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2023 - a year of anniversaries for Birmingham (and for me)

It's struck me in recent weeks that some of the most important developments in Birmingham seem to have a significant anniversary in 2023 - okay there’s an important anniversary for something in the city most years. Those that know Birmingham though will, I’m sure, agree that these four anniversaries mark important milestones for the ever-changing city. Coincidentally they also seem to track my own relationship with my hometown.

Sculpture in Victoria Square Birmingham
One of Dhruva Mistry's sculptures in Victoria Square. Photo by fauve othon on Unsplash

30 years ago

1993 was the year I left Birmingham, the city I had been born and brought up in, to head to University. I wasn’t to return to live here for another 10 years. When I left, my hometown was the butt of jokes and I had grown up with a city centre that was a flyover and underpass mess, but that was changing in the early 1990s.

Centenary Square and the ICC/Symphony Hall had arrived, Brindley Place was under construction and the city centre was becoming increasingly pedestrianised. But one of the most important symbols of this change was right at the heart of the city - the new Victoria Square. Gone were the roads and in their place was a square with an eye-catching fountain and some unusual sculptures. Opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in May 1993, I think this was one of the the most visible and important parts of the remodelling of the city centre at the end of the 20th century.

20 years ago

The development of the city had continued as the new millennium arrived, but one obstacle to a modern city centre that remained, was the 1960s Bull Ring shopping centre. Revolutionary at it’s opening, it was a product of its time and had been built to complement a road network coming into the heart of the city. The dominance of the car was changing and the shopping centre itself was tired and increasingly unpopular.

Selfridges, Bullring in Birmingham
Selfridges, Bullring. Photo by Sarah Doffman on Unsplash

A new development opened in September 2003, sweeping away the old shopping centre and renamed Bullring. The shiny new Selfridges store was the showiest part and, whatever your view of shopping malls, this was definitely more in keeping with modern tastes. Bullring changed the locus of shopping in Birmingham and provided a more sympathetic setting for St Martin’s church. It was certainly one of the most significant developments in the city at the start of the century.

2003 was also the year I returned to live in Birmingham. There was a sense of optimism and renewal here - it felt different to the city I had left. Plus, having lived in a number of other cities, I was increasingly drawn back by the spirit of the city and its people, which I began to appreciate was of a special and unique quality. It's a cliché but I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder!

Library of Birmingham
Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square

10 years ago

2013 and I was still in the city but I'd got a job outside of Birmingham - I'd chosen somewhere I could commute to though, as by now I knew I was not moving from my beloved hometown - ever! And why would I when we were getting some more eye-catching architecture with the new Library of Birmingham which was opened by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Brummie resident, Malala Yousafzai in September 2013.

I'll admit to some mixed feelings as I had some love for the old Central Library but you kind of have to get used to the constant change in Birmingham, frustrating as it can be sometimes. In the end I was straight up to the garden terraces and taking visiting friends there - something I never did with the Central Library. This was an important statement - the largest public library in the UK and one which quickly became a major tourist attraction.

Fireworks at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, Commonwealth Games 2022
Alexander Stadium during last year's Commonwealth Games

1 year ago

This time last year it was Birmingham’s time in the sun when it hosted the Commonwealth Games. Widely regarded as one of the best games in recent history, Birmingham pulled it off with aplomb despite stepping in late and then having to prepare during a global pandemic.

Problematic as the Commonwealth can be, Birmingham seemed the right choice somehow - a 'can do' attitude which showcased diversity and a warm welcome. And, at the opening ceremony, Malala made another appearance.

Having decided to mix things up personally I set up Explore Birmingham a year ago and began a new chapter in my life, showing people around the city I love so much. But it wasn’t until I sat down to write a blog about Brum's anniversaries this year that I realised how closely my own life is interwoven with that of my hometown.

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