Monday, March 14, 2005

Memphis v. Birmingham

Jamey has a couple of great posts looking at the Birmingham television market and comparing it to Memphis. Some good lessons for Memphis there. Part One is here and Part Two is here.

I'm from Alabama and lived in Birmingham'n'beans for five wonderful years. I can't remember, and don't want to recall, some of those years but that's another story! Memphis is my home, but Birmingham is still where my heart is. I used to live in the "UAB student ghetto" nestled up against Red Mountain, just west of Five Points. In fact, I lived in the literal shadow of the Vulcan. I could walk out my front door, look over my left shoulder and there he loomed. Reassuring in its own odd way.

Birmingham and Memphis have a lot in common. When I moved here in 1988, B'ham had had a black mayor for several years in Richard Arrington. It struck me as strange the way Memphis got all worked up about Herenton's election, as though no Southern city had done such a thing. I've since learned its the provinciality of the press.

Birmingham has its red-headed stepchild relationship with Atlanta up the road. Had B'ham not been such a racist bastion, it would have gotten the huge international airport that became Hartsfield. It had the better, more desirable location.

They had, while I was there, the same massive suburban migration. In B'ham's case, it was to the south, over the mountain, past a lot of smaller bedroom communities, into the Riverchase area of Shelby County. A lot of money and traffic were flowing south.

It also has the same small-town / big-city dynamic that is poisoning Memphis. The city blew up during the steel mill years, only to face terrible economic decline when steel went overseas. While there was a lot of talk of "world class" city development, what happened was a strengthening of communities and neighborhoods. While the downtown got an influx of redevelopment, their entertainment district (Five Points) was further out than Beale is to Memphis' downtown. It helped to spread out revitalisation, which helped everyone.

Birmingham and Memphis are both states' largest cities and both were transportation hubs -- river, rail and road for us; rail and road for B'ham.

There are a lot of lessons Memphis could learn from Birmingham. It's always surprised me how the paper looks to St. Louis and Nashville instead, or even New Orleans. Of course, as goes the paper so goes the television news media. Too bad.

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