The New Birmingham

Birmingham’s official motto is ‘Forward’. It is basically impossible to understand the city without grasping the implications of that.

Anyway, the following picture is a page* from a piece of council propaganda (public relations… whatever) from the late 1950s (or was it early 1960s? Can’t remember, but do have it written down somewhere) called ‘The New Birmingham’…


As you can see, it’s a plan of post-war redevelopment. The five highlighted districts were the locations of the city’s most notorious 19th century slums. The idea was to transform these hellholes into pleasant and self-contained districts (note the use of the word ‘town’) that would be integrated into the wider city without being overwhelmed by it (and, in so doing, return to their original status as low-status housing districts). It was quite overtly Utopian. The planning jargon for all of this was ‘comprehensive redevelopment’.**

Things did not exactly work out as intended (certainly the Utopian dream was never realised), but it is probably important to point out that the really serious damage to the area happened when the economy of Birmingham basically collapsed in the early 1980s. Though there were certainly mistakes made in the planning of the so-called ‘New Towns’ – for instance the Inner Ring Road was supposed to connect them to the rest of the city, but actually did the opposite for reasons that probably count as slightly to obvious to bother with explaining in any detail.

An interesting post-script of sorts concerns the area marked on the map as Lee Bank (née Bath Row). Now there’s a notorious name, at least to people from the Midlands. The area is currently the site of a massive redevelopment project. The jargon being used to describe the approach is… er… comprehensive redevelopment.

*Well most of a page. Apparently it was tricky to get it to line up properly to photocopy or something. It was a while ago now and I don’t remember exactly, so this is just a presumption.

**An interesting detail: Frank Price, the Chairman of the Public Work Committee at the time (and author of ‘The New Birmingham’), grew up in one of these districts (Summer Lane, now Newtown). He’s still alive and lives in Spain.

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