Where the world meets - Brummies
In a previous post in July 2012, City without a Thousand Trades - what makes Brummies and what happened to Birmingham, I noted the new Labour council administrations mission to find out what makes a Brummie.
The results of the research involving comments given by the public and groups, submitted through questioning and social media engagement have come back in a report which has coined a new title for Birmingham, Birmingham: Where the World Meets, http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/AgendaDetail.aspx?AgendaID%3d70887.
The report notes that there are people from 187 different countries living in Birmingham and the report noted the consideration of how the council, through it's engagement with these different communities, either helps or hinders cohesion. Analysis of GP registration records show there has been arrivals from 187 countries over the past few years. This superdiversity as the report notes is a level of complexity not experienced previously where globally more people have moved from place to place and developed new complex social formations.
The common link between all these different communities and people is that we choose to make Birmingham our home. Either we recently came, or maybe our grandparents came, our parents stayed, and we, generations later, still choose to call home this extraordinary city. This is a city of ‘we’. The question we wanted to explore was who ‘we’ are and whether we are united in our great diversity.
Superdiversity will clearly bring with it its own challenges. However what is encouraging is the added benefit that superdiversity could bring to Birmingham, including the exchange of knowledge amongst cultures and a greater innovation and creativity.
This diversity has shaped what the term Brummie means to residents with newer residents not familiar with the term and some feeling that the ownership of the term, being old fashioned, relates to the white working class communities of Birmingham's past. Pride in the city's considerable assets for example replaced some of the pride in people or culture.
This question of assets against islands of homeliness was reinforced with how people felt isolated and how transport affected, through cost for families for example, social inclusion and the ability to move round the city. Changes in how communities have developed and how younger generations associate more closely with work colleagues and feel less tied to places, particularly with increased employment mobility, also has shaped this identity and social inclusion.
History is a key part of this identity and the report considered how this could help foster cohesion. Certainly for the newer communities and for the younger generations a link to the past might foster a stronger city, with people sharing the common history that brought a mixture of people together in the city who wanted to stay and who shape the city.
Linked to this recognition of the past is the ability of markets for example as a tool in the city to highlight the culture, skills and creativity of Birmingham while also acting as an opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Indeed the dispersal of markets across the city as takes place with Moseley Arts Market and the Jewellery Quarter's Christmas Market can engage with communities that may feel isolated and help to foster a shared experience in the city.
What seems to resonate in the report is the optimism that exists in the city and the great potential that it's varied communities offers. The city offers a keen welcome to new residents; the city's Register Office is the busiest in the UK and since 2004 ceremonies have been held for 35,000 new citizens. A shared focus on the city encouraging communities to speak to each other, the enhancement of transport to allow more mixing where this doesn't happen and the engagement of all residents through a shared history that celebrates Birmingham's past but looks forward through markets for example offer interesting considerations on identity and how to improve the city for it's residents.
In the executive commentary on the report the following recommendations were given.
As the introduction to the report notes, while the questions and topics seem too abstract to consider by the council when it should be focused on the concerns of it's citizens in housing and employment for example, identity issues are intrinsically linked to these questions of politics.
It’s easy to dismiss some of the issues covered in the report as too abstract to merit the Council’s consideration. Identity, affiliation, sense of belonging, sense of place – these can sound vague and unreal compared to the more obviously concrete elements of concern: housing, education, employment, healthcare.
In fact, the two strands are inextricable. Who we are, how we feel, what we stand for, what it means to be a Brummie – all are both determined by the ‘harder’ variables that are more easily recognised as the stuff of ‘politics’ but also, in their turn, determine them. http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/AgendaDetail.aspx?AgendaID%3d70887
The report is timely and it should be encouraged as way to harness the opportunities the richly diverse city of Birmingham offers. Like an organisation whose most valuable asset is it's staff, the city's development and opportunities are brought from it's citizens and Birmingham's rich mix should build on a history that 'can do'. This opportunity can develop organically but it should also be incumbent on the council and all residents to help promote it through engagement with other communities, through the value of the city's history as a grounding for identity. Transport is crucial to the economic development of the city but more than that it offers opportunities to develop the city socially and encourage communities to link together.