The Perfect Gift


In Smiths during the Christmas holiday I was surprised to discover that one of their main book categories is “Tragic Life Stories”. (I was looking – in vain – for the Science section.) What’s going on here? Schadenfreude? Simply relief that there are people even worse off than ourselves?

God forbid that there should be a happy ending anywhere…


Big City Plan

“Birmingham is a great international city, renowned for civic innovation, racial and cultural diversity, as well as its creative and educational achievements. The city has made tremendous progress over the last twenty years, regularly being hailed as one of Europe’s success stories, with over £10 billion of planned investment in the city centre alone.

“Birmingham’s Big City Plan is a masterplan that will draw on that legacy to shape and revitalise the city centre over the next twenty years. To achieve our ambitions for the city and its people, Birmingham City Council is communicating the objectives and aims of the masterplan and engaging with colleagues partners, stake holders and our citizens.”

I’ve lived in the city for over twenty years, so I’m interested in how the (Conservative-LibDem) council is promoting and developing it, but as so often happens, I’ve only just heard about this initiative, even though it started in 2006. First, Professor Michael Parkinson of John Moores University produced a “Visioning Study“. This includes lots of interesting data and ideas, despite its intial nonsense assertion that “the real city centre has expanded from 80 to 800 hectares”. (And I skipped the bit about “Local Asset Based Vehicles”.)

Then the council gave the job of writing the plan to a firm called Urban Initiatives. Of course, in the olden days the City would’ve done this job itself; it does have a large and expensive planning department. (What makes Jonathan Bore better than Emrys Jones?) Maybe its reputation has yet to recover from the mistakes of the 1960s?

To be fair, It didn’t take much searching to find a talk by Urban Initiatives’ Kelvin Campbell (14/11/07) in which he introduces the Big City project. He calls Birmingham “the holy grail of urban design”. And the themes he introduces are listed on the new Big City Plan website:

Global Themes
Audacity A city of brave people up for change
Centricity A city with an expanded commercial core
Liveablecity A city with a high quality of life
Complexcity A multi-layered, gritty city
Authenticity A city that is true to its roots
Diversecity A cosmopolitan city
Familycity Revival of the urban neighbourhood
Univercity A learning city that turns its knowledge into business
Connectedcity A city well connected to Europe
Smartcity A city that uses its resources efficiently

Three questions:  Aren’t there too many themes? “A multi-layered, gritty city”? And, this being an English blog, how original and/or naff are some of the theme titles?

1 Liveablecity (226 ghits): This term is being used in/of Austin, Texas.

2 Complexcity (470 ghits): The title of an artwork by John Simon; a blog about Toronto.

3 Diversecity (703 ghits): An architects’ exhibition; a Pittsburgh festival; a Siloist newspaper in NYC; a Canadian social agency.

4 Familycity (130 ghits)

5 Univercity (918 ghits): A Canadian housing development; a socioeconomic organisation in Worcester, Mass.

6 ConnectedCity (47 ghits)

7 SmartCity (731 ghits): A “business park provider” ; a “password wallet” ; an urban art project ; a management consultancy.