There's a Greater London. There's a Greater Manchester. But there is no Greater Birmingham – and woe betide anybody who forgets this. Probably the single angriest response we've ever received to any article published on CityMetric was to this one:
Okay, we were sort of asking for it, but still.
Now there are a number of reasons why the West Midlands, as the conurbation in the middle of England is awkwardly known, eschewed the naming conventions in use in other British cities. Part of it is geography: Birmingham sits to one side of its conurbation, rather than being at the centre of it.
And part of it is history: Wolverhampton and the towns of Black Country have their own economies and their own industries, and didn't grow up simply as dormitory suburbs for Brum. (Even now Wolverhampton is sometimes counted as a separate city by European agencies and so forth, which frankly makes economic comparisons with, say, Manchester a right pain.)
But whatever the reason, the result is the same: many of the good people of the West Midlands reject the idea that they are living in Birmingham at all. When the region's council leaders were considering a regional authority, the only thing they were completely agreed on is that it wouldn't be known as Greater Birmingham. In an article last November, the political editor of the Birmingham Post, Jonathan Walker argued, in not so many words, that the choice of name was "antagonistic" to the non-Birmingham bits of the conurbation and so should be dropped.
Even the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP, the one official body with the dreaded phrase in its name
a) feels the need to pretend Solihull is just as a important as Birmingham (it isn’t), and anyway
b) excludes the whole of the Black Country, which one might think would be part of Greater Birmingham, but no, which has its own LEP.
So – there's no Greater Birmingham, there has never been a Greater Birmingham, and there never will be a Greater Birmingham.
But what's this?
That's from a press pack we were emailed last week. Greater Birmingham, you'll be excited to hear, is at the heart of a £110bn regional economy. More businesses were started in Greater Birmingham over the last two years than anywhere else in the UK outside London. It offers a host of exciting opportunities for property developers right across the region – from Wolverhampton in the north west to Solihull in the south east, Greater Birmingham is going places.
Which means that it must, y'know, exist in some way. Right?
We asked a spokesperson from Marketing Birmingham. Here's what she said:
Greater Birmingham doesn’t have any official status – it’s just used for MIPIM, targeting an international property audience. It involves Birmingham, the Black Country and Solihull.
Okay. So, Greater Birmingham doesn't actually exist. It's just that if you're trying to sell the conurbation to an international audience it's better to use Birmingham (which people have heard of) than the West Midlands (which they haven't) or, worse, "Birmingham, Wolverhampton, the Black Country and Solihull" (which, ouch).
In other words, the further you go from the city – from any city, really – the less important the distinctions between its various components become. Within the Midlands, there is a meaningful difference between Wolverhampton and Solihull. But viewed from London this looks like nitpicking; viewed internationally it looks incomprehensible. If the West Midlands is competing for investment with Marseille or Milan or Medellin, then Birmingham – however unlikely this sounds – is the best weapon it could have.
Which is basically we said before everybody started yelling at us, but hey. Anyway, here's an artists impression of what the "Paradise" quarter will look like once they've demolished the library and finished redoing it.
Image: Birmingham City Council.