Can Birmingham put Humpty Dumpty back together again?

Brenda Starnes
Brenda Starnes

Brenda Starnes is guest columnist today.

I have the unique experience of having lived and worked in Nashville, Charlotte, and Birmingham.

I love Birmingham—that’s why I moved back—but Nashville and Charlotte have one big advantage over Birmingham.

My parents moved us children to Birmingham in 1958 from Chicago. Not an easy move for a brash Yankee teenager.

I left Birmingham as soon as I graduated high school, but my family remained. Of course, this afforded me some serious hands on experience with this city’s evolution.

Birmingham

At the time, Birmingham was the only industrialized Southern city. It was multi-cultural, diversified, wealthy, polluted, and was governed as a single city. There were the “suburbs”…Mountain Brook, Forest Park, Bessemer, etc. They were only areas populated by people seeking to get away from the pollution being created by the sulfur gases from the heavy industries (steel, iron, etc.).

I might add that it was the only Southern City with a large blue collar population comprised of many different nationalities. Unheard of in the southeast at the time.

When the ‘60’s arrived, change created a very trying decade for Birmingham and the entire U.S. with results that are still being felt to this day.  No one and no location was unaffected by these changes but, that is another story entirely.

Nashville

My exposure to Nashville began in 1973 when I left Birmingham to attend college at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. As college students, we would “party hardy” on Second Avenue, Tootsie’s, and of course, check out the Bluebird Café.

At that time, Nashville was a country town that owed its beginnings to religious publishing. Country music and the Grand Ole Opera simply made it known to outsiders via its radio programs. Otherwise it was primarily the state capitol where farmers came to trade wares.

Charlotte

I moved to Charlotte in 1977 due to a better job opportunity. At the time, it really didn’t offer more than the other two cities did other than better job opportunities with higher salaries. It was growing as a city known for its major bank headquarters that were located there.

It wasn’t yet a transportation HUB but, was soon to become one with the expansion of the airport and the growth of Piedmont Airlines. Oh yes, and it was a clean progressive city, located at the foothills of the Smokies, within three hours of Myrtle Beach, and surrounded by numerous lakes.

Back to Nashville

In the ‘90’s I moved back to Nashville and remained there until 2000’s. My ties to middle Tennessee are strong to this day due to close friends.  The television program NASHVILLE made it internationally famous! It is the #1 city for Bachelor/Bachelorette parties, has numerous professional sports teams, has constructed a new Convention Center large enough to support the Democratic Convention, probably has a mean age of 27, and hotel rooms downtown rent for New York City prices.

Since there is no state income tax in Tennessee, it has some of the highest consumer taxes in the U.S. (gas, food, and lodging).  Revenue derived from gambling is allocated to higher education. It offers two year free college tuition programs when requirements are met.

Back to Birmingham

Ironically, when I moved back to Birmingham in January, 2020, I purchased a condo on Oxmoor Valley golf course next to Ross Bridge. I am barely in the Birmingham city limits so I get to vote on Birmingham’s issues. It also has afforded me a closer awareness of Bessemer, Hoover, and unincorporated Jefferson County. I did not have that previously since my family and friends all live in Homewood, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia.

My thoughts

There are so many unique wonderful things about Birmingham that go unrecognized.

Yes, our community has issues, but what other city, community, state or municipality is without its own issues?

Each of these cities has dealt with problems and handles them in different ways. Some successfully and some not so successfully.

Birmingham’s segmentation hurts

What Nashville and Charlotte have over Birmingham is unification that alters the internal divisions (bickering) we are still experiencing. (Mountain Brook vs. Homewood vs. Vestavia vs. Hoover, etc. etc. etc.)

What I have learned from my enjoyment and associations with all three municipalities is that it takes combined, focused effort, and hard work to achieve success. Oh yes, and that thing called compromise.

For all the individual municipalities to be able to come together for the World Games in a unified effort was remarkable. The logistics of coordinating, police, medical, volunteerism, safety, and services between all the communities used in the activities is something to be proud of!

Neither Nashville nor Charlotte would have had the challenges of multiple municipalities. They are both city/county forms of government.

The city of Charlotte is comprised of a City Council of only seven. Five districts and two at large members. Their economic recruiting efforts includes all five counties surrounding Mecklenburg so if one county doesn’t have what a company needs, they show them the other counties.

Nashville has built one of the best alternative road programs in the U.S. Residents familiar with the secondary roads can stay off the interstate system. However, they have serious traffic problems! There are four interstates that dissect the city bringing good and not so good problems, Green Hills is a disaster to get around.

Their Mayor was impeached for sexual relations with her security protector, and they envy our wonderfully engineered downtown area. Their buildings abut the streets and sidewalks while ours is laid on an engineering grid with wonderful deep setbacks.

Birmingham’s  return to grandeur

I do have to say that I never believed I would live to see Birmingham return to its earlier grandeur but, I am seeing things that lead to me to believe that may not actually be the case. Circumstances and efforts by the younger generations are motivating me towards more optimism.

Combine this with what is happening throughout other areas in the U.S. and circumstances impacting Birmingham, Huntsville and the entire Southeast just may turn us around. I just hope the transplants don’t bring so much negative influence that we suffer what the areas they are leaving have encountered.

But, everyone who visits me here is amazed by how lovely our city is. I hear constantly from friends that the reality of this area is grossly misrepresented. As long as we remain a conglomerate of individual municipalities, there will not be a unification of focused efforts that would ultimately benefit us all.

Maybe our younger leaders will figure out a way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

We have a wealth of potential to work with.

Brenda Starnes is a retired Corporate Real Estate professional experienced in the fields of telecommunications, banking, and commercial development.

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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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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27 thoughts on “Can Birmingham put Humpty Dumpty back together again?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. Very informative and interesting to hear what is going on outside of Birmingham.

  2. I do not see resentment between over the Mtn, communities, I view it as an oft repeated old wives tale. Where do you reside in the area, it’s easier to find motivations if I know where the writer has chosen to live. I do not think Bham is comparable to either of those cities, they’re at the very top of the list for cities south of the Mason -Dixon. As well as those cities have been run to develop into what they are, Bham has been run that poorly, for many many multiple decades. Whatever better future this area holds, it should not include Bham proper, it’s why we are where we are. Those who control & run Bham have made any hope of a brighter future that includes Bham, impossible. The stadium in N Bham was supposed to be at UAB, on campus, that was its purpose. Whiff. Downtown has been a lost cause since forever, it’s a dead horse, made deader by those in control. Some developers have gone in, bought for pennys on the dollar, put a different usage on the market for a dollar or more, then tell the public how great it is, on the verge of a renaissance. All anyone has to do, is go down there, I hate to call it a scam, but it’s a pig in a poke for sure. Red Mountain has been & will always be, the obstacle that cannot be overcome. There is no transition area between here & there, no one will drive 15-25 minutes for whatever when its in their neighborhood already, with no median stops to attract you, it makes the divide greater, why go over the mountain at all? There is more over the Mtn than back in Bham to some incalculable exponential already, that’s never ever never going to change. Yes they built a stadium, not their money and not where they said it would be. The World Games came, Bham lost money, and what’s next to lose money on? As long as you’re putting the stadium in the wrong place, why not misplace it over the mountain somewhere, where it will be used and be a tremendous success? No, try something in Bham one more time, just to prove what a waste of money it was.
    I’m sorry, I’m not attacking you, I’m only writing thoughts, I apologize for venting.

    1. Billy, you have every right to “vent”, but
      I hear Brenda’s message about “putting together all the pieces” as a challenge to create a more UNIFIED METRO …which ,in my view , could lead to higher paying job opportunities… a true International Airport…better schools and libraries….modern public transit system…Big League sports…more parks and recreation…safe and well-lit streets and roads….a strongly committed and funded Economic Development Committee…finally, Billy, with unification of purpose , our METRO , from its historic industrial valley across its beautiful green mountains and streams, in all directions, becomes an even prouder, more relevant and desirable HOMETOWN FOR EVERYONE.

      1. Very nice Chamber rah rah, I’m not mocking it, it just doesn’t excite me. At some point most will discover the banality of recuperation talk about that which is dead, they already wonder why some think it so desperately important. I was working downtown when Operation New Birmingham kicked off, eventually they de-asphalted Morris Ave and several bars moved in , rah rah, that was 1972. Then they put trees on 20th St, & red-bricked portions of the sidewalk, rah rah. Soon enough there were zero department stores, zero movie theaters, and we were down to only 3 hot dog joints. Build a park, build a baseball field, build a stadium, build an entertainment district, host the world games, yet day after day, the flat-lined meter never budges. I finally quit watching, it’s been going in the wrong direction my entire 66 years. I’ve seen everything thrown at Bham proper, too many times to count, Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville have gone one way, Bham, Memphis & Mobile have gone the other. If it could be fixed, it would have been, you can’t fix the population moving farther & farther away. You could offer homeowners OTM a free downtown condo, they wouldn’t move there, why would they? Bham now is good money after bad, where is the value other than a place to watch TV and lay your head? Reflecting on Bhams Halcyon days is a nostalgic hallucinogenic, the trip that never ends on the way to nowhere. I used to prose exactly as you, believe it, but I’ve come to realize … that which we loved so dearly is the Achilles heal of the region. The region is dying … hoping to save that which is dead.

      2. Those are pretty bold comments — especially for this forum. Here’s hoping you are heard.

        I remember a vibrant Birmingham of the 60s with Parisian, Loveman’s, and Pizitz, all great local stores anchored downtown. That included a large helping of well-heeled local banks and their leaders, too.

        A ride down second or third avenue through the whole of downtown speaks volumes about the renaissance and the return of the city. Those words are snake oil words.

        To point to places like Nashville and Charlotte’s success as being attributed to a unified, county-wide government is lunacy and should insult the intelligence of all of us. As someone who grew up and worked in Birmingham and later moved to Atlanta, which DOES NOT have county-wide government, I can tell you that Atlanta works, and it has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country — all without county-wide government!

        Birmingham’s problem is just as you described. Poor incompetent leadership in city hall for over 50 years. That’s the problem.

        Diversity of communities is just as important as human diversity, and that’s what we have here and what we should keep.

    2. 15-25 minutes is too far to drive? This says more than you can imagine. I can offer many counterexamples including a group of beer aficionados (most of whom live over the mountain) who meet weekly at the various brewpubs in Birmingham. And no there is not a corresponding range of choices closer to home in the suburbs. When I lived in L.A. it was common to drive very substantial distances for a meal, show, etc. I suspect the same is true in Atlanta today. Red Mountain is a barrier only in the mind.

      As for the target article, nothing much new here. Many newcomers, young and older, are choosing apartment living within Birmingham. We’ll see if this reverse flight has consequences.

    3. A couple of your points make no sense. First, you complain that the stadium wasn’t built near UAB. I’m not sure why that would be important, but there is simply no way it could’ve been. The area around UAB is built up. There was no substantial free space available for it. Where it is now there was a large free space.

      You talk about how great things are over the mountain and then complain that department stores closed in downtown Birmingham. If so many people didn’t think life was better over the mountain, they wouldn’t have closed.

      1. Well no, maybe I wasn’t clear. UAB football was abandoned several yrs back, it was given new life after a blitz of support and some promises. One of them was an on-campus stadium, supporters claimed the program got no traction playing out of Legion Field. That made sense, at least it was a fair argument, no program can be on solid ground playing home games in an off campus facility. Well, this n that, lotta money this, where we gonna put it that, it ends up in N Bham. That’s not what we were told. It was a compromise that cost Bham 95% less, but it didn’t address the original problem for UAB,. Or for the UA system that had cancelled football but was now stuck sharing money to build a facility in N Bham.

        On your 2nd point, you lost me. But there’s nothing ambiguous in what I’ve said, shopping downtown does not exist anymore, Bham could not support those business’, nor any other shopping destinations, I don’t see your point but those are the facts. If there were no over the Mtn, perhaps Bham would still be vibrant, but there is and it’s not, and I see it as beating a dead horse trying trying to breathe life back into it . Why is it even important, the folks who push so hard for it have a vested interest, City of Bham and property owners. Again, if Bham needed & wanted a N Bham stadium, they should have built it on their own, but they coerced money to build it where it’s useless to most of the region. You may disagree, but they wanted it for apiece of their entertainment district, not a prayer that’s gonna work out.

        1. You know more about the details of the UAB stadium than I do. It does seem it would have to have been quite a bit smaller if it had been built on campus.

          A lot depends on whether you believe reconciliation between people is important. A lot of the people of Birmingham have ancestors who were slaves. I am not pushing Critical Race Theory here. I am not assuming that all whites are racist or that the plight of an African American is always due to racism. But look at what a disgrace cities like Detroit and St. Louis are for America. Birmingham is not far behind. Of course if you really want to, you can blame it on the “irresponsibility” of the residents. But a lot of life is just plain luck. If you live in Mountain Brook, you are likely to be luckier than someone living in, say, north Birmingham.

          I have worked in university libraries in both Birmingham and Wichita, Kansas. At our UAB library most low-level jobs were done by African Americans. At the library in Wichita, we only had one black employee, the director!

          Below John Black said that Birmingham and Jefferson County have been “mismanaged.” That’s a common complaint about cities with black-run governments. In some cases it could be true. When you have an exodus of people with more talent, the people left may not do as good a job. The exodus is not necessarily by whites. I remember hearing about how the founder of Motown Records, Barry Gordy, left Detroit for LA when he had enough money. This was a real blow to the black people of the city, for whom Motown was a source of great pride. Essentially we have too many people who care about feathering their own nests and not enough about their neighbors. Have some compassion.

          1. Are you saying Bham is a victim, it’s citizens are victims, and I should be compassionate and advocate to give them money, my money? Why don’t you go first? Do you live in the city of Bham, you should move in, that’s easy enough, you have to reside somewhere. Then you can shop in Bham for every need, keep all your tax dollars in the city, educate your children in the city schools you pay for. That is real compassion for a victimized city of descendants of slaves, my opinion doesn’t matter at all, your actions would.

          2. I already live in Birmingham and am active in working to improve our public transit system.

    4. Those are pretty bold comments — especially for this forum. Here’s hoping you are heard.

      I remember a vibrant Birmingham of the 60s with Parisian, Loveman’s, and Pizitz, all great local stores anchored downtown. That included a large helping of well-heeled local banks and their leaders, too.

      To point to places like Nashville and Charlotte’s success attributed a unified, county-wide government is lunacy and should insult the intelligence of all of us. As someone who grew up and worked in Birmingham and later moved to Atlanta, which DOES NOT have country wide government I can tell you that Atlanta has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country — all without county-wide government!

      1. So you put the emphasis on nostalgia, the good old days. It’s easy to understand why there were department stores in downtown in the 60’s: America’s romance with the car hadn’t progressed all the way. In the late 60’s and 70’s downtown department stores closed all over the country. The same thing happened in my hometown of Tacoma, Washington. By 1980 there were no stores anymore downtown. Americans chose a car-based lifestyle, and what they wanted most was cheap and easy parking. In the 60’s there was still lots of public transit, so department stores weren’t that dependent on parking. Like Birmingham, Tacoma tried to spiff downtown up a little in the 70’s to keep stores, but it failed. It wasn’t because of the incompetence of city government, but because the malls were giving people what they wanted.

        Today we see suburban shopping malls dying all over the country. Mostly the ones that appeal to the really affluent like The Summit are doing well. Part of this is undoubtedly because of competition from Amazon and “big box” stores, but I do think a lot of people, maybe especially the young, have lost interest in living in the suburbs.

  3. Thank you for this. As some one who visits the cities mentioned & has lived in another city that is set up like Birmingham I understand and wish we could all come together. People will point to crime in Birmingham but with a collective effort crime can be handled, school system can be handled. But every one has to work on it. Birmingham & the suburbs got this way because of an ugly past we all have to work together to fix it

  4. A few words of history here from a native Alabamian (including 28 of my 69 years in Birmingham/Vestavia HIlls). I may live in Nashville today, but I believe I have the bona fides to comment about Birmingham. Music City’s economic and cultural success isn’t completely attributed to its Metro form of government, nor its highway system. (Nobody today would compliment our interstates and surface streets. Congestion is a real problem.) In the 1960s, when Birmingham was struggling with the effects of desegregation and racial unrest, Atlanta was advancing as “the city too busy to hate.” Nashville’s experience wasn’t very different from Atlanta’s. John Lewis began his campaign to desegregate public accommodations at Nashville’s Woolworth lunch counter and was met with some resistance. But otherwise the city mostly avoided the conflicts that Birmingham experienced. Thus it was able to move forward without the internal divisions or external image challenges that Birmingham suffered.

    At this very moment Birmingham – or more precisely a specific part of its citizenry – has a chance to step forward and join the ranks of “cities too busy to hate.” Here again history shows how politics and economic development intersect. Sixty years ago white business leaders across Alabama failed to speak out against the racist words and deeds of George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark. (Montgomery industrialist Red Blount is the most prominent exception I can think of.) Economic development in the state, including Birmingham, was set back decades. Now comes the outrageously racist comments from Senator Tommy Tuberville at a Trump rally in Nevada. Where are the voices of condemnation from business leaders in Birmingham and elsewhere in the state, such as the folks who read and comment on this forum?

    Once more Nashville is instructive. In the last five years the city has scored two major economic development prizes. First was Amazon’s 2018 announcement that it would create a major Operations Center of Excellence downtown, with a promise of 5,000 white collar corporate jobs. As a result you now see numerous high rise office and residential towers going up (three of which are being co-developed with the downtown YMCA, by the way). Then last year came Oracle’s announcement that it would build an enormous planned office campus downtown with 8,000 more high paying tech jobs. Oracle’s investment will lead to a complete transformation of the East Bank of the Cumberland River, adjacent to Nissan Stadium. Now consider this: Would Jeff Bezos or Larry Ellison have chosen to come to Nashville, if one of Tennessee’s elected officials had made comments like Tuberville’s? I doubt it. These corporations can go anywhere in the world. They need not darken the doorstep of a state where its politicians use racist tropes. That’s especially true with tech companies looking to recruit young, well-educated employees. But those companies can be persuaded to look favorably at a state or community, if they hear from its business leaders who reject its politicians’ outrages. Now is the time for business leaders in Birmingham – in the city proper as well as those in the surrounding suburbs – to speak up loudly, while the city is enjoying real opportunity. Don’t let history repeat itself at this moment of promise.

    1. Amen! It’ disappointing to me that too many of our young, highly educated and bright men and women remain SILENT about the state of affairs at home or in Montgomery. After hearing from Billy, it seems like Elton Stephens’ Red Mtn. Xway has not opened many doors or hearts …..hope I’m wrong.

      1. Why ? many of our young, highly educated and bright men and women remain SILENT about the state of affairs at home or in Montgomery is because we left the area. Ask ourselves where are our children ?

  5. Unfortunately it is often a one sided discussion when talking about regional cooperation. It seems that the expectation is for the suburbs or “Over the Mountain” areas are to submit to Birmingham city. It’s no secret the city of Birmingham and JeffCo governments have been terribly mismanaged for decades. What I can’t understand is why would the suburbs willingly want to work with the proven broken and dysfunctional governments of Birmingham city and JeffCo. This is highlighted by the constant raiding of any commercial growth from the suburbs. For example just this week Birmingham has a proposal to build an amphitheater downtown with the stipulation that would require the shutdown of current Oak Mountain Amphitheater. Did anyone think to involve Pelham/Oak Mountain in the discussions? No, they learn from a press release. Did anyone in Birmingham city think what would happen to a suburb like Pelham that depends on that revenue? No, no one give a damn about a small suburb.

    So I’m sorry to say that many suburbs will fight tooth and nail against any idea of “cooperation” because it is nothing but a lie. If the city of Birmingham wants cooperation then it has to start with them. Birmingham should open up and start discussing matters with suburbs BEFORE trying to steal revenue making opportunities, and eventually, once enough good will has been built; some of the suburbs might be willing to cooperate. However until the backstabbing stops the suburbs are willing to watch Birmingham slowly burn.

    Why is crime so high in Birmingham but not crazy high in Over the Mountain areas? Leadership, plain and simple. And some folks want the suburbs to capitulate to Birmingham city…heck no.

    1. Well of course, why the belief that the area below Red Mountain is worth saving, simply because it came first? That city cannot take care of itself, yet it wants to be the lead player in talks of consolidations of any type, Bham wants & needs the money, period. The priorities are completely different, as example here in Mtn Brook neither the Mayor nor the Council are paid positions, Bham has been populating prisons with rank corruption for decades. That’s not rhetoric, that’s truth. Bham does not know how to create value for landowners, business’ or citizens, that’s a tremendous shortcoming for anything new. Some folks just have a nostalgic view of the Bham they grew up with, that city is gone and not coming back. I understand property owners that live over the Mtn wanting to breathe life back into it, but people of the region have showed over & over again, they’re not interested. I don’t have a wistful attitude about it anymore, leadership has allowed it to rot, South Side was attractive for many many decades, now it’s a dump and unsafe. There’s been a void of leadership going back 50 years, what would change? More money would hep? Only more corruption, by people who have no idea what they’re doing anyway. It will never improve simply by talking it up, Bham has had more chances than any area deserves, it never turns it in to anything. Converting space into condos ain’t gonna cut it, unless you buy one why would you go there? It’s a ghost town, every redo has failed to keep or attract, that’s the facts.

  6. Bill Mount – Being in Alabama is not the problem. You live here don’t you? Why?

    Anyway, I’m tired of hearing about combining municipalities as it’s nothing but an excuse for poor performance. None of the OTM communities want Birmingham dirtying up their vibe and they especially don’t want their resources going to Birmingham so good luck getting that to fly.

    I truly think the one thing Birmingham needs is a rock star like Richard Scrushy (hear me out!). He made a very substantial impact on Birmingham and its suburbs. If he’d only done it legally there’s no telling what Healthsouth would have done for Birmingham . Heck it’s still having a possitive impact but think about what it could have been were it not for the corruption.

    Bill Smith is the next big thing but he’s just selling off all his businesses to the highest bidder… He’s basically using Birmingham to fatten his personal bank account. He’s doing some good for the city, but NO WHERE to the extent of Scrushy/Healthsouth.

    99.9% of the deep pockets in/around Birmingham are old and don’t want to be bothered by growth. Their kids moved off and are enjoying the glitz and glamour of other cities and planting their new families there.

    So I echo the fact there’s not much hope. Any hope will take decades and I’m not waiting around on that slight possibility. I say move now and enjoy the rest of your life somewhere that’s doing it right and can offer much more bang for the buck.

    1. “None of the OTM communities want Birmingham dirtying up their vibe”

      Do you know what that sounds like? They make their living in Birmingham but think it’s too “dirty” for them? I wonder how many people OTM would really endorse that, or at least would endorse it without shame.

    2. Hi, B Cassell.

      I don’t live in Alabama and haven’t since 1978*. I have a few good friends who still live there and I can’t understand why they stayed.

      Birmingham and the OTM environs may be tolerably livable but they’re still buried in a state full of guns ‘n’ god types who choose people like Kay Ivey and Roy Moore** to represent them.

      The ancient gag about “thank god for Mississippi” has never been more true.

      I still have a soft spot for my former home. Obviously I read “Comeback Town” and I subscribe to AL.com. The first segment on my Alexa Morning Briefing is “Down In Alabama” with Ike Morgan. I can’t live there but I still care.

      * To provide context, I think my Alabama bona fides are pretty solid. I grew up in Bluff Park, attended Bluff Park Elementary, Berry High and The University of Montevallo. I got my first job in Mobile and my second job back home in Birmingham.

      Since leaving Birmingham I’ve lived in St. Louis, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta. For the past 25 years I’ve lived in Boston and you’d need dynamite to get me out.

      ** I know, he’s “former” and good riddance.

      1. Mr. Mount, I’m a Democrat but I actually supported Roy Moore a little bit. I remember watching the ads around Aug. 2017 that said he wasn’t a real supporter of Pres. Trump and wouldn’t build the Mexico wall. That outraged me. I thought, “he’s more likely to build it than Luther Strange.” So I donated to him. The Republican Establishment did the same to Mo Brooks, and I donated a little to him, too. Later I wrote to both of them saying, “why do you think it was so important for the Republican Establishment to keep you out of the Senate?”

      2. Mr. Mount: My apologies in advance for a lengthy reply. I hope you and others find something enlightening in it. The late photographer William Christenberry – who was my friend and arguably Alabama’s most distinguished artist of the 20th century – was an ex pat from the state like you and me. His lifelong subject matter was the changing landscape of the Black Belt, Yet he chose to live in Washington, DC, in order to maintain a sharp but very sympathetic perspective on the region. My absence from Alabama is much briefer than Christenberry’s or your own. I was born in rural Talladega County but grew up in Tuscaloosa. I received most of my college education in your state of Massachusetts. But I hasten to mention two additional career moves after I returned South. After earning an MBA from Emory University, I declined opportunities in Atlanta to return to Alabama – Huntsville to be precise. Two years later, however, I jumped at the chance to leave Huntsville for Birmingham, where I spent 27 years living in Vestavia while working in the City of Birmingham. My work entailed travel and educating myself about communities and organizations across the entire state. For more than 20 of those years I broke bread every Tuesday with many of the City’s leaders in the Downtown Kiwanis Club. So I feel eminently qualified to participate here. My wife and I moved to Nashville in retirement for personal family reasons in 2016. (She grew up in Forest Park. Her great-grandparents settled in Birmingham in the 1880s.) We also have a deeply personal reason to visit Vestavia whenever we visit family in the City of Birmingham, even if we never choose to live again in either city. I believe David Sher is completely open to comments from folks outside the state on this forum. Nor would he object to folks living in Decatur or Dothan commenting about Metro Birmingham, if they are familiar with the area and have something constructive to say. I’m sure he will let us know if he ever changes his mind. So if I offer a comment here about Nashville, I do so not to criticize either the City of Birmingham proper or the OTM suburbs by comparing them to Music City. I actually understand why most Birmingham area residents are quite happy to live where they do. Instead I hope to share something about Nashville that Birmingham folks may not know. (Nashville seems to come up often in discussions here.) Or to place either/both cities in historical context. Or, like my friend Bill Christenberry, to simply reflect about life in the entire South. All these Southern cities – big, small, medium-sized, urban, rural, suburban – really have a lot more in common than we’re sometimes tempted to think.

        1. Alabama is going permitless on handguns in 2023. If there’s a clearer sign that the people running that state are trying to reverse the progress of civilization, I can’t think of it. Seriously, how can anybody with a three-digit IQ stand to live there and pay taxes to support such lunacy?

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