I have to be honest. I have a love/hate relationship with Birmingham. When I was a child it was an exciting, bustling city (that I pronounced Burning Ham – ha, ha!). That was back in the days of the original Bullring, which, to be frank, was a hideous mess. Back then, going to Birmingham meant adventure; a trip to the Museum to see the scary dinosaur; perhaps some new clothes, or a new toy and most definitely a day rounded off with a McDonald’s. Not to mention the opportunity to take a train or bus journey (that was back in the days when people could still smoke on the top deck of the bus, god, I’m old!).
As a teenager and in my early twenties I still loved Brum. It was a mecca for fashion and alternative clothing that I couldn’t source more locally. It was more daring and out-there. Soon I discovered its night life and was drawn in to the world of house music – fluffy boot covers from The Oasis and all!
I even lived in Birmingham for a short while. Just after I moved back to the Midlands from London, I found my home town too suburban, and missed the buzz of living near a big city. I had visions of living in a swanky apartment, going for post-work cocktails and shopping in Selfridge’s. Unfortunately the job I had at that time paid very poorly, so it was more nights down Liberty’s and clothes from New Look, but hey, it was an experience – albeit a short-lived one. It was probably around this time that I started to fall out of love with Birmingham. I couldn’t put my finger on quite what it was. The people seemed rude, there was hustle and bustle but not of the right sort, gangs of youths hung around menacingly in the city centre. All in all it wasn’t somewhere I looked forward to visiting.
As a result over the past few years I’ve found myself venturing into the city less and less and sometimes dreading it when I do need to make trip ‘up town’. In fact, earlier this week we begrudgingly headed into the city as Hubby wanted to purchase something from the Fossil store in the Bullring. Now, don’t get too excited, there were still parts of it we disliked. The urban tangle of New Street (the actual street not the station) still makes me shudder and the Bullring is poorly designed with too few escalators. Some of the people are still intimidating. But… for Birmingham-phobes, like me, there’s a glimmer of hope…
On our way back to the car park (we always park at Brindley Place) we grabbed some Mocha Coconut Frappuccinos from Starbucks (we got them on the half-price offer, even though it was after 5pm – I certainly wasn’t going to argue!) and, as it was a nice day (I was wearing flip flops in England for chrissakes!) we headed over to Centenary Square where we parked our butts to drink them.
Now, to me, Centenary Square has always had a bit of an identity problem. When it was first built it literally did just seem like a huge, well, square. Like a massive patio extension to its neighbouring Symphony Hall, ICC and Birmingham Rep. Sure, they held some events over there. But it didn’t seem to have any real purpose and just felt a bit like an urban wasteland. However, all that has changed since the opening of the new Birmingham Library. First up, just look at it, isn’t that a sexy beast of architecture? Phwoar. But it’s photogenic looks (seriously I’ve never seen so many people with DSLRs in Birmingham) aren’t the only thing that has revolutionised the area. It’s something deeper than that.
As we sat supping our scrummy Frappuccinos we watched a group of lads playing Table Tennis in a sunken area of the library. How cool is that? A library with an area for Table Tennis?! Inside we could see funky chairs and people congregating and having fun, whilst researching. Outside groups of people were sat catching up with each other, strumming guitars and generally soaking up the atmosphere. And that, my dear fabulous readers, is the biggest thing that’s changed. The whole atmosphere of Centenary Square has been taken up a notch. It’s no longer a soulless space. It’s now got an artsy, creative vibe akin to the South Bank in London. I sat there and felt like I’d been transported somewhere different, somewhere inspiring.
The rest of the city could do a lot to learn from this new area of development.
Have you been to Birmingham recently? What did you think of the city?