Here are some of the options!
• build something that looks a bit like a new Leisure centre, but is actually a Sports centre;
• build something that isn’t a Leisure centre or a Sports centre, but which might just be an Arts centre;
• build something made out of glass;
• organise a free ‘street party’ in summer, featuring a) bongos; b) a rock band who got into the top 40 in 2001; c) a radio presenter ‘celebrity’ who you’d quietly assumed had died; d) a nineteen year old girl with a poem and a drum; e) a stall handing out free styrofoam cups of orange squash; f) a dawning yet profound sense of the pointlessness of your existence on earth that gnaws at your soul like a nail-file applied to the spinal column; g) hot dogs; h) funny men on stilts dressed to look like the police; i) the police.
• build a bridge; (you need to make sure there's some water there first)
• commission a piece of “public art” that looks like a cube being assaulted by a beach ball;
• build another Leisure centre;
• encourage the large-scale privatisation of public space by handing over to a load of coffee chains and shadowy PFI financiers;
• build a “Cultural Quarter”;
• commission another piece of “public art” that has everyone confused, but probably means something about diversity;
• if none of the above work, invest in local services like decent housing, education and public services. (Note: try everything else first).
I mention this because this week Birmingham's just been announced by the Rough Guide as the ninth most exciting city on the planet - for “embracing its industrial heritage”.
I once embraced Birmingham's industrial heritage, too, for a day, and I have to say the adjective that sprung to mind wasn't "exciting". It was quite a long way from "exciting", in fact. Among the must-see attractions like the "College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies", the "Academy of Birmingham Cosmetic Dentristy" as well as other enticing hotspots like the "Gas Street Basin" - which frankly sounded more like an industrial accident than a tourist attraction - I actually ended up spending most of my day in Birmingham in a Wetherspoons that seemed to have been hollowed out of a multi-storey car park. It was named Paradise. It wasn't.
But so what? Cities shouldn't have to be exciting. They're supposed to be places for living in. The problem with branding a whole city with estate-agent propaganda ("creative", "vibrant", "dynamic") is that it promotes a twatscape of moneyed gentrifiers and buy-to-lets. Trying to market Birmingham as a tourist hotspot makes about as much sense as relocating the next Sundance Film Festival to Slough. Let Birmingham be itself. It comes first in that contest any day.