Digbeth falling by the way side…?

Some of our readers caught John Humphrys out and about in Digbeth on the 22nd April, recording for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. You can listen to the programme again below:

The Birmingham Post ran an article replying to this piece here. Although Humphrys raised some good points, after listening again, I think the research is a little one-dimensional and leaves a bit to be desired…

Birmingham’s motto is Forward, so it should come as no surprise that the city is infamous for knocking stuff down. This is a question I always have to answer when giving tours of our fair Digbeth. However, I disagree that nothing remains: Digbeth is the birthplace of Birmingham, which was founded on the banks of the River Rea, and still retains a lot of the city’s history.

The Old Crown is the oldest pub in Birmingham, and survived not only the Second World War but also the British Civil War too. We have three ‘nationally important’ (according to CAMRA) pubs which maintain their architectural integrity as time capsules of days gone by.

The Radio 4 programme focusses on manufacturing, but fails to recognise the hive of activity taking place in Digbeth’s back streets behind closed doors. For example, A E Williams, the world’s oldest family run pewtersmith’s, is located here. Other odes to our manufacturing past remain; the Custard Factory has reinvented how we think of industry, focussing on digital and creative instead of hard manufacture, and Typhoo Wharf still stands as a monument to our historic canal culture.

Digbeth’s viaduct to nowhere is seen as metaphor for the city, but it is precisely what makes Digbeth quirky and different to other city centres. Why should we have an identikit High Street that would look the same as any other major city? And is the movement of manufacturing away from Digbeth the only reason for high unemployment in the city? I don’t think so.

Yes, Digbeth is very close to the city centre but has seen next to no development compared to Birmingham’s core. I don’t see this as a disadvantage – it is in fact an opportunity to create sustainable buildings, industries and communities which are supported by the area’s fabric, and not constrained by it. How many other areas would be open to innovative ideas such as Digbeth Dining Club, and frequent road closures for club nights and festivals like City of Colours?

The slow architecture movement at Warwick Bar is a model of this baby steps approach to urban regeneration. Following the credit crunch, projects are beginning to reawaken, and we look forward to welcoming 300 new residents to the area once Fabrick Square (Harrison Drape) is completed. The artistic community has done a lot for Digbeth and indeed Birmingham, bringing the area to life every Digbeth First Friday, and along with it, an element of reinvention.

Digbeth is vibrant, varied and all about openness to change – but is more manufacturing the answer to the dereliction? I fear not.

What are your thoughts? Is Digbeth “unloved”?

Pamela Pinski

Digbeth and Proud

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