A big city needs big ideas and a big plan to take it forward to a big future.

Has Birmingham council’s glorious leader, Mike Whitby, pulled it off?

Judgement will have to be reserved but first impressions are, well, OK, I suppose.

That is part of the problem of the Big City Plan unveiled by Councillor Whitby to an audience of the movers, shakers, fixers and mixers in Birmingham. There is nothing startling, nothing that takes the breath away, nothing to really set Birmingham apart from other big cities.

Indeed, with mention of the success of various initiatives in cities such as Manchester, Dublin and New York, Birmingham finally seems to be admitting the rapid progress of the last 20 years or so has effectively ground to an abrupt halt whilst other international destinations have continued moving onwards and upwards.

The worry is that Birmingham has decided to play catch up by copying others, rather than concentrating on creating a distinctive city for the 21st century. There is nothing wrong with learning from others but Birmingham has more than enough potential and solid enough foundations to set urban regeneration benchmarks of its own, just like it did in the first phase of its transformation.

We’ve had lots of words and plenty of political rhetoric in the last few years – coinciding with Councillor Whitby’s elevation to the leadership of the authority – but little, if anything, in the way of “go forward”.

That is one of the reasons why judgement needs to be reserved. It is a grand plan and it was delivered eloquently enough, but the city council now needs to turn the vision into a reality.

Birmingham City Council needs strong partnerships, obviously, to ensure the big plan becomes the big future. It isn’t a case of everything falling on the authority’s shoulders, so listening to and compromising with other public sector bodies and the private sector is essential – not something that has always been evident in the last few years.

There is undoubtedly ambition.

Mr Whitby and his team seem hell-bent on changing the laws of mathematics for a start. 

Mention of the development of a creative quarter, an urban village, educational and science quarters, all alongside Birmingham’s existing quarters, begs the question just now many quarters do they think they can fit into one city beyond the traditional four?

As the plan is picked over and digested in the coming days it will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction Birmingham’s Big City Plan receives locally, nationally and internationally.

4 responses »

  1. Jon Bounds says:

    Like all these sort of things it’ll take a while to see if there’s any substance behind it, some of the things they’re hailing as ‘successes’ haven’t happend yet (Eastside, for example). So, we’ll see.

    > just now many quarters do they think they can fit into one city beyond the traditional four?

    You do know it’s quarter, from the French ‘quartier’ (district) and not a quarter as in 1/4 😉 Anyway I reckon the squashing up of Irish, Chineese, gays, creatives etc into little areas and boxes is a little old hat.

  2. Paul Groves says:

    The “quarter” thing was a (poor) attempt at a little (feeble) joke 😉
    I’m just sick of everyone feeling there has to be labels for everything.
    Surely the best cities are the ones which largely evolve organically, with the odd bit of subtle manipulation here and there?

  3. Jon Bounds says:

    Totally agree Paul – it’s easy to see where a gay Chinese business should set up. But what if you’re a Chinese artist 😉

  4. Paul Groves says:

    …not to mention exiled Welsh writers and bloggers – I’m not sure my sofa constitutes a “quarter” whatever definition you use!

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