Phew – back to full

That was weird. After I published the post about the Custard Factory it showed up in my RSS feed with a lot of strange characters in it. After a bit of fiddling I’d got rid of the characters but in the process my RSS feed got truncated. As any savvy internet type will tell you, sending out a short feed is bad etiquette (it did however boost my visitors by 8 times more than usual).

After some fiddling and weeding out of the said strange characters I’m now back on the full RSS feed.

Apologies if my messing about spammed your feedreader with repeat posts.


10 things I’d change about Digbeth and the Custard Factory

Custard Factory

I spent my last working day in Digbeth last Friday after two and a half years. On Monday I shift to the Jewellery Quarter where I’ll be working for Digital Birmingham. I liked working around Digbeth (Bromley street to be precise) but it wasn’t without its frustrations so here’s 10 things I’d change about it:

1. Less galleries, more cafes. The fry-up options around the area are very thin on the ground. Rootys will do you one although the board advertising it is well hidden. There are a couple of cafes back towards town but that’s about it. Maybe if Vivid served a good bacon sandwich I’d be inclined to go use the place.

2. Shut the Custard Factory newsagents. Until it starts buying in more newspapers that is. The shelves in general always look a bit thin but I’m not bothered about that – I just want to be able to buy a paper. If you go after 9.30am there’s a good chance they’ll have sold their entire stock.

3. Build another carpark. Okay so maybe building carparks isn’t a useful or practical suggestion nowadays but as long as the current owners of the main carpark have a monopoly they’ll continue to clamp your car with glee.

4. Calm the traffic on Heath Mill Lane. The Custard Factory is an island surrounded by busy roads and a river (of sorts). Stopping Heath Mill Lane from being a busy cut-through to the middle ring road might make the walk from CF to The Bond a tad more pleasant (especially in the rain when every car thinks it’s funny to splash you).

5. Make Fazeley Street the main route to Digbeth. This is a straight, fairly quiet road that leads from the city centre directly to The Bond and the new Fazeley Studios. Digbeth High Street is just a dull dual carriageway. Fazeley Street could be a tree-lined boulevard if we gave it half a chance – oh, and planted some trees of course.

6. Signposts Please. NOTHING is signposted. I mean NOTHING. Not within the area or to the area. Why aren’t the wonderful canals pointed out? If you’re at Millennium Point you might be pointed back into town but not to the Custard Factory. Signs – it’s basic stuff.

7. Start selling stuff people need. Go on, admit it. When’s the last time you purchased something from a Custard Factory shop? They’re not helped by the lack of punters around there of course but an elite hi-fi shop? A violin shop? Homeopathy? Sometimes I just want to go buy a bag of nappies without going all the way to Morrison’s.

8. Open a restaurant. I did hear of one in the pipeline – anyone confirm? Seems curious that our leading creative quarter has such a mono-cultural nightlife. Drinking and music and that’s it. Jewellery Quarter has a few. In fact Digbeth-based Clusta boss, Russell has a place up there – I presume he didn’t think there was enough potential clientele in Digbeth.

9. Move the bus stops outside Digbeth Cold Storage. It’s the single biggest barrier between town and Digbeth and its made of people. Putting the stops for the 37/50/58/59/60 etc. on a narrow pavement is a ridiculous planning decision. Go do the walk now between Bull Ring and Custard Factory. Difficult isn’t it? Now go do it with a push chair or a wheelchair and fight your way past a load of grumpy people waiting for a bus that’s already 20 minutes late.

10. Gentrify/Don’t Gentrify – make your mind up. All those galleries – I mean come on, it’s gentrified whether you like it or not now isn’t it (and what are they doing down there anyway? why are they hiding from where most people are?). It’s still an industrial area of course and is a million miles away from what happened in East London but we need some clear thinking right now rather than simply hoping that an economic downturn prevents the worse of the excesses.

Pic by lamentables

Links for September 16th through September 21st

Some links for you:

Links for September 13th through September 14th

Some links for you:

  • Birmingham designers and publisher celebrate Booker Prize listing – Birmingham Post – I missed this from last month. Two connections for me: I used to work for Jewellery Quarter based designers Homer Creative whose top designer Sue Race has designed a book cover for a Booker Prize nominee. Second connection: I once sat with Tindal Street Press boss Alan Mahar at a Blues vs Everton game. Okay that second one's a bit crap I know. Well done to both though.
  • UK hearts Twitter | chalkboard – "There was some interesting data released about twitter in the August 08 edition of Hitwise Media Round Up. The most surprising headline (for me at least), was that twitter is officially more popular with Brits than Americans – and it’s the stats that say so."
  • 2012 | CompeteFor Portal – In case you didn't realise it this portal is the place to register for 2012 tenders
  • London Office moves, but still free to use | Digital Central – The project I used to run has the fortunate legacy of still having support available in the form of use of an office in central Soho

Links for September 11th through September 12th

Some links for you:

Birmingham – The Uncreative City

After writing a couple of months ago about Creative Republic I thought it about time I went along to an event. So last night I showed up at the Michael Wolff Masterclass in the so-new-the-paint’s-still-wet Fazeley Studios in Digbeth. Wolff himself had to pull out at the last minute which was a shame but in his place we had Stef Lewandowski taking us through a presentation he entitled ‘Birmingham Ambient Creativity Audit’.

This basically involved Stef roaming the centre as if he was a fresh-face tourist, trying to orientate himself and look for signs of our cultural life. In short, after taking 500+ photos, he didn’t find much bar the very occasional fly-poster. What he did find was poor sign-posting, an excess of cars, a lack of hang-out spaces and a derelict ice-rink. It was a useful and entertaining snapshot of Birmingham, the uncreative creative city. One of Stef’s key points was about how Birmingham doesn’t look like a creative place despite the fact that creative and cultural industries make up such a significant chunk of the city’s economy (almost 9% of GVA or 5% of the economy – bigger than financial services but smaller than Law and business services).

That’s the key point for me. We’ve become a shopping city and a conference city, but can’t quite work out, in planning terms at least, how to be a creative city. I made a point during the evening about what Stef’s city tour might have felt like in the 1980s, a time when we were nothing more than a motor city, when we simply didn’t have the volume of creative industries activity we do now (2004 stats show 50% of all creative firms had started up in the previous ten years). In 2008 Stef was hoping to see more ‘indie’ culture as he walked around. He left ‘indie’ a little undefined but for me its more than shops or flyposters, its about people on the streets. Back in the 1980s hanging out in the city was a much more straightforward activity than it is now (Stef makes a point about the prevalence of CCTV and alcohol restricted areas). Then, the messiness of post-war planning left lots of curious, unwatched spaces – underpassses, undeveloped sites, old train stations – in which one could engage with friends in your own subcultural group (my own being ‘plastic punk‘ – into the music but too scared of upsetting his mum by ripping his jeans or dying his hair). Birmingham centre may be a lot better planned than it used to be but in that we’ve lost the diversity we used to see on the streets – a diversity of both people and places. A diversity that made us look like more of an ‘indie’ place.

In the last 20 years we’ve done everything that big, growing mature cities should do: we shut the underpasses, we gentrified the canals, we realigned the roads but we also privatised what were public spaces (Bullring was mentioned as an example of that), we priced out independent retail (we’re about to lose that great rabbit warren of youth culture and independent retail, Oasis Markets), we approved uninspiring architecture. I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve probably done everything you’re not supposed to do to plan a creative city landscape.

I think the idea of last night was that we’re essentially gearing up for more formal feedback to the Big City Plan in the autumn. Which is a good thing of course because consultation matters if we’re to take on Stef’s points and make his next city tour a much more rewarding experience.

Even though I had to dash off before the final feedback this was a useful night that gave me and others there plenty of food for thought.  Well done to Stef and Creative Republic for pulling together something so useful  rather than just canceling.

Links for September 5th through September 8th

Some links for you:

Floods, leaks and dodgy bulls

I’d hate to be the kind of blogger who has a bad day then proceeds to tell the world about it – my rubbish day is as nothing compared to the rest of the world’s proper rubbish days. Let alone those for whom every day is pretty rubbish.

But I tell you what – today (so far, its 8pm) has been fairly rubbish. An Ill-advised trip to town from which it took 90 minutes to get home through cancelled trains, stuck buses, and flooded rivers blocking roads. 

Took some phone pics in Bournville after the taxi we’d resorted to couldn’t go any further of which this one is the only nicely dramatic one:

When we got home we found the roof had leaked which is annoying but if you want to see some proper dramatic pics then go take a look at Josh Hart’s pics. He lives near the river Rea in Selly Park which burst its banks. 

However, the most extraordinary sight I saw all day though was the bull statue outside the Bullring in Birmingham. I knew they’d painted in silver (why I don’t know and don’t care) but look up close and it’s possibly the worst paint job known to man. I think it was best left alone….

I hope to finish my rubbish day by watching a rubbish film, Cloverfield. It really couldn’t get any worse could it?