Have you heard of The World Games? It’s the Olympics for sports that are too random to be in the real Olympics. It is happening right now in Birmingham, AL. It’s not too late to get your tickets to see Canoe Polo.
For people interested in regional politics, this blog about the city successfully hosting a major event might be interesting. His references to people in “the suburbs” is something you won’t understand without some context and history. But you don’t have to be a local to learn that history, since everything is online.
This morning I walked to breakfast with a woman who just moved (back) to Birmingham. She got to know the area as a college student. She tried to make a life for her family in a different city in the Southeast, but they just couldn’t find the connection they were looking for. So, she is back, just because she really loves Birmingham.
Similarly, one of the friends I made in my first year here moved away for a combination of career and family reasons. Every time we talk she tells me that she misses Birmingham. People basically don’t leave unless something forces them to. Often that force, especially for young adults, is the lack of job opportunities. Birmingham had several big companies before the Great Recession. A lot of the “good jobs” that were lost in an exodus of businesses have not returned. But the bright side is that the city itself, the downtown area, has been willed into a renewal. There are new apartments and restaurants downtown, following the installment of Railroad Park and Regions Field. Here’s my previous blog about Birmingham landmarks for tourists.
The small development boom is probably driven more by people who desire to live in a downtown as opposed to the suburbs, more so than it is driven by the creation of lots of new jobs. The traffic for commuting into Birmingham is nothing like the hell of Atlanta or LA, however there are some routes that fill up during rush hour.
In one sense, the YIMBY folks should be excited about this. Something is getting built somewhere. But there are strong NIMBY forces all throughout Birmingham and the suburbs. What is partly happening is that an area (downtown Birmingham) that was a wasteland is getting developed with low-rise or mid-rise structures. It’s easier to develop a place that was previously an abandoned lot (although it can still be very costly and difficult to get permissions). It’s nearly impossible to change a neighborhood that people live in.
Witness some NIMBY forces I documented here. I snapped a picture of a discussion from a neighborhood Facebook group. Someone actually wrote, “I wish they weren’t going to be so tall.” about a row of townhomes that would be two stories tall.
You can witness honest discussions by locals at comebacktown.com. This is a recent post that sums up everything quickly, including the legacy of racial tension.
Here’s an interview with Mayor Woodfin. His leadership has been instrumental in the recent progress.
This is a slide show of graphs prepared by the Alabama Center for Real Estate at the Culverhouse College of Business.
Of course, the time to get into the market was before it took off. Even though new houses and apartment buildings are getting built, it still does not feel like there is plentiful housing for all who want it.
When people are buzzing about progress in Birmingham, I rarely hear them mention that we are buoyed by a nation-wide trend of humans moving South. No matter how much hope you have, it’s hard to pull off development projects when you are losing population, like some cities in the colder North are. Our natural endowment is sunshine, and no matter how good or bad our politics get, people like sunshine.
Lastly, this is just funny, for people who know…
Agree – -as a lifelong Yankee who occasionally visits Birmingham, it has more charm and attractions than I expected. I think a key factor is that they have been able to manage the decline of the traditional steel industry by becoming a huge medical hub for the Southeast. Lots of hospitals, anchored by the top drawer U. Alabama medical school there. Medical professionals support lawyers and accountants, who all support the rest of the pyramid.