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