Come walk the city with me

walking map

I love walking. So does my Mom, even at 78 years old. I recall once walking with her and my siblings from home in Alum Rock to the city centre some time in the mid 1970s (was there a bus strike? more likely she just thought it would be good for us). My clear memory is getting to Masshouse Circus and instead of using the underpasses she made us go over the huge traffic island there. There was my mom and us three kids avoiding the busy traffic at each exit to the island until we made safe ground at Tescos (now Argos). We’d do longer walks around the city as we grew up but none stick in the mind like this one.

The city’s a tad easier to walk nowadays and I love walking it. Today I walked 4.16 miles around the city from New street station to a meeting in Aston Science Park, to the Custard Factory, back to the City centre and then on to the arse end of the Jewellery Quarter where my workplace is. I finished a bit annoyed at how it’s too often the simple things we’re getting wrong in the city, things that stop this walk being one for the tourist brochures despite the obvious historic interest along the way. I started at 8.45am and was back at work by 2.45pm. Here’s what I found:

  • From New st. to Science Park is a great straight mile that has benefited from the removal of underpasses at Bull street and Old Square. A lovely walk past the law courts and Aston Uni campus. Easy-peasy.
  • Who would think to use the canal from Science Park to Digbeth? A lovely towpath route but the entrance on the Science Park is obscured and poorly signposted. It is easily the simplest route. I passed only one other person.
  • The canal there is a bit intimidating due to poor tunnel lighting and the ongoing presence of loitering single men around Curzon street tunnel. Maybe a bit of a cottaging scene going on there? Of course it also lacks other people, maybe because no-one knows it’s there.
  • The new Yumm deli at the Custard Factory is a welcome addition. reasonably priced, cheery staff. Still love Rooty’s though but the love has spread now.
  • From Custard Factory to the city centre is NOT a pleasant walk. Was it lunchtime at the college? Does that explain the slightly intimidating youths? The ones who decided to do that come-right-up-in-your-face thing to me that youths sometime do? I’ve never liked it, still don’t. Too many side-roads including one where the traffic can come from the other side of the dual carriageway unexpectedly, and that fucking bus stop outside Digbeth Cold Storage where the path narrows. Why does this area need a dual carriageway? Why do we still love roads so much after all this time. Give us space on the pavement, please.

  • From Bull Ring shopping centre to the library is great, I like the second half of New street as it rises into the impressive Victoria Square and then to the library. The mall bit in the middle of the library still seems like an oddity though, to say the least.
  • But to get to Summer Row and to work from here – would you know how to do it? The weird exit to the right just after Nandos? Past the stagnant pool, down a red staircase (where do wheelchair users go?) and through the only underpass on the walk or across busy roads to avoid the underpass and onto another dual carriageway (although passing the very fine Birmingham Orthodox Cathedral),

Actually, in hindsight this is a great walk, spoilt only by poor signposting, a lack of thought about what make safe spaces and a continuing desire to prioritise the car. Above all, there seems a determination to keep the canals, the Custard Factory and Summer Row disconnected from the city centre experience. I’m not convinced that changing the road layout to prioritise pedestrians, stopping bus passengers being herded to the margins and installing better lighting on some canal tunnels need a Big City Plan to make them happen. It just needs those who make the decisions to come walk with us. To understand how good these routes are but understand the fine detail of what prevents them being great routes that we can promote with pride.

This is an open invite to all: in power, at the fringes of it or with a desire to influence it. Come walk with me, any time you like, I’ll show you the city I think you never take the time to see. And if she’s free, I’ll ask my mom along as well.

7 thoughts on “Come walk the city with me

  1. I love this. It really adds to the idea of urban walking and the ups and downs of it. The Ramblers run a project in Birmingham focussing on urban walking for everyday life. Check out our website or drop me a line if you’d like to share some ideas.

  2. I use to do that walk from New Street to Gosta Green (rather than Science Park) when I was a student and it was awful then. The underpasses were terrible and I dont know how many times I was flashed at! I agree this part of the city has really improved for walkers.
    As you know Dave, I walked from near the custard factory to Baskerville house last week which was really pleasant – appart from the top of Digbeth high street when you get close to the bus stops.
    It does still feel that the pedestrain is not prioritised in terms of width of pavement and signage. Particularly if you have a young family.

  3. I find the walk to Sand Pits from Paradise Forum a horrible one. Far preferable is to go to Margaret Street from Chamberlain Square, then make your way to where Newhall Street meets Great Charles Street. Then you can walk down Newhall Street into the Jewellery Quarter.

    I once tried going across Centenary Square, through Symphony Hall and then down past the NIA. Circuitous but a lot more pleasant. Unfortunately I made it a lot more circuitous and ended up on Ladywood Middleway. Instead you could walk past the NIA and then back onto Sand Pits by way of Summer Hill Street

    I never walk around the canals and have sometimes thought that is probably a bit daft not to know them. Anytime you’re going for a walk let me know, I’ll probably be up ferret.

  4. Just the other day I was walking from Digbeth to Summer Row with John Mostyn, someone who knows the city fairly well. I suggested the staircase in the last photo which John never knew existed. We then spent about 5 minutes looking at exactly that scene trying to figure out the best way to get to the pub opposite. Eventually we just piled across the road.

    That section is interesting, though, in that it’s been in stasis given uncertainty over the library. It’s like a little historical reminder of where we were and what not to go back to.

  5. Birmingham is much better for walking than it was 20 years ago, when I came for an interview and was glad to get back to the station. Still not that friendly to the bike user though. As with the walking there are various key disconnects where a reasonable spend would achieve a lot. The idea of active walking/cycling of these routes is a good one because it points out the lack of legibility in some key places. I suspect that some of the planning is not joined up, with the city divided into admin districts rather than having someone plan a route all the way through. Some of the walking/cycling routes are little more than tokenism.

  6. I like to read about your walk, i feel fit by proxy now.
    I think the Digbeth Cold storage bit is so frustrating. Surely we can sort out this dismal piece of streetscape?
    For social reasons we need to find ways to connect Custard factory to the retail area and station and economic reasons too if Digbeth (lower eastside) is to really come into its own.
    Enough of strategies – lets just sort out what is a key part of Birmingham so its a natural thing to do – take a walk in digbeth.

  7. Pingback: Another walk through Birmingham |

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