Cafe culture costs too much to bear


(Birmingham Post, 28 May 2004) Birmingham may have lost out on the title of European Capital of Culture but trying to make up for this by imposing the al fresco chic of Paris on Broad Street is not only unrealistic but also untrue to the lively, exciting nightlife that is already on offer.

Brindleyplace, The Arcadian and The Mailbox at present cater for the more affluent business sector of the community. If we are to make Broad Street a basic extension of these spots then surely we can expect the same sense of exclusivity and the same high prices?

This suggestion totally ignores the majority of night-time revellers who do not go out to cause trouble, as many seem to assume, but instead to have a fun evening out and not break the bank while doing so.

I understand and sympathise with the arguments made about Broad Street’s rowdy, drunken and troublesome image. However, I do not see how something that has become so ingrained in our society’s culture, namely drinking, can be legislated out of existence.

Problems of excessive drinking, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour are to be found in every city all over the country. It just so happens that with the majority of Birmingham’s central bars, pubs and clubs clustered on one street, any trouble is bound to be more concentrated.

Banning drinks promotions or seating people at elegant cafe tables is not the answer. Binge drinking and any of its side effects will continue, just at greater expense to the already debt-stricken students and less well-off sections of society.

Broad Street’s current difficulties will not be solved but instead simply moved and exacerbated somewhere else. What will be the high-handed consensus when this happens? That there is to be a total ban on drinking and that continental cappuccinos are the future?

It seems that the group behind the ‘cafe culture’ proposals is trying to butter up business visitors to the city while making sweeping generalisations about other less affluent members of the Birmingham community and ignoring their needs and wishes.

Not everyone likes, or can afford, to spend a night at the theatre or an expensive restaurant. Many people, including some of the so-called ‘suits’, prefer a night dancing in a club, unwinding with a few drinks, or meeting new people in a busy, sociable environment.

Birmingham is a hugely popular city and the diverse entertainments on offer is what attracts the range of people who choose to party here – whether that be the groups of friends who visit to celebrate a stag or hen night, the students from Birmingham’s three universities inevitably looking for a cheap night out, or the majority of Birmingham’s working residents looking to let down their hair at the weekend.

A night out on Broad Street, for most people I know, is spoiled right at the end by having to wait for hours for a taxi or by the few individuals who cannot handle their drink or who are looking for trouble. Zero tolerance on such people, as has been suggested, sounds more like the way to go forward.

Why should everyone be punished for the thoughtless actions of a few troublemakers? Improvement, not complete redevelopment, is the answer. We should clean up, not be cleaned out.



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