau of Census population estimates the City of Birmingham is now the 3rd largest city in Alabama.
Until 2020 Birmingham was the largest city in the state.
In 2020 Huntsville passed us.
The drop from #1 to #2 may have been faster than expected, but it seemed inevitable.
But now we’re #3.
Even more distressing is that Montgomery passed Birmingham even though Montgomery lost population too. Yes, Birmingham lost its 2nd place ranking to an Alabama city that is also shrinking.
That is painful.
For the first time since the 1920 census (100 years ago), the City of Birmingham’s population dropped below 200,000.
In 2010, Birmingham’s population was 212,000. Now it’s 197,575–a loss of 15,000 people in 11 years.
Birmingham’s population has been on a downward spiral for decades.
Birmingham’s population fell…
- 12% in the 60’s
- 5% in the 70’s
- 6% in the 80’s
- 9% 90’s
- 12% in the 00’s
- 5% in the last decade
Now in one year we’ve lost one more percentage point.
This column is not about Huntsville
In the past when we talked about Birmingham’s drop from #1 to #2, the discussion usually centered on Huntsville.
But this column is not about Birmingham and Huntsville.
Birmingham’s metropolitan population is over 1.1 million; Huntsville’s less than 500,000.
Huntsville metro may one day pass Birmingham, but it will be a long time coming.
And metropolitan Montgomery is less than 400,000 and is absolutely no threat.
With continued shrinking population, how will Birmingham be able to afford to continue to support regional amenities?
Folks in the suburbs–please answer the following questions:
Did you to attend the Garth Brooks Concert at Protective Stadium?
Have you attended a USFL or Birmingham Baron game?
Are you planning to attend the opening or closing ceremonies of the World Games or watch any of the competitions?
Have you taken your family to Red Mountain, Ruffner, or Railroad Park in the past year?
Have you visited the Birmingham Zoo, Museum of Art, McWane Science Center, Civil Rights Institute, or Botanical Gardens? How about the Rotary Trail?
My guess is you or a family member have done at least one of the above.
The City of Birmingham pays millions of dollars every year to support these and other regional venues–not Mountain Brook, not Vestavia Hills, not Hoover.
Birmingham made a commitment of $90,000,000 to build and support Protective Stadium. ($3M a year for 30 years)
Birmingham funded $64 million to construct Regions Field.
Well, you get the idea.
The City of Birmingham is one of 35 municipalities in Jefferson County, but other cities contribute little or nothing for these amenities.
How much population does the City of Birmingham have to lose before it ceases to be able to support our region?
What can be done?
I recently participated in a brainstorming session by a civic organization to evaluate ideas to promote population growth in Birmingham.
They identified five issues that could make a difference.
- Birmingham City Schools must become more academically competitive with suburban schools. Many young folks start their careers in Birmingham and then when their children become school age they move to a municipality with a better school system.
- Significant reduction in crime and homicides.
- Birmingham has lost a lot of affordable housing that must be replaced.
- Continue to support the growth of downtown residential units. There are 10,000 people living downtown and the population is projected to double over the next 10 years.
- Continue to invest in Birmingham neighborhoods. Corporate Realty’s development in Norwood is a game changer.
I often hear from folks in the suburbs that the City of Birmingham is not relevant to their lives.
Birmingham needs its suburbs and our suburbs need Birmingham.
Our Birmingham region is on the verge of great things, but it will take all of us to get there.
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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