The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama

The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama

An Overview of the Metro Area

Birmingham has indeed come a long way in its relatively brief history. Born in the aftermath of the Civil War (1871), the city quickly burgeoned into the iron and steel industry’s “Pittsburgh of the South” by the early 20th Century. The city’s explosive growth in its first forty years earned it the nickname of the “Magic City”. Although it soon became the state’s largest city, Birmingham has always been considered a brash industrial upstart by the more genteel antebellum cities of Mobile and Montgomery.

Birmingham’s reliance on the iron and steel industry would be a curse and a blessing as dependence on one industry would lead to a boom and bust cycle throughout most of the 20th Century. During the last 20 years the steel industry has waned to secondary importance as Birmingham has pegged its future to banking and medicine.

The banking industry of Birmingham has recently succumbed to the on-going national trend in bank consolidation and three of it’s four largest banks have changed form. Southtrust was swallowed by Wachovia which was  in turn forced into Wells Fargo. Regions Bank bought their slightly smaller rival AmSouth. The smallest of the four largest banks, Compass, retains it’s name but is now owned by a Spanish bank. Voila! There is now only one large bank headquartered in Birmingham: Regions Bank. As of June 30, 2009, Regions was the 10th largest bank in the United States with deposits of $93.7 million.

The University of Alabama-Birmingham‘s large medical center is nationally recognized as a leader in many specialties and has been critical to the stabilization of the central city. The university itself was essentially grafted onto the medical center and has blossomed into a respectable urban university in spite of weak state support. The city also has two highly regarded large Baptist hospitals and St. Vincent’s, a very large formerly Catholic hospital.

The city is located in Jones Valley in the foothills of the Appalachians, and the bulk of the city limits lies in the flat lands of the valley. Upscale neighborhoods developed along the flanks of Red Mountain in the early part of the twentieth century as the city’s aristocracy escaped the industrial pollution and captured today’s panoramic views. Don’t bother looking for expensive housing north, east or west of the city; the upscale development of the metro region is found along U.S. Highway 280 to the Southeast of the city. The upscale neighborhoods in this area are very beautiful due to the rugged, heavily wooded topography. Homes are built along the sides, in the valleys and on the crests of Red, Shades, and Oak Mountains. Of course, Birmingham has no real “mountains,” but none-the-less, these three rather steep, heavily wooded Appalachian ridges make for very attractive suburbs and neighborhoods. Suburban sprawl has brought development to the flanks of a fourth Appalachian ridge, Double Oak Mountain.

Higley 1000 Neighborhoods in the Greater Birmingham Metro Area

View Larger Map

Birmingham will forever be tainted by its fierce and violent resistance to racial integration. Although the city’s race relations have progressed along the lines of the rest of the nation, a social and cultural gulf between whites and blacks persists. White flight from the central city (now 73.5% black) continued at a torrid pace during the 1990s with the white population dropping from 91,000 to 58,000. This trend continues into the new Century as the American Community Survey estimates the White population at 48,000 in 2006. The Birmingham city schools are over 99% black, heralding ever more residential segregation. Social and religious life in Birmingham is almost completely segregated. Mountain Brook, easily Birmingham’s most prestigious suburb, is 98.1% Non-Hispanic White. Even Forest Park, a city neighborhood that is much more liberal than the suburbs in outlook and voting, is 96.2% Non-Hispanic white. Unfortunately, there is a latent and sometimes outright hostility between Black Birmingham and the White suburbs.

The Arrival and Demise of Hurricane Larry (Langford)

In November of 2007 Birmingham began a new era with the election of Larry Langford as Mayor. Langford is a controversial character in local politics. Vainglorious and egotistical, he started his political career as the mayor of Fairfield, a struggling, small poor Black suburb adjacent to Birmingham that is famous as the location of the formerly huge US Steel works. Langford spent profusely in Fairfield leaving the small poor city struggling financially to pay off a new city hall and civic center. A man of unbounded ambition, he soon jumped to the Jefferson County Commission where he made waves and headlines by creating what may have been one of the most unusual fiascos in the annals of county governance by railroading through an amusement park with public money. He named his brainstorm Visionland and it was a disaster from the get-go. After $90 million of taxpayers money was poured into this albatross that was in a dreadful location, this money hemorrhaging loser was sold to a private developer for $5 million and rechristened Alabama Adventure. Commissioner Langford also raised the sales tax in Jefferson County to an astronomical 10% to finance a vast rebuilding of the Jefferson County school buildings. As head of the county commission he reigned over the rebuilding of the county’s sewer system that has saddled the county with $3.2 billion dollars in debt after he pursued a policy of debt swaps and was hoodwinked by the city slicker bankers in New York City. Look for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States when Jefferson County goes under. It is not a matter of whether it will happen…. it is just when. As of June 2011, the Jefferson County Commission has managed to stave off bankruptcy for now, but it is only a matter of time.

Langford was indicted in 2009 for taking $238,000 in bribes for steering the Jefferson County bond business to a brokerage firm run by the highly connected Blount family in Montgomery. The trial, that began on August 31st, 2009 and the jury quickly found Mayor Langford guilty. He has begun serving a 15 year term in a federal penitentiary.

Langford brief tenure was a whirlwind of activity. He immediately raised taxes and “found” money to start an incredible array of initiatives that are too numerous to catalog here.  One bad idea that preceded Langford was the quest for a domed stadium downtown… a sort Visionland Stadium that will push the envelope with a half a billion dollars of additional debt. No professional teams would consider relocating to Birmingham as the market is too small. If the stadium is ever built, Birmingham will have a gold plated stadium that will be used for gun shows and tractor pulls. Considering the impending bankruptcy of the County, the on-going financial problems of Birmingham and the intransigence of the White suburban counties and cities to help the central city, means that it is very unlikely that this boondoggle will ever be built.

Fortunately for Birmingham, Langford has been succeeded by William Bell, an honest career politician who has been tasked with cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor. Mr. Bell is just what Birmingham needs: professional, realistic, and willing to make some tough funding proposals to deal with a difficult economy and the accounting shenanigans of the brief Langford mayoralty. Bell has been forthright in wrestling with a $77 million deficit. He has proposed some tough cutbacks and it will be up to the city council to come up with a better plan for fixing the problem.

One notable and timely Langford intervention has been in the local “mass transit system”. I use quotation marks in that what passes for mass transit in Birmingham is a joke. The local bus system is an embarrassment and Langford proposed non-existent money money for 100 new buses and 8 antique trolley cars that Prague, Czech Republic is trying to unload on the rubes of Alabama. Fortunately, the city council decided the street cars might have to wait and that harebrained scheme seems to have been put to rest. The 100 buses never materialized (surprise) as the money that was given to the mass transit district had to be used to cover a whopping budget deficit and makeup for lost federal transit subsidies.

Whether it is a bus system that actually works, or some other combination mass transit system, a source of dedicated revenue is necessary beyond sales tax increases. Sales taxes, in all of there regressive glory, are the only tax venue open to raising in Alabama without going through the completely corrupted Alabama state legislature. At 10% through much of the metro area, they have been raised to the breaking point.

Taxes: The Third Rail of Alabama Politics

Taxes are the third rail of Alabama politics. The state has the lowest per capita taxes in the United States and yet to hear the politicians talk, you’d think they we’re living in Massachusetts or Minnesota. No matter how horrible the schools are, no matter how inhumane the prisons, no matter how many federal court orders castigate the wretched public services of Alabama, Republicans and “Democrats” will not raise taxes in any meaningful way. One must remember that the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Alabama is negligible and laughable: they are both hard core right-wing conservatives. There is nary a Liberal or Progressive thought to be heard in any meaningful forum from the state legislature in Montgomery to the salons of Mountain Brook…

The voters have made themselves loud and clear on the issue of taxes and any politician that has the courage and audacity to speak the truth on taxes is in peril. Alabama’s current Governor, Bob Riley (R) lived to prove that it is possible to have a political life after proposing a tax increase, but he has a rare amount of courage in my humble estimation.)

Hence, it is difficult to make progress in any meaningful way. Progress on one front means another is neglected. And yet there is progress in an unplanned plodding kind of way.

Whether the domed stadium ever gets built, or the Olympics will choose Birmingham over Chicago,  this is a metro area that can’t even get the lights burning on the freeway system! Mayors have made promises about fixing our darkened byways ever since I have lived here and nothing ever happens. Whole sections of the freeway have no lights as all levels of government show that they are totally incompetent in solving this most complex of urban problems facing the 21st Century American city: changing light bulbs.

The state is mismanaged and under taxed and its antiquated 1910 Constitution gives local authorities little discretion in solving their financial problems. This inability to solve local problems is no more evident than in the U.S. Highway 280 corridor. The highway is the proverbial “golden goose” of Birmingham’s economic development, and it is literally being strangled to death by traffic. The 280 corridor has witnessed a boom in commercial, retail, and residential construction that has overwhelmed the six-lane commercial strip with grinding traffic. This strip of highway has become an unplanned overbuilt jumble and is as ugly as it is dysfunctional…. and still the developers build more…. while the politicians wring their hands and commission another study. Urban planners commit suicide after looking at 280. .

The highway runs through seven competing jurisdictions, and their cutthroat competition for sales tax revenue and unwillingness to control growth have made this an area to avoid for sane motorists. There’s nothing like crawling along behind giant SUVs (drill, baby drill) contemplating the exhilaration and freedom of the open road. The willing residents who live along 280 have no alternative routes to get to the CBD, and if the tolled, double-decked section is ever built, this future “improvement” will promise staggering traffic disruption as it is built. Oh well, as one local Realtor told me in downplaying the dreadful traffic on 280, “It’s no worse than Atlanta”.

I’ll let that speak for itself!

Not that any real improvement for 280 is actually in the planning stage…. The latest proposal is to double deck the highway from the end of the current commercial development to I-459. Opposition from the wealthy suburb of Mountain Brook extending the double decker toll road through their corporate limits would be ugly and especially problematic for 30 or 40 large/mansion homeowners as well as other more modest homeowners who were allowed to build too closely to such a major arterial (see lack of planning).

The city of Birmingham survived the loss of most of its white middle class by the shrewd stewardship and long-running tenure of the city’s first black mayor, Richard Arrington. Arrington made peace with the white business establishment and embarked on an aggressive annexation campaign that long-lassoed some of the most desirable commercial properties along the booming Highway 280 corridor. These include the wildly successful Summit, a lifestyle shopping center (essentially an upscale, heavily landscaped strip mall), a Target SuperCenter, and two struggling yet potentially successful older shopping centers, The recently remodeled Colonnade and Brook Highland, a somewhat forlorn shopping center in a perfect location.

These smart annexations were coupled with an aggressive defense of the central business district. There are currently more than 80,000 people working in the extended downtown… more than ever before in the 130-year history of the city. Unfortunately, this healthy employment base has not translated into a vibrant downtown: there is no significant retailing downtown, the department stores are long gone, and the streetscape is dominated by commercial property. The downtown is devoid of pedestrian traffic after dark.

Operation New Birmingham, a joint local operation has been very successful in rescuing literally hundreds of vacant downtown buildings and finding new uses for them. Birmingham has managed to avoid the curse of Charlotte (whole scale demolition the old CBD). As law firms and architectural design firms have moved into the small and medium sized buildings, work is now in progress on some of the largest abandoned buildings. A wonderful old 1920s skyscraper, the City Federal Savings & Loan is going condo. Similarly, there if hope that the long abandoned Thomas Jefferson Hotel will burst forth in all of its terra cotta beauty reincarnated as the Leer Tower, another condominium development. Leer Tower update: canceled due to recession.

There are few middle class residents in the city center, however, several hundred residential lofts have been constructed in the last few years and city officials are hopeful that these urban pioneers will be the vanguard of revitalization. The recent demolition of the huge, crime-infested Metropolitan Gardens public housing project and its replacement with a mixed-income, federally subsidized Hope VI housing development (Park Place) may augur well for Birmingham’s central business district. Nothing helps a downtown more than removing 900 crime and drug infested public housing units and replacing it with 580 units that are composed of 1/3 carefully vetted poor people and 2/3 market rate (that means lower middle class) apartments!

The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Birmingham in the Higley 1000

There are nine Higley 1000 neighborhoods in Birmingham: Two in the city, three in Birmingham’s premier upscale suburb of Mountain Brook, and four standard issue gated suburban fortresses.

Forest Park and Redmont Park: Birmingham’s Two Elegant City Neighborhoods

View Larger Map of Forest Park
View Larger Map of Redmont Park

Forest Park and Redmont Park are urban neighborhoods on the city’s commonly called the “Southside”. They were both developed in the early 20th Century (1914 and 1925 respectively) and have flourished in the last twenty years. Forest Park suffered through the 1960s and 1970s only to return to its former glory through gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s. Redmont Park has some of Birmingham’s grandest mansions peering down on the city from Red Mountain, a steep 350 foot tall ridge that overlooks the city below. Both Redmont Park and Forest Park are very small with a few hundred homes each. They are also noteworthy in that in spite of the fact that the central city is 75% Black, they are even Whiter than the suburbs! Along with the contiguous gentrified neighborhood of Highland Park, these three neighborhoods are the only upscale places left in the central city.

Mountain Brook: The Tiny Kingdom

Mountain Brook is a large suburb with about 21,000 overwhelmingly Non-Hispanic White residents. Local wags refer to it as “The Tiny Kingdom” due to its insular culture and social dominance.

I have carved out three “neighborhoods” out of the wealthiest sections of the city. Two of these neighborhoods are centered and named after the two towering institutions of social prominence in Birmingham, the Mountain Brook Club and The Country Club of Birmingham. The third neighborhood in Mountain Brook I have dubbed Mountain Brook Estates-Canterbury. Mountain Brook Estates was really the start of this gilded suburb in the in-fortuitous year of 1929. For statistical purposes I have joined it with the adjacent neighborhood of Canterbury.

Mountain Brook’s Higley 1000 Neighborhoods

Mountain Brook Estates-Canterbury

View Larger Map of Mountain Brook Estates - Canterbury

The Country Club of Birmingham

View Larger Map of The Country Club of Birmingham
The Mountain Brook Club-Shook Hill
View Larger Map

Mountain Brook, without question, is the place where Birmingham’s upper class lives along with a good portion of the metro area’s upper-middle class. Few wealthy suburbs in the United States command such a disproportionate majority of a metro areas wealthy and influential families. Mountain Brook has more than 80% of Birmingham’s Social Register families and anyone with a shred of social aspiration must live within its golden boundaries. It is a world apart from the crime infested streets of Birmingham and its genteel forested streets and clubs are truly a kingdom unto themselves.The Mountain Brook public school system is rated the highest in the state, and the suburb unquestionably has the largest number of Birmingham’s movers and shakers. It is home to the aforementioned blue-blooded Mountain Brook Club and the The Country Club of Birmingham as well as the social matrix of clubs and social alliances associated with the wealthy. The social system is difficult to break into in Mountain Brook unless one has a sterling pedigree. If you’re an internet entrepreneur from Boston… forget it… move to Greystone or Liberty Park. Nouveau riche households abound, but don’t hold your breath for an invitation to join the Mountain Brook Club!

As mentioned previously, Mountain Brook is incredibly white. Not one of the 62 African-Americans that lived in Mountain Brook in the 2000 Census was a householder. My guess is that they would mostly be live-in servants. There are plenty of well-to-do African-American families that could afford to live in Mountain Brook, however, they choose not to. This is a mystery I have not been able to figure out at this time. Anyone with some ideas, please leave a note below.

Greystone and Liberty Park

Greystone and Liberty Park are similar in that they are relatively new, gated master-planned communities centered on golf courses. They are both unusually large in scope and have developed neighborhoods with distinctly different price points. Of the two, Greystone has a wider range of single family houses ($200,000 to $3,000,000). Liberty Park is uniformly more expensive although it has a high end rental complex that is carefully segregated from the expensive single family homes. Each of these developments will have close to 3,000 housing units when complete, and a majority of those homes will be worth more than $500,000.

Greystone

View Larger Map of Greystone
Greystone is part of the suburb of Hoover, a large (70,000) and aggressively pro-growth suburb with the state’s third best school system. Located at the southern end of the 280 corridor, Greystone has been extremely successful in spite of worsening transportation problems associated with 280. I drew the boundaries for Greystone to include only the three high income gated sub-neighborhoods for the Higley 1000: two country club themed neighborhoods and a third (Greystone Ridge) with multi-million dollar view estates. There are hundreds of many more downscale houses available in Greystone…. houses as low as $200,000! Would that buy a pool house in Greenwich?

Liberty Park

View Larger Map of Liberty Park

The second gated community in the Higley 1000 is called Liberty Park. If you can get past the hokey replica of the Statue of Liberty, this master planned community is located on a lovely patch of rolling wooded land that is ideal for beautiful homes. Liberty Park is part of Vestavia Hills, Birmingham’s second wealthiest suburb (after Mountain Brook) and its second highest rated school system. Vestavia Hills is a large (30,000) overwhelmingly white upper-middle class suburb with one exception, the recently annexed lower-middle class community of Cahaba Heights. The architecture of Cahaba Heights is unremitting expanses of dreadful post-war ranches. Cahaba Heights has a perfectly central location in the metro area and the physical environment is beautiful…. can you say TEARDOWN!?

The addition of Cahaba Heights to the corporate limits of Vestavia gave the city a geographic link to Liberty Park formerly a non-contiguous isolated piece of development. But that’s another story…..

Highland Lakes

View Larger Map of Highland Lakes

Highland Lakes, is a very large gated community located out the 280 corridor in the rolling Appalachian foothills south of the city. Highland Lakes is a planned development where every house essentially looks the same. The “lakes” are dammed (damned?)narrow valleys in the Appalachian foothills. As a native of Wisconsin, I can say with full-throated condescension, these puddles are only “lakes” in a developer’s dream! Highland Lakes is solely residential and will ultimately be home to thousands of people that live in a monument to Stepfordian socio-economic and Republican homogeneity.

Shoal Creek-Stonegate Farms

View Larger Map of Shoal Creek and Stonegate

The final Higley 1000 neighborhood is Shoal Creek, another gated golf community and the adjacent newly constructed gated community of Stonegate Farms. After more than twenty years of development, only about 90 of the 230 large wooded lots in Shoal Creek have had houses constructed on them. The development includes suburban Shelby County’s answer to Versailles, an over-the-top 45,000 square foot (empty) chateau built by a local entrepreneur. I think it’s visible from space. Years ago, Shoal Creek’s golf course gained some unwanted national attention when the PGA threatened to cancel a golf tournament at the club unless it was integrated. A token Black guy was recruited, given a membership, and the PGA was happy. The Club was technically integrated and the tournament proceeded. The token Black guy reported in a recent newspaper article that he was treated well at the club, but, unfortunately he died recently. Never fear though for Shoal Creek’s integration as they have found another Black guy to replace him that doesn’t caddy or mow the fairways.

The Village of Mount Laurel

Although not a Higley 1000 neighborhood, there is one newly developing community that merits mentioning. If you’re a fan of New Urbanist design principles, Mt. Laurel is a planned community in the middle stages of development on the far urban fringe of the metro area. Yes, suburban fringe, auto dependent New Urbanist design is a oxymoron, but it’s pretty. The question I would havd for the developers of Mt. Laurel is: when you jettison any pretension at having a mixed income community and build on the auto dependent fringe, can you still call yourself “New Urbanist”? Sales have been slow in spite of a charming and unusual design aesthetic. The general consensus is that it’s a bit pricey.. and no more than a cute architectural conceit for the upper-middle class.

Homewood: Birmingham’s Coolest Suburb

And finally, a word about one of my favorite of Birmingham’s suburbs, Homewood. Ideally located in the metro area, Homewood is a predominately lower-middle class suburb adjacent to Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills. Most of Homewood is made up of well-maintained bungalows and small homes and it has a significant number of rental apartments. Thanks to a strong sales tax base, Homewood has managed to maintain a good school system and has continued to attract young families that have turned vast tracts of forgettable bungalows into beautifully remodeled houses in tidy wooded neighborhoods.

Homewood has two very interesting upscale neighborhoods: Mayfair & Hollywood. Hollywood has a wonderful collection of stuccoed, flat roofed houses built in the 1920s that have been remodeled for the the 21st Century. I love Hollywood: great architecture and a great location. Mayfair is more traditional, with its rolling, heavily wooded landscape, it share’s Hollywood’s ideal location for getting anywhere in Birmingham.

In Summary….

Birmingham is a very interesting town with a wide array of housing choices. This is but the first of my essays on Birmingham. After all, it has been my home town for 15 years and as an Urban Geographer, I have much to say about my adopted home. It is my fervent hope that I will be able to use my web site to express my critical thinking about the metro area.. something that is woefully absent from the boosterism so characteristic of what one finds published locally. The Birmingham News, an achingly Conservative newspaper does a fairly good job of covering the city and bankrupt county, but sounds like a the local arm of the Chamber of Commerce when covering the suburbs. I hope that my website counters the flackery and drivel that passes for journalism about the suburbs of our fair metro area.

Posted in Metro Briefs, Racial Diversity on Jun 7th, 2011, 11:48 am by Stephen Higley   

95 Responses to “The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama”

  1. August 23rd, 2011 | 11:20 am

    […] A Home in Birmingham’s Forest Park is All About Lifestyle Birmingham’s Forest Park is all about lifestyle, love of archectural […]

  2. CM
    August 24th, 2011 | 11:46 pm

    Wow. This was an interesting article. I assume it was originally written in 2007. I have lived in Forest Park for the past nine years, a transplant from MI via Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas for a combined 15 years. It is my most favorite place to have lived. FP and South Avondale are becoming very cool little neighborhoods. The McWane family which used to own a beautiful house on Clairmont Ave in FP and then moved to prestigious MB, just bought and renovated a beautiful old building next to V. Richard’s and opened a little shop called “FUll Circle” (it looked like it belonged in MB). I think South Avondale with the newly renovated Avondale Park and the new Avondale brewery is Homewood 20 years ago… My kids go to Advent, have African American kids over for playdates and sleepovers and I am married to a Jewish man and our best friends are members of the Birmingham Country Club where to this day I don’t think you can join if you are Jewish… AND the FOOD! we have not even talked about the food…

  3. bob
    September 8th, 2011 | 4:08 pm

    Why do you leave Homewood out of your top 5 good public school choices? It is consistently ranked higher than some of the schools you mentioned.

    See the following links.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2011/americas-best-high-schools.html

    http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2011/06/seven_schools_in_birmingham_ar.html

  4. Stephen Higley
    September 13th, 2011 | 8:21 pm

    Homewood has an excellent school system. Sorry I didn’t mention it!

  5. Edward
    October 10th, 2011 | 12:31 am

    while lots of this is true, I must disagree with your summary of Homewood. i used to live there and while the range of wealth is greater than Mountain Brook, there are several very wealthy snobby residents, predominately in Hollywood.

  6. Stephen Higley
    October 12th, 2011 | 3:51 pm

    “Snobby” is in the eye of the beholder. Anyone with enough money can buy into the Hollywood neighborhood of Homewood. You can’t buy your way into the Mountain Brook Club.

  7. George
    November 8th, 2011 | 5:03 pm

    “You can’t buy your way into the Mountain Brook Club.”

    Agreed. You have to be white to enter Mountain Brook Club and preferably southern white!

  8. Candace
    November 14th, 2011 | 11:30 am

    Any thoughts on Trussville?

  9. Stephen Higley
    November 15th, 2011 | 8:57 pm

    At the risk of insulting the good folk of Trussville, it is a community made up of what we call in academia “lower-middle class”. This is very offensive to many people that are not familiar with the way in which sociologists denote the class system in America. When I described the socio-economically similar Indianapolis suburb of Fishers as “lower-middle class”, it fomented a large out-pouring of indignation. The fact of the matter is that although Trussville has many very pleasant sub-divisions, no one in Birmingham that had any social class aspirations would choose Trussville.

    Traditionally the “upper-class” of any American city is made up of the upper .5%. Most of those people are found in Mountain Brook. Numerically they’d make up a relatively small percentage of the households in Mountain Brook. It is predominately upper-middle class. Even Vestavia Hills is a combination of upper-middle and lower-middle. Hoover has everything from upper-middle (Greystone & parts of Southlake) to working class. (e.g. apartment complexes along Lorna Road.) Hoover is too large too easily characterize.

    This is a long way around saying that Trussville is made up of the upwardly mobile folks that left Huffman and Roebuck. Trussville represents the American dream in the sense that the families of this community have worked very hard to create a better life for themselves and their children. But make no mistake, they aren’t really hoping that their children will go to Harvard or Yale (or Duke or the University of the South). They’ll be happy with Alabama or Auburn. Another example of Trussville’s aspirations is the creation of their own school system. The people of Trussville understand that what is left of upward mobility in the United States (currently among the lowest in developed world) is dependent on a good education in preparation for college.

    Of course this is a generalization, but, I think a fair one

  10. MS
    December 1st, 2011 | 4:35 pm

    I currently reside in Homewood but have a contract on a home in Forest Park. Both are wonderful areas, very cozy, safe and diverse. My son attends the Altamont School and before that, Hilltop Montessori School in Mt Laurel. Both are excellent! I’m a Miami native and I’ve lived in Birmingham since 1992. It’s a great place to raise a child and I can’t say enough about the independent schools, family atmosphere & hospitality.

  11. December 7th, 2011 | 5:23 pm

    Thanks for some other magnificent post. Where else may anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect approach of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

  12. George
    December 9th, 2011 | 8:14 am

    “Traditionally the “upper-class” of any American city is made up of the upper .5%. Most of those people are found in Mountain Brook. Numerically they’d make up a relatively small percentage of the households in Mountain Brook. It is predominately upper-middle class.”…..

    100% white and pretty racist for a well-educated white community. Probably many of them old money descendants of planters from the ante-bellum days..amd their ill-gotten wealth!

    “This is a long way around saying that Trussville is made up of the upwardly mobile folks that left Huffman and Roebuck. Trussville represents the American dream in the sense that the families of this community have worked very hard to create a better life for themselves and their children. But make no mistake, they aren’t really hoping that their children will go to Harvard or Yale (or Duke or the University of the South). They’ll be happy with Alabama or Auburn. Another example of Trussville’s aspirations is the creation of their own school system. The people of Trussville understand that what is left of upward mobility in the United States (currently among the lowest in developed world) is dependent on a good education in preparation for college.”

    …Dont see too many from Mountain Brook in Harvard or Yale either..plenty in Duke and Tulane. Too much competition from Asians and mixed Asian-white kids passing as white. 20% of the “white” kids in Harvard entering freshman class is mixed Asian-white kids…the kind that will be looked down on in contempt by the folks in Mountain Brook.

    This is also a generatlization, but I think it is a very fair comment about Mountain Brook. Of course, Jefferson County is bankrupt these days and dont know how it will affect Mountain Brook.

  13. Elizabeth
    January 3rd, 2012 | 1:04 pm

    Thank you for your data supported review of Birmingham communities. My husband and I purchased a Spanish Colonial Revival home in the Hollywood section of Homewood. Had it not been for the information you provided in this article, we would not have known about this incredible area. We feel very lucky to have found such a charming home in such a hip and diverse neighborhood.

  14. keke
    January 23rd, 2012 | 3:04 pm

    I am a resident of Mountain Brook and I must say that it is a calm a tranquil place to reside…My children however do not attend the Mountain Brook school system as I am more please with the support and attentiveness provided to my children at the County school in which they attend. I am often asked why I choose to reside in Mountain Brook…when I was coming up as a child my mother provided what to me was a nice living accomodation, we lived in a nice subdivision, had our home built from the ground up, my mother has worked the same job for well over 30years making a good living, we never went hungry, or without. We were always clean and stayed dressed in the nicer clothes, and yet we were considered as poor…I was insulted to find out the I was considered to be poor. My mother raised 3 children, put us all thru college and managed to finish college herself and work full time and even picked up a second job as needed to provide for us and place us in the better magnet and more diversed schools. I decided I would relocate and move to the areas that I wanted my kids to attend school in, I dont want my kids to GO to school with the kids that have a better upbringing and COME back home to the “GHETTO” therefore I moved into a better neighborhood, affording my kids the ability to live amongst their peers and learn to reach the skies. I am giving my children every opportunity available for a successful future. I currently reside in a town home and after researching the properties I can say that this article is true and the properties are very affordable

  15. Tee
    March 29th, 2012 | 10:21 am

    For the most part, the overview was okay.

    Jones Valley (Birmingham) was born in the aftermath of the Civil War (1871).

    It is so comical that Jefferson County’s economical demise, in your opinion, leans heavily towards one individual. You need a check, a REALITY CHECK. There are far more individuals (BIG WIGS) in the city of Birmingham and surrounding areas that helped make the financial situation what it is and LONG BEFORE Mayor Larry Langford ever hit terra-firma.

    I guess the ‘Hurricane’ felt that if people, politicians for the most part, were going to grease their hands and pockets with taxpayers money, the least they can do is something for the indigent.

  16. Allison
    May 17th, 2012 | 4:30 pm

    What about Ross Bridge?

  17. Stephen Higley
    May 17th, 2012 | 5:04 pm

    Ross Bridge is a bit of a Potemkin Village. There are 13 Grand homes leading to the focal point country club and spa along appropriately named Grand Avenue. But a closer look at the housing stock is overwhelmingly modest by any standard. In other words, Ross Bridge is not elite. It is mostly lower-middle class and some upper middle class households

  18. Allison
    May 21st, 2012 | 12:25 pm

    Have you seen the homes in the back of Ross Brige? Butler Springs, Bellevue, Glascott and Haddon (on the other side of the development) can hardly be described as lower middle-class. Some of these homes start in the $700s, and these are all separate homes from the 13 grand homes at the front of the development. And if not living near the nightmare that is 280 leads someone to believe that my living situation is modest, so be it!

  19. sally moon
    May 26th, 2012 | 8:50 am

    I have lived in Mountain Brook, AL my whole life. Thats 47 years! And everything the commnts said isnt true. First of all i would like to say that Mountain Brook is not racial just becuse there are no afrcan americans or hispanics or forigners, they just choose not to come because there are other sutible towns that have other races, but thats not the point.Mountain Brook Schools have NONDISCRIMINATION written all over it! if you type in Mountain Brook Elementary or Mountain Brook Junior High or Mountain Brook High School it will say it right away under its name.Plus Alabama adventure is probubly the funnest place on earth, it doesnt have rednecks and gangsters it just has nice people with young children that want to have a good time! They are now turning it in to a water park! Plus we are the oppisite of redneck! We are like the New York of Alabama, not the bad part of new york but whatever. Plus there is probably NO CRIME in Mountain Brook, Occasionaly in Crestline there are some breaking and entering but thats highly rare. There are many affordable homes and lots of high ranked apartments! I think Mountain Brook is the best place i have ever lived in! So to all of the negitive comments, you all havent even lived here and Mountain Brook is beautiful with lots of country clubs for golfing, swimming, and eating lunch! Dont believe any of the negative thing this page(including the comments)has said because they have never gotten to know the Mountain Brook lifestyle.

  20. Mr. Bradshaw
    May 27th, 2012 | 12:37 pm

    I stumbled across this website during some research for neighborhoods in Birmingham. I was born and raised in Montgomery, lived in Birmingham for 5 years, and now reside in Portland, OR. Folks, it’s like night and day. I’ve savored every moment out here, and don’t miss a whole lot about the deep south.

    A lot of the sub-developments in suburban B’ham are quite stately and meticulously landscaped, but tend to be five miles from the nearest grocery store, restaurant or bar. What kind of neighborhood is that? Assuming 20 minutes to walk a mile, that’s an hour and forty minutes to walk to grocery store – almost a 3 1/2 hour round trip! And that’s if you have the LUXURY of a sidewalk. If you live somewhere along Valleydale, 119 or 280, you’re outta luck, Sparky.

    The end result? Nobody walks anywhere.

    Is it any wonder then that most Alabamians are grotesquely obese, clogging the hospitals with cases of strokes and heart attacks?

  21. Stephen Higley
    May 27th, 2012 | 2:22 pm

    Is this a spoof? I sure hope so because if it isn’t your comments are embarrassing.

  22. Mr. Bradshaw
    June 3rd, 2012 | 12:57 pm

    I’m just serving up good ‘ol empirical observations. A phD should value that! Suburban neighborhoods in Birmingham lack both walkability and bike-ablility. Alabama also has atrocious health statistics. Mere coincidence?

    I will say, however, that the inner neighborhoods like the tiny kingdom, Homewood, and Forest Park edging over into 5 points do a much better job.

    For the record, this is not an indictment of your work (which is great!) – just my criticisms of the complete lack of an urban growth policy in Birmingham.

  23. Rich
    June 10th, 2012 | 3:53 pm

    Let me correct somethings about Birmingham, Alabama.. most of the average people are equivalent to where you would find anywhere else in a equivalent setting. Now the special interests, politicizing, and corruption is absolutely out of control.. very much in common with a major medical hub.. Falsifying medical records, coverups, and pulling strings are all the incorporated norm, I can’t even believing I have just stated regarding this thoroughly corrupt incorporated norm and any truth that remains, often a ulterior motive.

    Yup, that’s the norm. I come from one of the most successful areas of the country where i”s top success and in the healthiest context wheres theres way too much accountability for any of this foolishness and where only the highest level of honesty, integrity and the healthiest context is incorporated as a norm..

    Quite a bit different incorporated norm out here, a major medical hub where the corrupt special interests with their lobbyists push a disease healthcare economy.. the norm is 10 – 15 prescriptions a day.. I’d sure say that’s a dump.

    I’m on the verge of exposing a high profile falsification of psychological medical records where there’s a very good chance the truth will become apparent.. that’ ver serious, yet that’s the incorpoated norm out here.. out of control and experts is all a incorporated norm out here. For the highest level of health and success, all that remains, at best a dump.. you talk about about the diriest sleaziests politics, the most powerful special interests, and thoroughly politicized, all that success is very established out here, the most accurate description.. at best a dump INCLUDING Mountainbrook and Shelby County.. Basically there’s ZERO accounability.. The well established legacy lives on only with a couple of new twists

    Compare that to the Chicagoland Northshore old money makeup, absolutely of no comparison where none of that foolishness would ever occur because there’s way too much accountability for any of that foolishness to occur

  24. MGDouglas
    August 5th, 2012 | 7:56 am

    This is fantastic information. I am relatively new to this area and my husband and I are both physicians and we want our son to grow up in a good area with acess to a good school–but, because we aren’t “old money” we want him to go without the snobbery associated with certain areas. Thank you for this article.

  25. Carribean Queen
    September 1st, 2012 | 5:57 pm

    Great essay! it provides great insight into the Birmingham area. For someone like myself who lived in Massachussets, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, the real question is what city in America does not have some degree of hatred and segragation??

  26. Khk
    September 30th, 2012 | 8:50 am

    If the largest industries are banking and Medical, that should tell you plenty about the city. Two of the most crooked industries, especially in this country.

  27. George
    November 15th, 2012 | 4:09 pm

    “here are no afrcan americans or hispanics or forigners”

    foreigners? You mean Asian Americans who most whites in Mountain Brook view as perpetual foreigners?

  28. Mark
    November 27th, 2012 | 3:09 pm

    They wont sell or rent to non-whites in Mountain Brook, AL, even to very rich Asian Americans. There was this young white woman living in the vicinity who was seeing a Japanese executive. They ran both of them out of town!

  29. Blake Magnuson
    November 29th, 2012 | 1:54 am

    You have one of the gated Greystone communities listed as “Greystone Ridge”. It should be “Greystone Crest”. Greystone ridge is a non-gated group of zero lot line garden homes typically selling for well under $200,000. Just thought you might want to know. Thanks.

  30. Stephen Higley
    December 13th, 2012 | 12:05 pm

    Thanks!

  31. mark
    April 15th, 2013 | 1:03 pm

    It sounds like someone has a little Mountain Brook envy.

  32. Stephen Higley
    April 15th, 2013 | 1:15 pm

    Mountain Brook is indeed enviable in its beauty. Alas, it is in Alabama and home to the evil elite that keeps the rest of the state looking more like Guatemala than America…..

  33. Ken
    June 13th, 2014 | 4:48 am

    I grew up in Mountain Brook, from first grade on. The police are actually afraid of the children, and I known many times rich parents paid for all damages to keep the brats out of jail. I had one friend smoking marijuana in the elementary school bathroom. Another who would break into dentist offices about once a week and steal Nitrous Oxide bottles. He threw them away in his back ground when done. His parents never asked about them. I remember a gun crazy friend who had at least 20 guns at 16! He regularly built pipe bombs, and used them frequently. (lucky he didn’t destoy his own home) I remember another friend who treated his father’s medicine cabinet, a doctor of course, as his personal candy store. I also remember an African American family who DID move into Mtn Brook, until a cross was burned in their front yard. I’d guess 5% are neo-nazis, JDL’s or KKK’ers. My entire civil rights education was one week in a history class. I was told the trouble was due to trouble-makers. So yeah not a nice place.

  34. Anonymous
    July 29th, 2014 | 1:57 pm

    Mr. Higley, excellent post! I live in Trussville, and I must say that I was not at all offended by your post regarding this area. In fact, if I may add an one adjective…. “ignit”. Initially, young families (including my own) moved to this area because of the affordable, newer, and larger- housing options, in hopes that one day this area would advance and develop into a modern-suburban, “hoover or vestavia competitor”. Alas, the “native trussvillians” pushed back. Refusing to advance into modern day society- actually doing any and everything they can think of to hinder the advancement of the area- including but not limited to protesting a tiny property tax increase to fund additional school to ease crowding and improve the education of the area’s children. Trussville natives love to tell you they are a hardcore Republican with traditional Christian values. Yet, they have no money and complain about the “blacks moving in” every chance they get. Still, you can’t find a better home value for your money AND keep your children outside of the dreaded Jefferson County School zone. And while the education is decent, Stephen was dead on, none of the parents out there have high expections anyways. Unless, of course the expections involve a football.

  35. vj
    August 18th, 2014 | 8:18 pm

    I really liked this article. I grew up in inverness and now live in crestwood, and agree on all that you wrote.

  36. Deborah Dunn, B.A., M.A.
    October 9th, 2014 | 1:58 am

    I found this information very informative, while I grew up in NJ, I left there and went to college in San Fran and obtained my masters in Flagstaff AZ. Three years ago my mother passed away at 88, hence, I relocated to Clearwater Florida, I find the people here very ill educated, obnoxious and rude; so I was thinking of trying Birmingham. I looked into Mobile and Tallahassee but would like to be further north and out of Florida. Is anyone familiar with these cities in comparison to Birmingham? I’ve often thought of Alabama, having met people from there, they had a certain charm that is lacking here in Florida. Coming from Scottish roots, I like charm, sophistication and style, will I find that there? I also like weather a bit cooler than here.

    So in conclusion, would you recommend Birmingham to me? Seattle and California are too far away. lol I will try to find pictures of each place. From reading the above comments I may look into Forest Park, Homewood, Avondale or Trussville, are these places near stores, etc? I like to work out and swim at an indoor gym as well. How is the work situation? I do office work, coordinator, hospital office work, and enjoy working with children. I am a youth mentor, even considering adoption and fostering. I am guessing there is work everywhere. Can you give me any tips? My mother was from scotland and I often think i want to visit England and Scotland, however for now I need something fairly close. I am renting my property out as of Dec 1 so I have 7 weeks to move. I initially considered Houston Texas but I just couldn’t find the right situation and feel i would be lost in the crowd there. Any tips for me. Thank you in advance. Debbie

  37. kricket
    May 5th, 2015 | 6:37 am

    As someone who was raised in the Birmingham metro, I feel this article puts too much emphasis on how a person “feels” about people in a specific community, rather than what the individuals are looking for by living there. I’ve traveled extensively, and would posit that Birmingham is no different than most other metropolitan areas. Most people will be able to find an area that suits them. Mountain Brook isn’t bad if like that sort of thing. My family is one of the highest earning families in the Birmingham metro (I was unaware of this until everyone started releasing their salaries). But, I really can’t see a situation in which we would move to Mountain Brook. No offense to Mountain Brook, it’s just not my cup of tea. We like our elbow room. Regardless of the schools we will not send our kids to public school. As you can see, people are different. If every community looked the same most of the residents would be unhappy. So, while have a diverse mindset is nice, living in a cookie cutter one size fits all community isn’t.

  38. Bruce
    June 12th, 2015 | 4:11 pm

    I am so thankful for the string of comments here.
    Very informative, and even tho based largely on perception, also largely accurate. I do take exception to the perception that our Jewish brothers and sisters are the same race as white protestants – sorry but this is just a casual, rather than an informed, observation.
    Our parents both grew up in and around the Greater Birmingham Area. Like many, my brother and I remain here by default.
    We’ve both been loved and hated by all manner of others, from our immediate families, to those who don’t even know us at all, from around the globe; and for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons, and can only say that we have done the same.
    “Globalization” has required an entirely different perspective than that of our childhood; in it, we are thankful for the education, and our amendments to our beliefs as we have grown older, perhaps wiser.
    We are sure that there may be better places for us to live. Our children are grown and on their own, so we now have more flexibility in our choice of where we live. The good news is, we agree that no other place on earth has a climate or more natural resources to our liking, or is more safe in general, than North Central Alabama; and that no other form of government is better (as dysfunctional as it has become) for the general population.
    The people? Sure we can improve.
    We are certain that we – and all members of collective communities everywhere – would significantly benefit in shedding of jealousy, fear, greed, oppression, hatred, and entitlement; and instead, that we all – beginning with ourselves- begin to encourage others in, and to personally adopt, promote, and support individual beliefs and customs, and equitable opportunities for all in education, work, and risk assumptions which are associated with ours and others’ pursuit of individually determined relative levels of peace, health, and prosperity.
    We recognize and accept that even those who don’t – or won’t – exercise the opportunities, or adopt the beliefs, or or undertake the associated work and risks, may not appreciate the relative goals achieved by those who did.

  39. L A Holmes
    June 28th, 2015 | 10:32 pm

    I have lived in Birmingham three different times in my adult life; Initially, to attend college, second, the result of a company move, and the third time a couple of years ago. I can honestly say that after living in the Northeast, the Southwest, other Southeastern states, and other countries, Birmingham could benefit from a major transformation. I have lived in very large cities and in small cities and have been witness to how all people are accepted for who they are, not for what social group they belong to. Birmingham is stunted socially. Much of the population cannot function outside of their social circles and have a very small view of the world, probably because their world is so small. The air of exclusivity among the most affluent is laughable. These individuals could benefit from breaking out of this mold. GET OUT OF THE BOX !! There’s a whole world out there and it does not revolve around you 🙂

  40. October 15th, 2015 | 6:43 am

    […] The Wealthy Neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama | The … – View Larger Map of Redmont Park. Forest Park and Redmont Park are urban neighborhoods on the city’s commonly called the “Southside”. They were both … […]

  41. Jonny O
    November 25th, 2015 | 7:14 pm

    What about Crestwood area ? is it a nice safe place??

  42. Stephen Higley
    December 27th, 2015 | 11:59 am

    Crestwood South is a good neighborhood. Crestwood North is the gentrified/gay neighborhood that has been just about completely upgraded. Unfortunately, it is surrounded by very poor high crime neighborhoods and some of those problems spill into Crestwood North.

  43. AmyS
    January 9th, 2016 | 10:36 am

    Hi,

    The article while well written was highly subjective. Some things were only partially true and others highly exaggerated. Racism is still alive: in churches, in schools, at the workplace, and definitely in certain zip codes. God will judge it all. He sees, he knows, he cares. Seek God about where you should live. After all, we’re only pilgrims and strangers awaiting a savior who will one day take us home (that is, if we have accepted and believe in Him). Good day folks!

  44. Stephen Higley
    January 9th, 2016 | 10:55 am

    Subjective? yes. What did you want, Chamber of Commerce pablum? As for all the superstitious nonsense about God… it’s one of the reason’s I’m so glad I’m out of Alabama. Arizona may be conservative, but, at least we don’t have to here about the crapola of Christianity 24/7 as in Alabama.

  45. Michael Bishop
    April 25th, 2016 | 4:41 am

    Great article. Thank you for it. I lived in Montevallo, Valleydale rd. (N.Shelby co.) Southside,Trussville and Argo. Southside was the most diverse area culturally and it’s a shame there aren’t more homeowners there to inject a little pride into that atea. It could be a real gem with some careful planning however careful planning is an oxymoron in Birmingham as you also noted. While there are some genuine and gracious people overall, the collective mentality of the vast majority remind me of middle school cliques. Not much depth. The whole area seemed alot like how you described Trussville which was spot on. I live in Brentwood Tn. and am curious to see youve done a piece on The metro Nashville area. Thanks again

Leave a reply