Birmingham is breaking out and bidding for space and beauty. Nick Hasell reports.
Just as Americans have jokes about Detroit, so we have ours about Birmingham, our own maligned motor city: jokes about the dense Brummie accent, the complexity of the road system and the expanses of brash concrete architecture. While, admittedly, little can be done to remedy the former, the city's landscape is proving rather more mutable. Over the last few years a series of large-scale service sector projects, the progeny of a new-found confidence, have been radically altering the face of the city; projects that, when completed, threaten to leave behind once and for all those well-worn jibes.
The origins of this apparent renaissance rest largely with the work of the Labour-led City Council, a bastion of old-style municipal patronage. To its advocates, it represents a model of both consensual government and commercial flair. No more so than in 1987 when, mindful of the near-catastrophe visited on the city by the decade's earlier recession, the council embarked on a £460 million investment programme aimed at long-term recovery. This year, its two flagship projects - the £160-million International Convention Centre (ICC) and neighbouring £51-million National Indoor Arena - opened with great ceremony and much talk of Birmingham's new post-industrial era. Certainly the glass walls of the ICC's atrium and silver tower of the adjacent Hyatt give all the outward signs of a burgeoning service economy. In their wake, it is hoped, will come conductors and conference delegates, and a host of private sector companies.