Towards A More Inclusive Design Culture in Birmingham

Thrift Radiates Happiness at the Municipal Bank, Broad Street
Thrift Radiates Happiness at the Municipal Bank, Broad Street

Last Friday I attended a public debate on design culture at the disused Municipal Bank on Broad Street, Birmingham. The event had been organised by the Birmingham Architectural Association in association with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and formed part of the excellent ‘Thrift Radiates Happiness‘ contemporary arts exhibition.

While I had an enjoyable evening at the Municipal Bank and was grateful for the efforts that had clearly gone into making the event happen, on reflection I feel the event was a missed opportunity to advance the cause of design culture in the West Midlands. Here’s my take.

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Free Your Mind and the Ideas Will Follow: Applying Structured Creativity to the Challenge of Cycle Parking in Birmingham

Innovative of Obstructive: a bike locked up against street furniture near Fiveways in Birmingham
Innovative or Obstructive: a bike craftily locked up against street furniture near Five Ways in Birmingham

Last month I wrote about structured creativity and the importance of putting in place ways of working which force us to think truly differently by helping us challenge the underlying assumptions and constraints which can constrain our everyday thinking.

I was recently reminded of just how important it is to ‘think about thinking’ after speaking to a citizen blogger and recycling campaigner at a Social Media Surgery I was volunteering at. I was talking to him about my recent unsuccessful attempt to lock up my bike in the Jewellery Quarter and subsequent discussions with Birmingham City Council to arrange for cycle stands to be installed.

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Transforming Unloved Poster Boards Into Much-Loved Community Noticeboards

Community Chalkboard
A citizen using a community chalkboard to share information with other people in his neighbourhood. From Candy Chang’s ‘Community Chalkboards’ project. Photo: Candy Chang

At the end of my last post I recorded how Birmingham City Council had responded to my report of a rather unloved poster board by arranging for a new poster to be pasted onto it. While I am glad the council is taking action to improve the look of neighbourhoods, I would like to propose that Birmingham City Council work with communities to transform under-utilised poster boards into dynamic community noticeboards supporting strong local neighbourhoods.

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Sign of the times or how one scrappy poster board revealed to me local government’s uncertain future (kind of)

A Birmingham City Council Poster Board in Kings Norton with nothing to say?
Sign of the times? A Birmingham City Council Poster Board promotes leisure and culture in Kings Norton

I stumbled across this arresting sight when cycling to a Social Media Surgery in Kings Norton on Wednesday morning and had to stop to take a photo.

At first glance the photo simply shows a Birmingham City Council poster board which has been stripped of its old poster in advance of a new poster being applied. However, in light of the fact that I took this photo the morning after Birmingham City Council passed a budget which aims to save £102 million and cut up to 1,000 jobs, suddenly I began to invest a deeper meaning in what I had seen.

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, has talked about the city facing the ‘jaws of doom’ and even ‘the end of local government as we have known it‘. If so, perhaps this rather scrappy poster board is a fitting symbol (or rather sign) of our times? Is this poster board, which seemingly has no leisure or cultural activities to promote, preparing us for years of deepening austerity?

Postscript

I’m pleased to report that my speculation over the deeper meaning of the poster proved to be somewhat wide of the mark. After tweeting the picture along with a somewhat tongue in cheek caption and copying in Birmingham City Council (@BhamCityCouncil) I received a prompt reply telling me the council would look into why the poster board had been left blank. Better yet, 24 hours later I was told the board had been re-posted with a fresh poster.

While I’m glad the poster board hasn’t been left blank, the whole episode got me thinking about how we as citizens might make use of public assets such as poster boards local councils and other public bodies can no longer afford to maintain. I will return to this topic in my next post with some ideas to share.