Birmingham, My dream for my hometown

Maury Shevin
Maury Shevin

Today’s guest columnist is Maury Shevin.

If there is any dream that I have for my hometown it is this:

Birmingham, Alabama is a metropolitan area where its young people do not leave home for other cities; rather young people move to Birmingham for its world class job opportunities and vibrancy.

Is this still only a dream or is it becoming reality?

Let me step back in history for just a moment.

For my entire life, too many of the best and brightest young people have exited Birmingham for perceived brighter futures in Atlanta, and more recently in Charlotte, Nashville and other Sunbelt cities.

Notwithstanding our having the same temperate climate and similar natural resources, other cities have beckoned our young people with their offers of better job opportunities and a more progressive social atmosphere.

For too many years, political dysfunction and passive indifference by those in positions of power, and often outright discrimination, fostered this less-than-ideal place for personal and professional growth.

But, is this changing?  Have we in Birmingham found our groove?  Maybe we have.

Birmingham today

As many recent Comeback Town columnists have noted, Birmingham’s landscape is changing.  And this change is opening job opportunities for young people.  Our entrepreneurs develop new venues of all types, and our political leaders have used their political capital to support change.

This combination has given us the Parkside, Midtown and Lakeview transformations, the Crossplex, Uptown and Protective Stadium, and now the redevelopment of Southtown and Carraway.

And of critical importance there is the steady leadership of UAB and its related entities that play a strategic role in keeping our region competitive.  UAB is a world class center for medicine and education.  If you travel at all, you know this to be a fact—not just my opinion.

Our corporations including O’Neal Industries, Brasfield & Gorrie, Shipt and Landing continue to welcome new hires to Birmingham.  Job opportunities in technology and the arts are here in Birmingham for those who are looking.

Our social scene, including the celebration of Pride and Juneteenth speak volumes to our changing sense of place.

These changes have not come about easily, nor overnight.  Mayor Woodfin, Mayor Brocato and other political leaders are working tirelessly to draw business opportunities to the Birmingham Metropolitan area to create a welcoming future for Birmingham’s next generation.  Because of their efforts, we are more self-assured, more self-confident.  We are not afraid to try new things—even if some are problematic.

So, how does Birmingham build on its successes?

First, let’s quit bemoaning that we are not Atlanta, Georgia.  And, just why would anyone want to be?  Who wants hours in traffic and the paving of our backyards with freeways and strip malls, particularly when job opportunities and cultural enrichment are virtually 15 minutes away from everyone’s home?

Next, let’s play to our strengths.  For example, by all rights, we should have a world class human rights and civil rights tourism industry in Birmingham.  Why isn’t our Civil Rights District already the dominant one in the USA?  Couldn’t, shouldn’t a world class Civil Rights District be every bit a major driver of the Birmingham economy that UAB is? Let’s demand it.

And, let’s demand that our Jefferson County and Shelby County Legislative delegations work together.  Mobile and Huntsville have proven that when their counties’ legislators work together they accomplish their goals.  We in Metropolitan Birmingham do not need to be subjugated to the will of Montgomery.

Retention of our young adults should be our prime directive.  This is accomplished by providing them with excellent job opportunities in a welcoming and progressive social environment.  Other Sunbelt cities are doing this.  We are too.  Let’s better market our story.

Maury Shevin—passionate about the City of Birmingham–lives, works, thinks and plays on Birmingham’s Southside.

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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19 thoughts on “Birmingham, My dream for my hometown”

  1. AMEN, Maury! Of course, nothing happens unless you make it happen!
    Hopefully, we’ve got native sons and daughters with the burning desire to
    make this happen?

  2. That has ALWAYS been my thought as well: why not have Birmingham place a positive spin on its sordid past instead of trying to bury it or pretend it never happened? Birmingham SHOULD have the nation’s premier Civil Rights museum/institute/district. How is it that Memphis can name theirs the National Civil Rights Museum, when few significant events in the history of the movement (except MLK’s assassination) happened there? No other city has the history or the struggle that Birmingham has in this regard but yet other cities can capitalize on it.

    There could be coordination between Montgomery and Selma for a “Freedom Corridor”, which would be an even more in-depth tour of the Civil Rights movement as a premium for tourists (similar to the tours of Marshall Space Flight Center for guests at the US Space and Rocket Center/Space Camp).

    The bickering about incompetent/corrupt local officials is getting old (someone voted for them). Left/right political diatribes accomplish nothing and energy is wasted complaining instead of doing. At this point Atlanta doesn’t want to be Atlanta right now.

    I understand there are those who yearn for B’ham to wither and die on the vine – it serves no benefit to their community if this happens. Madison did not score a major contract with the Pentagon – Huntsville did. Saraland did not secure a major deal with Airbus – Mobile did. It’s not UAMB [University of Alabama in Mountain Brook], it’s UAB. I have my own reasons for being suspicious of regionalism, but that is only one of several solutions; there are others.

    Birmingham should lure businesses with the incentive of there being a relatively lower cost of living, less traffic/easier commute, and more parks and green space for hiking and recreation. Atlanta/Charlotte/Nashville can not claim any of that.

  3. The writer says we are not Atlanta. We are also not Vicksburg, Selma, or Montgomery. Unlike those cities, Birmingham is not rich in historic charm,. It is known for steel factories rather than antebellum homes, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  4. Maury:

    I am always lifted by your eternal optimism! I totally agree that we should embrace our past, warts and all. And we should, literally and figuratively, wrap our arms around the Civil Rights District. From city hall to 16th St. Baptist to the once-thriving Black business district (let’s make it thrive again)!

    Thanks again for your heartfelt support of a better metro area!

  5. Robust public transportation would be a boon for all Alabama residents and businesses. It would even attract new people and lots of visitors. Imagine buses running every 15 minutes. That would give everyone access to the wonderful amenities like the Civil Rights district. Students would have access to colleges, residents would have access to jobs, appointments, and above all, businesses would boom leading to a strong and healthy economy — a short walk to the nearest bus stop would net healthy residents as well.

    People can’t miss something they’ve never had and Alabama hasn’t had good mass transit since the early 1950s. Twenty-four seven, round the clock and weekends public transportation would be a boon for businesses. Business services located near bus stops thrive.

    Businesses owners should bend over backwards lobbying for better, faster bus service. Public transit would be the ideal asset added to the wonderful things touted in Maury Shevin’s column. It’s time folks started looking into that.

  6. As a young person, I think the tide is turning from what you experienced growing up. There is a pretty solid group of young people in Birmingham and a lot of us do like living here.

    Loved what you said about the Metro area working together. This is vitally important and as the the city grows cooperation is going to have to happen because otherwise we are doomed to repeat the same mistake our peer cities around us have made.

    Making our city more walkable should be our number 1 goal and we are actually not in a bad position to make this a reality.

    Our entire downtown area is closely compact and can be a fantastic place to walk. The citywalk at the BJCC was an absolutely brilliant idea and I applaud the current city administration for their work on that.

    A comprehensive light rail network would do wonders for our city and could save us from becoming another congested, depressing, car-hell that is Atlanta.

    I recommend the first step is to make 1st and 2nd Ave N one lane roads. Expand the side walks on both sides out and create dedicated bike lanes on in between the sidewalk and road. I think if we do this we will see and increase in residency and business in this area.

    Next, we should look to lakeview to improve the walkability there, but I’m still contemplating what would work.

    Everyone let’s make Birmingham better!

    1. As a youngish person(31)I appreciate the sentiment, but I also feel like a lot of older Alabamians are out of touch with what people want. Most young people that I know of don’t really care about the history of Civil Rights or its struggle.

      Pardon my French,but that’s for the older generation that lived it or even the generation that was born right after. We are now 2-3 generations away from the civil rights era and young people care way more about other things.

      I would also like to point your attention to demographics. How are you going to get White people of the bham metro to move back into Birmingham?

      There will be no huge growth in the city population until you get the bham metro white people to move back in. Politically these same metro whites are diametrically opposed to the population of Birmingham proper at the moment(Birmingham being solid blue).

      Or are we just counting them out. Their voice doesn’t matter? Maybe you feel like these people have too much of a voice already?

      Something to ponder.

      1. well as a 39 year old black male I think the answer is creating a metropolitan government. everybody gets a vote and there voices heard needs met hopefully. instead of focusing on race lets focus on being number one here again killing that false Huntsville narrative not including the metro numbers. and then becoming.
        a destination not only in the southeast but the U.S. for people come and visit and move to. Its a lot of restaurants, Amphitheater, and etc. going on in the city. we need big name shopping downtown and family entertainment. like bowling and movies there starting neighborhood revitalization. and the crime that metropolitan government will bring more money for more officer to patrol.

        1. Somewhere I read that people who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it. In your case, only time will tell.

          1. I must concur; these younger generations are not taught a lick of what has made this city [Birmingham] what it is today – none of the economic or social dynamics which has brought it to this point. The Civil Rights Institute is just some building downtown for a field trip; Sloss Furnace is just some large landmark next to the 1st Ave viaduct. The fact that all of that can be poo-pooed as being somehow irrelevant or unimportant underscores why Birmingham is facing its population crisis. It should be embracing its history, not sweeping it under the rug and pretending it never happened (Tulsa is not doing that); that’s disingenuous. Not all cities have happy histories – own up to it but show how you’ve moved forward from the ugliness of the 50s and 60s without ignoring it. You can not have a “build it and they will come” approach if those prospective tourists do not have a backstory as to why this city exists or what makes it significant. I do not think regionalism is the one answer; there are many ways to accomplish a goal but it requires doing the hard stuff – cooperation.

          2. In my case! your hilarious. man I have a family full of A.H. parker high graduates. grew up in Smithfield, ensley, and west end around my grandparents we all went to HBCU not Alabama not auburn not uab. if you think I don’t know my history or know about. institutional racism yall crazy. but I guess you didn’t understand i responding to someone saying. white people dont have a voice in the city. but live in the county.

          3. I did and Im currently sending two. could you get to your point. and how old are you?

  7. Here’s my own opinion…again, truly my own:

    As a NATIVE, I certainly do hope that the Birmingham MSA has “turned the corner”, and continues to do so. I know that I didn’t have the time in my own life’s trajectory to sit around and wait or pray. My entire family moved on to other better educated, and better run towns and cities in order to experience some of what the United States of America really offered – not just experiencing the recalcitrance and parochialism that we commonly found in the Anglo-Caucasian/white, Negroid/black, and especially in the Semitic/Jewish communities which we commonly “traversed”.

    No city is perfect, but some are “more perfect than others” (viz Animal Farm lol). Early on we found too much “Atlanta Envy”. Now it seems that there exists “Huntsville Envy” (while it seems to me that Huntsville isn’t looking over its shoulder at Birmingham – and really never has in my own observation).
    What a total waste of resources and time! Time is critical in life. Some folks had time to waste or “invest”….many others, like my family chose not to engage in a slow-walking fantasy-land, so most of us did move around this great nation for greater rewarding experiences without the “hand-wringing lethargy” which was laced with heavy doses of ignorance, stupidity, overt and subtle racism from Whites, Non-Whites and those “do-gooder Others” who still engage in not-so-clever manipulation for their own pocketbooks and self-aggrandizement.

    Nay, as a Capital Markets professional, along with one of my siblings, a physician, it’s always time to “keep Muvvin”, living, learning, and never forgetting that “no one monkey stops the show”. Life is too short, this is a great nation in toto. We found that most, not all of Birmingham was wearing either blinders, rose-colored glasses, or “whistling through the Graveyard”

    Additionally, the implied requisite of unanimity of thought was, and still is puke-worthy…….a strange brand resentment and perhaps insecurity at the core…..can’t be certain of that Ha !

    My take as a native, not a transplant. Find your rainbow.

  8. I don’t think the city run from its history or sweep it under the rug. because we have the institutions. civil rights and negro league museum just a few that cost a lot of money they dont promote it like they should world wide. And the city population look go to Charlotte, Nashville Austin just a few cities and look around and see what’s going on. if your city is dead you will continue to lose the young. people are going to cities that are progressive. we can promote Birmingham as a civil rights city and progress at the time.

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