I spent a morning last week listening to the editor of the Birmingham Post, Alun Thorne, giving his summary of the years events within the construction sector within the city. It was certainly interesting listening, with tales of ups and downs and an optimistic outlook for the next few years.
Biggest successes of recent years include the iconic Selfridges (Future Systems), the Qube (Ken Shuttleworth, MAKE) and Holloway Circus Tower (Ian Simpson Architects) to name a few, all of which have added to the vibrancy and quality of Birmingham. It has to be said that plans have been scaled down somewhat, given the economic situation across the entire of the UK. However, the over-riding feeling was that Birmingham has done enough to position itself firmly as the UK’s second city.
There was some debate about drawing comparisons with Manchester – a city which has always had a strength in self promotion. I suppose it could be said that Manchester has more to shout about from a PR point of view – football, the Commonwealth games, that whole ‘Madchester’ cultural scene which has embedded itself within the phyche of the nation (well at least a particular generation). In comparison to this, is Birmingham seen as the poor relation?
Look at Birmingham with a more objective eye, however, and a different picture emerges. You will see a city that is steadily piecing together a new urban infrastructure, with key elements of the city plan in place, with others shortly on the way. Of less obvious, but equally important benefit to the city, is the fact that the recent Conservative Party conference took place there, with the next one a definite and the one after that a distinct possibility. As Alun Thorne put it, ‘the tories seem to be in love with Birmingham’. This is no bad thing.
In 2012 Birmingham is to elect its City Mayor. Speculation concerning who this should be initiates an interesting conversation. Alun asked the question ‘does Birmingham need its own Boris?’. Whatever you think of the slightly eccentric chap, no-one can deny that in his own unique way he has imprinted a style of leadership and ‘un-pretentiousness’ that endears himself to many and enrages a few. What qualities should Birmingham be looking for in its new figurehead? The obvious names were touted – Karen Brady and Digby Jones to name a couple – however, given that Birmingham has one of the most diverse and vibrant multi-cultural populations in the UK, one can understand these suggestions from the cities commercial and construction sector.
So, is our second city about to come of age? Well, listening to Alun Thorne has persuaded me that it doesn’t really need to. With continual improvements in the quality of the built environment, key regeneration projects and a strong commercial and leisure sector, Birmingham is surely a prime candidate for international inward investment. As interior designers with an active interest in the leisure and hotel sector, we’re pleased it’s right on our doorstep.