Hung, drawn and quartered

The drinking habits of the average Brit has been in the media again this week. The finger of blame is pointing towards drinks promotions by bars and breweries; happy hour becomes a great deal unhappier when it meets the pavement at closing time. Here in Birmingham the police have announced the decision to ban all such promotions along Broad Street, the city’s ‘entertainment zone’.

Whilst driving home on Friday I heard a DJ on a local station suggest that the best solution to all the violence in that part of the city would be to stop all the ‘chav’ clientele from drinking there. After whining about the fact that the ban would impact on his personal right to get as drunk as wished, the proposal to repress one half of the public due to their over active interest in Burberry seemed a little flawed.

I once went to a bar that tried it. Some years ago I found myself in a bar called Circo on Smallbrook Queensway. It was an event put on by Dazed and Confused magazine to coincide with the launch of Aphex Twin’s new single/video. If you know the magazine you can probably picture the scene. If iPods had been invented back then everyone would have had one (including me) and they’d have all changed the ear phones to help them ‘…assert their individuality…’ (like Jack). If the word ‘chav’ had been invented back then (or was at least in wider use) then the sign on the door could have been a little more direct, instead it read ‘No Burberry, Rockport or Fred Perry’ and was probably the most specific dress code I’d ever seen. Suitably dazed and confused, I stepped past the bouncers without a problem since non of my attire clashed with the list. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realised what their goal had been. Perhaps it would have been clearer to me if the semacode project and chavscum.co.uk had been invented back then.

Anyway, there was a point to this entry and this isn’t it. My point is that the blame for all the problems with violence on Broad Street doesn’t necessarily rest with either the chavs or the breweries or any combination of the two; it rests with the urban designers and the town planners. Broad Street is the first victim of Birmingham’s obsession with urban design quarters. I work in the Jewellery Quarter, which is next to the Gun Quarter, which is next to the Education Quarter (where Richard Rogers is due to build us a new library), which is next to the Chinese Quarter, which is next to the Quarter Quarter which takes up about a sixteenth of the city. I made that last one up, but you get the picture.

Broad Street is the spine of the entertainment quarter. Ten to fifteen years of encouragement by the City has resulted in a density of drinking establishments so great that it is now impossible to conceive of any other activity being economically viable. The greatly missed Douglas Adams had, of course, a name for this type of situation, he called it the Shoe Event Horizon.

Many years ago this was a thriving, happy planet – people, cities, shops, a normal world. Except that on the high streets of these cities there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary. And slowly, insidiously, the number of the shoe shops were increasing. It’s a well-known economic phenomenon but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make and the worse and more unwearable they became. And the worse they were to wear, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops proliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops. Result – collapse, ruin and famine. Most of the population died out. Those few who had the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds who cursed their feet, cursed the ground and vowed that no one should walk on it again.

So it would seem that either the drinkers on Broad Street need to rely on their genetic instability and mutate or the urban designers among us need to relax and let the city look after itself. Somewhere between those two points is the solution. A nudge here and there, turn some of the shoe shops into hang glider shops, put carpet on the pavement.

When I was Googling for a few bits and bobs on this topic I found an article that gave me some hope that the problem had been recognised:

Jacqui Kennedy, the council’s head of trading standards and licensing, said: “We are looking at Broad Street having a special saturation policy as we have an area where we need to improve the mix of leisure and entertainment facilities on offer. We do not want to see the area have one type of bar and no restaurants.

Genius! That’ll fix it overnight! If only there were some restaurants, then we could really call it mixed use. Saturation is an odd choice of phrase, surely dehydration would have been better.

I should sign off by apologising to Jono and Aq who had to put up with this topic of discussion at 1am on a Sunday morning during a walk across the city. There’s a time and a place and that clearly wasn’t it.

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