Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brum: bostin

When I first started visiting Birmingham regularly in 2001, the prospect of it ever being named among the top ten cities in the world would have been laughable. So it's testimony to the city's remarkable renaissance that it's received that accolade from Rough Guide - and not without good reason.

Alongside the most visible landmark projects such as the revamped Bullring, the new Library of Birmingham, the Mailbox and the ongoing, much-needed and radical improvement of New Street Station, there have been more widespread but equally significant developments such as the decision to make the most of the extensive canal network and the replacement of dark, dank subways with ground-level road crossings (counterbalancing the focus of the 1960s city on serving the needs of the car). The city centre is now a mecca for gastronomic delights of all varieties and boasts an excellent array of real ale and craft beer establishments including the Post Office Vaults, Pure Bar and the Wellington. It's only eight years ago that, with ample justification, I described the latter as "a veritable oasis in the desert" - how times have changed.

Perhaps most remarkable is the transformation of Digbeth from a post-industrial no-go zone adjacent to the city centre into a vibrant cultural quarter that's home to a booming arts and music scene (with the Custard Factory at its heart), the increasingly highly regarded Digbeth Dining Club and a smart, light coach station a far cry from its predecessor. It's a transformation that doesn't seem to have come at the cost of the area's grittiness, either, with the Anchor Inn happily co-existing alongside the trendier new watering holes.

That said, hard times may yet lie ahead for the city, despite the veneer of bright modernity, success and prosperity - as with my own Newcastle, the government's budget cuts are set to wreak havoc with the provision of council services, though naturally it's not Rough Guide-reading visitors who will be affected.

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