Top is Birmingham, bottom is Detroit. Both are some pretty sad sights to behold.
Birmingham, AL and Detroit, MI are similar to one another in a variety of ways. Both were regional powerhouses during their heyday, both were heavily invested in the steel industry and both cities were hit hard when they lost their respective industrial capacity. Both were hotbeds of the Civil Rights movement and both cities saw a steady stream of white suburbanites flee for suburbs and cities on the outer rim of the metropolitan area. Detroit had the 1967 riots help them in that regard, while the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Eugene Connor's "peacekeeping" measures ruined Birmingham's image for quite a while. The major difference between Birmingham and Detroit is the horrific level of decline the Motor City experienced before essentially hitting bottom.
No need to offer links -- just Google "Ruins of Detroit." Birmingham is nowhere near that level of collapse, not even after the tornado that nearly blew Pratt City off the map, but there are a number of people who wish the city would just sink into a hole without a trace.
Take a quick visit to the AL.com website and click a link to nearly any story about Birmingham. You will inevitably find the "collapse fetishists" -- a largely white, largely rural and suburban group of people who constantly rag on the city in a largely non-constructive manner. They hate the current form of government, the mayor, many of the citizens within and the fact that the city has the audacity to tax their precious taxpayer dollars away from them when they stop in Birmingham or Jefferson County to eat/gas up/work/whine. These are also the same people who are glad that former mayor Larry Langford will most likely die in prison, but that's another post for another time.
The collapse fetishists are an interesting mix. You have former Birmingham residents who got out sometime around the 1970s, back when the blacks were supposedly conquering City Hall. These people don't have any love for former mayor Richard Arrington. Then there are the suburban residents who are only concerned about their horrid commute on U.S. 280 and the number of businesses and residents fleeing to their suburban enclaves. Oh, and making sure none of the "criminal elements" from the city make their way over the mountain. Then you have the rural residents of Jefferson County and the other surrounding counties, always eager to apply small government solutions to big government problems, not realizing a 200k+ population city can't be run in the same manner as a 2000+ population township. It never sinks in - they're a stubborn lot. Last but not least are the toney T-towners from Tuscaloosa who wish they were Birmingham, only with less blacks and zero Civil Rights baggage. All of these people want to see the city deteriorate to the point at which it just falls in on itself, as proof that 1)blacks can't run any city properly, and 2)to be able to raze the city and remake it in their own image (and by "their" I mean well connected property and land developers specializing in suburban tract and strip development).
It's not just the Internet sounding boards where people who actively harbor these attitudes, but were too scared or "polite" to express them until given the cloak of anonymity. A lot of people out there are more than willing to publicly state how crappy the city is, why they themselves moved (if they did move) and how they'd like to see the city collapse into a heap of rubble and failure. The Internet's done a good job of exposing more of these feelings, if not amplifying them by a larger factor.
The city government of both cities haven't done themselves any favors. Detroit had Kwame Kilpatrick and a city council that could be summed up with the phrase "Hot Ghetto Mess." Birmingham had a city council that often engaged in internecine bickering and a series of mayors who failed to adequately address key issues affecting the city and often got caught up in their own avarice. None of the people involved in both governments are saints, but they are constantly indicted as proof positive of the failure of black leaders to govern effectively.
That was what the whole ruckus over Patrick Cooper was all about. A clean-cut Yale-educated (although he flunked out during his sophomore year) fresh face placed in the role of Great "White" Hope™ for a city "tarnished" by what most whites saw as cliquish, corrupt black leadership. In the end, Cooper wound up with only 29.5% of the 40,000+ ballots cast, while Langford walked away with 50.3%, enough to avoid a runoff. In that election, only three of the nine districts in the city went for Cooper, and those three districts were concentrated in the northeast and southeast portions of the city. Even after Langford vacated office in late 2009, Cooper came up short once again, this time being bested by current mayor William Bell, 54% to 46%. When Cooper lost, most of the AL.com commentators threw hissy fits over the city continuing down a "dark" road.*
Keep in mind that both cities have majority-black populations, with most whites living along the suburban and rural fringes. Both majority-black cities are more or less inclined to vote for mayors who represent the best chance of understanding their concerns, and given the history behind both cities, non-black mayors don't have a sterling track record when it comes to listening to and understanding the black community. Collapse fetishists hailing from rural and suburban areas could care less about the concerns of the black community, only that they see an "out of control" black criminal element under feckless Democrat leadership and a need for a hard-nosed conservative to waft into office and set about "restoring order." There's little to no understanding about the underlying socioeconomic and educational problems that create and maintain poor living and educational environments in the inner cities, only the understanding that the problem can be "solved" by Nixonian "law and order" posturing and the relocation of unfriendly black and Latino faces elsewhere so suburban whites can feel "safe" enough to venture back into the city center.**
I don't want to be too hard on these folks -- Detroit definitely has some serious issues regarding crime, largely vandalism and arson. The "Devil's Night" tradition, copper scavengers and general neglect have wiped out most of the housing stock in Detroit. The city was once home to a treasure trove of architectural delights -- and now whatever buildings that aren't barely standing are now being cleared off and turned into pasture. Birmingham has it's own issues, but it's blessed in that it's nowhere as bad as Detroit is right now. Hopefully Dave Bing is doing his best to mitigate and hopefully reverse the damage done over the decades; it's a hell of an uphill battle.
But the collapse fetishists, the people who, day in and day out, hope that the city hits rock bottom so it will grudgingly accept a preferably white conservative savior and retool itself to suit the sensibilities of suburbanite and rural whites, those folks gotta go. These same people who constantly criticize the city are usually nowhere to be found when it comes to putting in some work to help repair and improve the city. Funny that.
*The sooner AL.com restricts comments to the "Email us for feedback" links like other, semi-respectable news outlets, the better.
**This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons A.C. Roper, Birmingham's current police chief, is so loved. He does crack down on crime.