The decade from 1995 to 2005 should be seen as the golden renaissance of life in the British cities. The excellent competition for the European Capital of Culture title for 2008 convinced me of this, showcasing as it did the very best of many of the UK's biggest cities plus a few smaller but still enthusiastic challengers. Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Belfast were exceptional. The competition in 2002 – 2003 showed how the post-industrial towns and cities were contributing with renewed confidence to the vitality of the country. The magnanimous poem from Birmingham's Poet Laureate at the time, Julie Boden, summed up a confidence shared in the industrial cities outside the South East:
"Today there is no need to stop the clocks,
to stop the dog from chewing on his bone –
may Liverpool find laughter in its docks,
This Birmingham was not built of cold stone"
For me Nottingham, Birmingham and Cardiff have become favourite places to visit. The mix of local people and incomers, students, young professionals, the music scene make vibrant cities. Each much nicer than you might expect, Nottingham particularly green with great pubs and eating places and surprisingly good publicly run public services. Cardiff and Birmingham with new and planned city libraries carrying on the work started by Victorian forebears (this time public private partnerships showing that these can work; Bournemouth an earlier example). Bristol too has surged ahead with its resurgent waterfront and confidence built on history and position as a regional capital, although without as much public or consultancy money as Cardiff or Belfast gain due to having assemblies there.
Nowhere has the revival been greater than the Northern Revival of the great industrial and commercial cities – Leeds and Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool and Newcastle.
A Review article in Liberator 336 covered my thoughts on two books and what they tell us about the revival of the Northern towns and cities in England in the first decade of the 21st Century. This longer piece (available in the articles and downloads section) includes my background analysis of the renewal of the English cities, particularly the Northern ones. Two very different books provide a snapshot of northern life at the peak of the renewal: the comic travelogue Pies and Prejudice, by Stuart Maconie, and academic report Whose Town is it Anyway? on local democracy and community engagement comparing Harrogate and Burnley, by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Steve Clayton. Much of the first two pages of the article and conclusion are additional material to the version published in "Liberator" www.liberator.org.uk