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It’s Birmingham’s time to shine, Bab

By Henry Columbine
02 August 2022

By Henry Columbine

It’s rare for self-deprecating Brummies to celebrate their city, their history and themselves.

Two thirds of Birmingham residents, polled by biscuit-makers McVitie’s, said their own city was a miserable place to live – more than residents of any other UK city. A separate survey found that 80% of Brummies wished they had a different accent – higher than anywhere else in the country.

But the opening ceremony of The Commonwealth Games was a welcome departure from such self-loathing. Pushed into the limelight, Birmingham stepped up with a spectacular event, unashamedly showcasing the talent, industrial heritage and multicultural fabric of the Midlands.

The Games have provided a real boost for Britain’s second-largest city, bringing new infrastructure, increased tourism and – perhaps most importantly of all – a palpable sense of excitement and a position on the world stage.

The Games are symbolic of a new Birmingham, ready to shake off its dreary reputation and accept that it’s not actually that bad. In fact, it might even be quite good.

It may not be the Brummie way, but there are lots of reasons to be cheerful. The iconic Bullring shopping centre, owned by Hammerson, who recently put out a strong set of financial results, continues to demonstrate how physical retail should be managed: this weekend it will host ‘It’s Carnival’, a colourful large-scale dance and music extravaganza featuring over 400 performers.

A short walk away is the partially completed Paradise development, which will eventually bring ten new buildings and three new public squares to the city centre, linking in with the architecturally striking Birmingham Library (incidentally Europe’s largest), outside which a giant mechanical bull is currently giving regular performances.

Head in the other direction and you’ll get to Digbeth, an area that screams potential and where basketball and beach volleyball events are currently taking place. Disused warehouses are interspersed with vintage clothes markets, hipster bars and cafes, and the occasional film studio. Oval Real Estate owns The Custard Factory, the creative hub that forms Digbeth’s centre, along with a swathe of other buildings in the area, and has impressive plans to revitalise it, while respecting its industrial heritage.

A little further afield is Sutton Park – one of Europe’s largest urban parks, around three times the size of Hampstead Heath – playing host to the Triathlon and Para Triathlon events, while Perry Barr has been transformed with updates to its stadium and its train station in the lead-up to the Games. New stations planned along the old Camp Hill line aim to improve connectivity between the city centre and the suburbs, while HS2 will increase capacity between Birmingham and London, and will bring journey times down to just 52 minutes.

It’s perhaps fitting that Birmingham was the second-choice location for The Commonwealth Games: this is a city that relishes being overlooked, undervalued, the underdog. The Games have given the city a reason to get excited, to celebrate and to appreciate that this is a city that has come a long way and has an exciting future ahead.