You read the job description, you think “these people get it,” and then two words stop you cold: “Birmingham, Alabama.”
Look, I get it. I used to think just like you. I could sooner see myself relocating to Antarctica than Alabama. But before you nope out of here, listen to what I’ve learned in my year in Birmingham – an amazing year that has transformed me from a reluctant transplant into Birmingham’s #1 fan.
When I joined Daxko, I was the first hire in our Atlanta office. I’d been in Atlanta for about three years, having been relocated from my quiet hometown of Augusta, GA. I grew up in and loved Augusta, so when I moved to Atlanta, I was caught off guard in a good way. The ATL was spectacular!
Atlanta was buzzing, alive, cosmopolitan. I loved going to shows at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. My wife and I were members at the High Museum and the Museum of Design Atlanta, and we liked to ride Marta down to take in the exhibits at both museums. My kids loved the Atlanta Zoo, and the Georgia Aquarium is absolutely magical.
So when I got the opportunity to take a promotion that would require me to be in the Birmingham office, I paused. It was a huge leap forward in my career, but, again: Alabama? It wasn’t a total deal breaker, but it was close.
Ultimately, my wife and I weighed the options and decided that maybe we could tolerate Birmingham. You know, at least for a little while… for the sake of my career.
We expected to get through it with clenched jaws and stoic determination. We didn’t expect to fall in love with the Magic City, and we certainly didn’t expect it to ever feel like home. But it did, and I want to share with you what it is I’ve come to love about my new hometown.
The real estate market. My family of six (me, my wife, my three kids, and my mom) need space. A lot of space. In Atlanta, it was a pragmatic impossibility—we lived in the farthest ‘burbs and were still at the top of our budget. But in Birmingham, we found a wonderful home with plenty of room in a great area of town close to everything for $60,000 less than our home in Atlanta. We were able to finance a renovation loan, fix up a few things to our tastes, and still come out far better off than Atlanta. And with a strong market in the Birmingham area, our investment is almost sure to pay off in the long run.
The educational opportunities. Like any major area, the schools can be a little uneven, but we’ve found the Hoover City Schools system to be an incredible place for our two school-aged daughters. Their school is a wonderfully diverse community shepherded by talented, caring teachers and administrators. My daughters get plenty of opportunities to learn and experience new things—Lego robotics club, chess club, choir, taekwondo lessons. We loved our school in Atlanta, but there’s no comparison. My daughters are excelling far more in Hoover than they would have in Atlanta.
But it’s not just the schools. Birmingham also boasts some incredible educational institutions like the McWane Science Center, the Birmingham Zoo, and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. One of my family’s favorite hidden jewels is Aldridge Gardens—a serene preserve in Hoover than we can walk to from our house.
The music scene. In the year we’ve been in Birmingham, we’ve seen more of our favorite bands perform live than in all the years we were in Atlanta. The Lumineers, Over the Rhine, Ben Sollee, Tegan and Sara, Indigo Girls, Sixpence None the Richer. I know not everyone’s music tends toward the indie singer-songwriter genre like ours, but we skip far more shows than we attend. With major venues like WorkPlay, Iron City, and the open-air stage at Avondale Brewing, to smaller places like Moonlight on the Mountain, Birmingham is bursting with live music. I don’t know if it’s the proximity to Muscle Shoals, a great location on three major interstates, or the draw of Birmingham Mountain Radio, but if you want a good music in Birmingham, you’ll find it.
The beer. The Free the Hops movement paved the way for craft brewing to take root in Alabama, and Birmingham now hosts some of the best breweries around. From Good People Brewing Company (try the Snakehandler Double IPA) to Avondale Brewing (the Spring Street Saison is incredible) to Cahaba Brewing Company (Oka Uba IPA is one of my favorites now), Birmingham is seeing a renaissance in craft brewing. Want to cast your net to other Alabama craft beers? The J. Clyde has a fantastic selection of beer from Alabama and all over the world, and the food is incredible.
The food. Birmingham has a tremendous number of local restaurants of fantastic quality: BBQ (of course), Thai, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, burgers, pizza. And, of course, the Southern food (I’ve even learned to love fried okra). There are a number of food trucks that you’ll find outside Avondale Brewing or the Birmingham Barons stadium—I’m a big fan of Off the Hook’s rocket shrimp. But where Birmingham really shines is its fine dining. With world-class chefs like Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club and Frank Stitt of Highlands, Chez Fonfon, and Bottega, Birmingham boasts cuisine that rivals the best of any major city.
The parks. With more green space per capita than any other city in America, Birmingham has a park to match every style. The award-winning Railroad Park anchors downtown Birmingham with an urban oasis. Ruffner Mountain gives you a chance to break away for a relaxing hike. Oak Mountain State Park, just south of town, is great for an impromptu weekend camping trip. Want something a little more adventurous? The zip line tour at Red Mountain Park will get your blood pumping.
So that’s just a sampling of what we’ve fallen in love within our year in Birmingham. Now, I won’t lie to you. There’s a bit of culture shock if you’re not from the South. Trucks are big and plentiful. Drawls are rich and thick. But the people, and the town, are far from what you imagined when you first let those two words stop you from looking more closely at Daxko. I’m sure if you give us a chance, you, too, will come to equate the words “Birmingham, Alabama,” with “home, sweet home.”
Will S. is a product strategist and designer who measures real life objects in pixels and pinches to zoom on his paper edition of Wired magazine.