Birmingham Living editor Jon Card reflects on how dramatically his home city has changed, and what’s in store for the future
Birmingham has been knocked down and built back up again during my lifetime, so much so that it’s hard to fully recall what the city centre looked like 20 years ago. On the whole, the changes have been for the better, helping to nurture a sense of positivity among its residents. There’s a ‘can-do’, entrepreneurial spirit in Birmingham right now, and Brummies are, quite rightly, starting to shout about their city.
If there’s one thing the city has learnt to do well recently, it’s food. Just a few years ago, Birmingham’s main contribution to world cuisine was Balti, but not anymore. Glynn Purnell was the trailblazer, winning the firstMichelin star ever held by a Birmingham-based chef.More stars followed for Turners and Simpsons, with plenty of other serious contenders in the pipeline.Husband and wife teams at Carters inMoseley, and Loves, just a fewminutes off Broad Street, are highly praised by diners and critics alike. Edmunds is another favourite, with well-respected French chef Didier Philipot at its helm.Marco PierreWhite has a steakhouse in The Cube and Jamie Oliver has premises just off Spiceal Street.Meanwhile, the city’s curry tradition is undergoing a transformation, spearheaded by innovative Indian chefs such as Aktar Islam, founder of Lasan (see pg.22).
Birmingham’s booming food culture has garnered world-wide attention. Favourable articles in the New York Times, National Geographic and the Daily Telegraph have all noted the huge changes that have taken place here, and how the world must re-evaluate its preconceived ideas about the area. Birmingham is a major European city with a young and ambitious population, and now it’s starting to feel like it.
Birmingham’s growing confidence is being helped by its ever-improving architecture, and the smashing of the rotten old concrete structures for which it was notorious. The big demolitions, most notably the flyover which cut straight through the city, and the old Bull Ring, were started in the late 1990s. Dangerous pedestrian underpasses, once a haven formuggers, were subsequently filled in. The canals have been cleaned up and the surrounding factories and warehouses turned into desirable flats, offices and swanky bars. Old faithfuls like the Rotunda have been given a revamp. The RoyalMail building was converted into TheMailbox and iswith the re-opening of The Bullring and its famous Selfridges building in 2003, the city really started to show its new character.
Next on the list is the revamp of New Street station and the removal of any connecting 1960s and 70s architecture. In 2013, Birmingham Central Library will be moving to newly constructed premises, and the old inverted pyramid of concrete that is Birmingham Central Library will be pulled down. The building, designed by architect John Madin, stood glowering over the centre for too long. Its replacement, created by Francine Houben, will mark a new chapter in the city’s history.
In truth, Brum has always had things to be proud of, but it has done a good job of hiding them. Take music, for instance. A city such as Manchester, famed for its ‘music scene’, boasts such bands as The Stone Roses, Joy Division and Happy Mondays. But few of these were internationally successful. Meanwhile, a band such as Black Sabbath can fill stadiums worldwide within minutes. Heavy Metal, which was invented in Birmingham and the Black Country, is a major global artistic export, yet there are all too few mentions of it around the centre. Similarly, Birmingham’s contribution to the international reggae scene, with bands such as UB40 and Steel Pulse, is exceptional but, once again, seldom noted.
Brummies are rightly looking forward to a much brighter future, with a host of new developments on the cards. The city is surprisingly young and remarkably diverse, and in that there are many opportunities. Birmingham should be proud of its cultural contributions; it should celebrate them, and then use that confidence to create more. Right now, the region needs some more investment and opportunities to keep talent in the area. Birmingham Living magazine will do its part in highlighting the many good things which are going on, and the exciting personalities connected to these enterprises. A little more spring in its step would do Brum no harm at all. So go on, feel free to shout about it, the world is listening.