If you listen to online rankings Birmingham, its suburbs are lonely, fat, and unhappy

Fat BellyBy David Sher

It’s really frustrating.

I feel like I’m continually hitting my head against a wall.

Internet companies keep publishing negative city rankings with Birmingham at or near the top.

But these rankings are complete idiocy because of the way Birmingham is compared.

And yet, I can’t seem to get anyone to pay attention.

Folks just seem to accept them and that harms all of us whether we live in the City of Birmingham or in our suburbs.

To people from outside of Alabama, we’re not from Mountain Brook, Homewood, or Trussville. We’re not from Hoover, Irondale, or Gardendale. We’re from Birmingham.

I live in Vestavia Hills, but when I talk with someone from out-of-state, I tell them I’m from Birmingham.

Telling ourselves we live in a fancy suburb may make us feel good, but it doesn’t mean a thing to someone who lives in Chicago.

These random Internet rankings definitely damage our Birmingham brand.

Families are skeptical of moving to our Birmingham region. It’s more difficult to recruit companies. Less jobs and opportunities are created.

What folks think of Birmingham is what they think of us, our families, and our lives.

They judge us by the city rankings they see when they Google Birmingham.

Internet city rankings must get a lot of ‘clicks’ and be profitable because there seems to be a city ranking for just about everything.

Hold your nose and here’s what you will see when you go  on-line.

Birmingham is…

The way these rankings are constructed, Birmingham is like a lamb to slaughter.

The City of Birmingham has a population of 197,575—Jefferson County 667,820.

Birmingham represents only 29.5% of the population of Jefferson County, but when the above rankings are published, they only include the City of Birmingham without its well-to-do suburbs. No Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills or Homewood. None of us who live in the suburbs are included.

Yet Birmingham is ranked against cities like Nashville, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Indianapolis that have county/city governments. These cities represent 100% of the households of their county—with its high-income neighborhoods.

Jefferson County is one of the most segmented urban counties in America with 35 separate municipalities. Compare Birmingham’s 29.5% of Jefferson County’s population to Charlotte, North Carolina which represents 78% of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’ population.

A look at Atlanta is instructive.

Buckhead, a well-to-do area of Atlanta is considering breaking away from Atlanta.

According to CNN, if Buckhead successfully secedes from Atlanta, “Buckhead City would take nearly 20% of Atlanta’s population and remove more than 40% of the assessed value of its property.”

The City of Atlanta would then be on the verge of being a lot more like Birmingham. Atlanta will likely suffer greater poverty and crime for the specific area measured…and move way up in negative rankings.

I’m not going to make the case we need to have a county/city government to make our statistics look better.

But those statistics are taking a toll on us. It causes an overstatement of crime, poverty, obesity, stress, and unhappiness.

You may have seen the headlines on al.com, Alabama saw big spike in new arrivals from other states in 2022.

 But these folks are not coming to Birmingham or Jefferson County.

According to al.com, the “growth isn’t spread evenly across Alabama. In recent years, just a handful of counties have gained significant population from in-migration – the biggest being Baldwin County, home to Alabama’s beaches, and Madison County, home to booming Huntsville. Lee, Limestone, St. Clair, and Tuscaloosa…all also saw significant population gain from migration over the last decade.

Let’s not fall prey to these simplistic and incomplete rankings from greedy profit-seeking websites.

Birmingham folks are generous, caring, and welcoming.

I contend our Birmingham region is #1 for quality of life in the U.S.

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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7 thoughts on “If you listen to online rankings Birmingham, its suburbs are lonely, fat, and unhappy”

  1. David, I find it interesting that you don’t argue the data is wrong but rather how the data is framed. My opinion is that instead of trying to reframe our issues or in this case the data, maybe we should work to address those issues.

    The division between Birmingham and the suburbs is only getting wider due to Birmingham amphitheater project.

  2. Amen! Birmingham is so unique in its structure that most people simply do not understand. Because they are unaccustomed to the various incorporated factions, they think it is one big city named “Birmingham.” Polls NEVER get it right for the same reason. Yet, other people get their information from these “polls.” A huge problem when making evaluative comparisons.

    We really need a committed marketing group comprised of “everyone” that is focused on using the available mediums to present our wonderful community & all it has to offer. That of course, would require cooperation, funding, & support from all multiple communities & counties. It could be done & it would be beneficial for all the participants.

  3. David,
    Great article. Birmingham area has a lot to offer and offers much more than most cities in the US.
    The only problem with the Birmingham area is substandard marketing. The city does not market all the positive things Birmingham has to offer which is sad. Birmingham needs to get with the cities in its suburbs and put together a plan and program to market the area as a ‘unit’ and not just 35 different municipalities. There needs to be a synergistic effort on the part of all the municipaities coming together.

  4. You argue that Birmingham proper is only a small % of the metro population and you include some other cities for comparison. But there are many others you left out that make up an even smaller % of their metros population. For instance, Atlanta is only 8% of ATL metro (that includes Buckhead). Dallas is 17% of DFW.
    Either way, you’re assuming that Birmingham’s suburbs are that desirable. To be honest, they’re just not. Vestavia is growing older and nothing is going on on HWY 31. Mountain Brook is it’s own deal with little to actually offer except a very proud ego because you’re the top of the Bham food chain. Homewood is the most overpriced suburb in the south. It’s nice but nothing special if you’re trying to compare to the “cute / expensive” parts of many of these other metros. Every other suburb in Birmingham is “Commontown USA” full of struggling strip malls with random new little breakfast places here and there.

    I do agree that crime stats are skewed and are not indicative of the metro as a whole, plenty other metros deal with this statistical problem as well. Also, even if suburb stats were included, it’s not like BHM would shoot to the top of many lists even still.

    I’m just tired of hearing people defend Birmingham with our “great suburbs”. They’re ok. They’re livable. Nothing too special or different.

  5. David … Birmingham is not alone in this. I’ve lived in two other cities, Philadelphia and Baltimore, with some of the wealthiest, healthiest suburbs in the country — places like Bryn Mawr and Columbia. Yet, we’re constantly ranked by data from the city proper, and that data isn’t pretty. One thing is for sure — forget about regional government, it’s politically impossible. The ONLY remedy is for all of us to commit to making our central cities better.

  6. Craig, you’re right. The ONLY way this can or will ever happen is for the city of Birmingham to get things right. Losing money on the World Games is egg on the face and really pisses off the OTM businesses that trusted them.

    I think the best thing to do is to try to build up the suburbs into their own big cities. Look at Dallas and what’s happened in Addison, Las Colinas, Plano, Frisco.. They’re talking about putting another NFL team in Frisco! It’s grown by over 100k in 10 years. That North Dallas corridor is a large city by itself where large companies are moving. Other examples might be the Woodlands, Alpharetta, Franklin, etc.

    Birmingham’s suburbs have just never competed. Hoover kinda tries but it’s effect isn’t really felt outside of Alabama.

    Again, Birmingham’s suburbs can be nice sure, but I drove down HWY 31 in Vestavia the other day and almost nothing has changed or progressed in the past 15 years, maybe 20. It’s not bad but certainly nothing that will make a millennial want to move or hang out there.

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