Friday, October 21, 2011

Birmingham - city visit

Having never visited Birmingham except for business, i took the opportunity for a short two day hotel stay as a leisure visitor.

First impressions of this Pedestrian visitor to Birmingham, UK:

There is a lot to it. Do have satnav enabled on your phone if you plan to go walkabout.

If you are planning a shopping trip, then your activities are already laid out in the several great shopping areas in the city centre. No satnav required.
(If you are going purely for a shopping day, then you can probably ignore the rest of this section)

One of the things that attracts medium sized and large businesses to Birmingham is the excellent road network.

Unlike Leeds though, Birmingham have yet to reconfigure the inner ring roads and connecting arteries to suit current needs of traffic / pedestrian mix.

The car is king in Birmingham, and being on foot feels a bit like visiting London used to feel, before the congestion charging move.

There are expanses of paved area where shoppers are somewhat shielded from king car, however these are not well connected enough to complete the impression.

Having lived in Leeds for a decade, and witnessed the gradual change in the inner ring road & one way systems, I now understand why those changes were required.

Proactive traffic planning and a decade of staggered disruption is what Birmingham will have to endure to create the pedestrian / traffic complimentary mix which Leeds have succeeded in providing.

Alternatively the London model (congestion charging) and moving the arteries away from the centre, through charges, might be another alternative.

Now the 'Big City Plan' is Birmingham's answer to my comment above.
It also sets out visionary proposals in which each of the seven 'quarters' will be able to evolve.
The developments of New Street Station, the Library and Museum & Art Gallery (most of which complete in 2014 / 2015) will be a big step forward.

However the connectivity of those seven areas and, more importantly, creating one way systems or other ways of pushing the high speed traffic out, from the very centre, need to be addressed (my humble opinion).

Art and Birmingham - Wow!

Pleasantly surprised to find the central Art locations so well stocked.

The Museum and Art Gallery has some fantastic works, however the layout of the listed building in which it is housed, does the visitor few favours.

I challenge any couple to spend a few hours in the main Museum & Art Gallery and rely on just signage for directions.

When the renovation work is complete in 2015, I do intend to visit again. Part of me hopes that the signs will have improved, and that the lack of renovation work makes the difference in visitor experience.

Do visit. The range and total number of items on display is fantastic.

Culture and Birmingham - just dipping a toe:

It is impossible to understand the culture of a city in a couple of days, so I will not try. Do treat my comments lightly - they are not thoroughly researched and are really just some minor observations.

If you like a Cultural mix (I do) then you will feel right at home in Birmingham, it is a melting pot of cultures and friendly with it.

Whilst I am sure reading the local press I might find some examples of when this mix does not work, it certainly wasn't my impression, during my short visit, that this was the case.

Travel on a bus. Yes there are some groups of folks in two or threes chatting about aspects of their shared culture. But that never seemed to create a feeling of division. My impression was that it was just 60 people from Birmingham on a bus, with more in common, than otherwise.

If you live in an area that is uni-culture, then do visit Birmingham and see for yourself. But do so with the intention of being open and receptive. Otherwise why bother wasting your own time, and the time of the good folks of Birmingham.

Real Ale and Ska - now there is a potent combination:

I cannot think of a better activity than having a few pints in friendly company, whilst listening to some good jukebox music.

In Selly Oak, I followed my visit to the Barber Art Institute, with a few pints of Banks and some relaxed Reggae and Ska on the jukebox.

Notes and Further Reading:

Did I enjoy my 2 night city break in Birmingham? Yes.
Would I visit again? I will.

If you are visiting and the weather is good, then do explore the tourist trail near the canal - sun bouncing off the water will give you a good dose of Vit D.

You need the sun's ultraviolet B rays to manufacture vitamin D.

I try not to get too hung up on musical categories, but here are two links, if your interest takes you further:

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