Can Birmingham's cities cooperate?

Regional cooperation in the Birmingham metro area is increasingly one of the most controversial topics in the city. Often confused with "consolidation," cooperation among the metro's cities is becoming a necessity. Looking back almost two decades, Birmingham's metro has failed to significantly increase its employment, and most revitalization in the city is cosmetic and doesn't run very deep beneath the surface. Where full consolidation has historically hit a brick wall on the issue of school systems, a number of alternatives are appearing that may make the Birmingham area more attractive, economically and socially.

The Players

On a sunny Tuesday morning on March 19, 2018, six of the Birmingham area mayors convened at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham to discuss the current state of the metropolitan area, immediate projects that each city is working on, and, arguably most important, opportunities for mutual cooperation between the cities and their respective functions.

The common theme this morning was realization of shared fates. While each city is excited about the potential for development projects within their jurisdictions, for the first time in recent memory, it appears as though the municipal silos in the Birmingham area are finally recognizing that they are each in this together.

The respective mayors for the cities of Birmingham, Hoover, Vestavia, Mountain Brook, Gardendale, and Bessemer each expressed a willingness to cooperate on essential city tasks. Each mayor commented a willingness to strive for a single "base hit." Hopeful that one of these successful projects would lead to a "leapfrog effect" whereby the individual cities would be able to build upon that success.

The Future

Personally, I have not seen a visible situation in my lifetime of where Birmingham's political leadership has shown a willingness to cooperate on a metropolitan scale quite like this. This was a sentiment that was echoed in this morning's meeting by David Sher of the ComebackTown blog.

While this morning's discussion was honest, yet hopeful, it's time to see real work be done. Many of the mayors commented that the lowest hanging fruit is a non-poaching agreement, whereby individual cities would agree to not entice businesses away from one municipality into another municipality. This type of economic development is zero-sum game and does not contribute to a significant economic bottom line for the metropolitan area. Possibly, with the success of something like a non-poaching agreement, the Birmingham Metro could tackle larger projects down the road such is the ever challenging transit issue.

Only time will tell, but this morning provided some hope of some potential future gains.