Together We Can

Charting a Course to Cooperation for Greater Birmingham

A report prepared by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

June 2017

As a trusted community partner, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham has been helping to transform the landscape of our region since 1959. In addition to funding the work of our nonprofit partners, we are also addressing larger community issues—issues that have an impact on the long-term well-being of our region. One such issue is regional cooperation—or, in the case of the Greater Birmingham area—the LACK of regional cooperation.

The following report is a starting point for a community discussion that needs to occur if we, the greater Birmingham area, hope to remain relevant in the future. It is about exploring structures that position us to work collectively so that we can address regional issues that allow our metropolitan area to grow and prosper for everyone.

As you will see in the report, the evidence is overwhelming that regions that speak with one voice prosper better than those that don’t. With 35 independent municipalities in Jefferson County, our history has been one of competition over cooperation. We remain one of the most fragmented communities in the South which has led to economic stagnation and stunted growth…and the future does not bode well for us unless we do things differently.

This report has been made possible by two important entities, the Catalyst donors of the Community Foundation and PARCA (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama). Our Catalyst donors feel the time is right to take a fresh look at what can be done to overcome the consequences of our fragmentation. PARCA, in turn, has taken a deep dive in exploring our past and offering encouraging models from other cities that have successfully overcome their fragmentation.

The obvious question is, “What do we hope to accomplish through this report?” The answer is quite simple: we hope this comprehensive analysis of our region’s fragmentation will engage the community in a conversation about how to position us, and our children, for a better future. This report does not promote any specific solution. Rather, our objective is to underscore the need for a “call to action” and help facilitate a strategy moving forward to address this issue that has plagued us throughout our history.

We are not naive to the fact that there is much skepticism around this issue due to numerous failed attempts in the past. However, we cannot allow cynicism to paralyze us and prevent our region from reaching its potential. Change is difficult. Our research shows that it takes, on average, four attempts over an extended period of time, before communities finally acknowledge action is needed and muster the will-power and leadership to move their communities forward.

Ultimately, the final chapter of this report will not be written by the Community Foundation or PARCA. It will be written by all of us—the citizens and leaders of Jefferson County.

Will we do nothing and run the risk of our metro area becoming less and less competitive? Or will we recognize our shared fate—and our shared potential—and work together toward a future that will be more prosperous for all?

Together, we can build on our strengths. Together, we can create a stronger legacy for our children and grandchildren. Together, we can…

That is what this report is about. I invite you to be part of this important conversation.

Christopher Nanni

President & CEO

Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham