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Then, it was especially attractive to the sorts of people who did not fit elsewhere: religious and political dissenters, or workers without guild membership. (p. 30).
In this regard, Birmingham's goal to become the European Capital of Culture 2008 is a clear reflection of its newfound status (Plant, 2003).
The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter. Beginning in the mid-19th century, a number of Jewish communities began to spring up in the coastal towns as a direct result of the expansion of the royal navy; at the time, "Jewish watchmakers, jewelers, silversmiths, engravers, pawnbrokers, and purveyors of optical goods served both the civilian and naval populations in the ports.... They also exchanged foreign money for crews returning from abroad and sold inexpensive watches, rings, and other trinkets to ship bound sailors not permitted to go ashore for fear they might desert" (Endelman, 2002 pp. 50-1). The Birmingham of the 1850s was not an easy place to make a living either.
According to Emsley (1996), during this period of English history, "The pickpocket and the thief can find no nesting-place amongst the statesmen of Cumberland and Westmoreland, or the miners of Durham and Cornwall. They fly to Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds. They congregate where there is plenty of plunder, and verge enough to hide in" (p. 93). Despite these hazards, though, increasing numbers of Jewish jewelers sought out the opportunities represented by growing market and resort towns such as Bristol and Birmingham, where Jewish traders worked as dealers in jewelry, silver, watches, and various secondhand goods (Endelman, 2002). "In Birmingham, in the late 1860s," this author reports," almost all the fathers of children enrolled in the communal free school were hawkers.... Jewish itinerant traders also tended to specialize in certain lines, especially inexpensive jewelry and watches" (p. 91).
Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Today. Clearly, business is good in Birmingham; the operations director at the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Regeneration Partnership reported last year: "We're really pleased with the calibre of clients we're getting through. We now have a kiosk open on Saturdays for weekend visitors in Vyse Street" (Henrick, 2004 p. 49). The city's Web site points out that Vyse Street is the main thoroughfare of the Jewellery Quarter and was named after Sir Howard Vyse; the thoroughfare has since evolved from "what was a leafy residential suburban street looking out on a green and pleasant Hockley Heath in the mid-19th century to the bustling, marvellous shopping high street of today" (Birmingham's Historic Jewellery Quarter, 2005 p. 3). A contemporary view of Vyse Street is provided in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Contemporary View of Vyse Street, Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.
Source: Birmingham's Historic Jewellery Quarter, 2005 p. 3
In addition, the Birmingham School of Jewellery continues to offer courses in various skills of the jewellery trade (Brady, 1999). Taken together, these resources and enormous talent have resulted in Birmingham emerging as a global jewellery center, with some of the best designers in the industry. "As far as jewellery goes," he said, "cities outside London have shown their cutting edge, both in terms of design and production. 'The School of Jewellery in Birmingham is world-famous and people know they can get the best quality stuff here - and this includes members of the royal family like Prince Charles'" (Brady, 2005 p. 3). Likewise, the high-profile Milan fashion week is one of four major global events, together with New York, Paris and London (Brady, 2005).
Today, leading designers commute between the fashion centers in an effort to attract the public's attention with their new lines and compete with each other for favourable reviews from the critics; the Birmingham designers are Cheryl Barnes, Abigail Fleissig, Gill GallowayWhitehead, Isabella Hart, Haifeng Jin, Anna Lewis, Mikaela Lyons, Betty Pepper, Anke Plath and Miranda Sharpe; Isabella Hart completed a design course at the School of Jewellery, and stated: "Birmingham has a great history of making jewellery and the fact that so many designers from the city are going shows there's a lot of talent here that deserves recognition" (emphasis added) (p. 3). The exhibition also celebrated 30 years since Milan and Birmingham became sister cities (Brady, 2005).
Current Conservation Initiatives. Today, Birmingham, like many urban areas, is attempting to complete plans to renovate and conserve its most valuable assets; in this case, the Jewellery Quarter's traditions, history, architecture and environmental attributes. For example, in his book, Tourists in Historic Towns: Urban Conservation and Heritage Management, Aylin Orba-li (2000) reports that, "As historic towns gain tourist potential, historic quality gains market value. A new urban society is emerging, seeking leisure, culture and a high-quality environment, and cities are moving from being industrial centres of production to becoming centres of consumption" (p. 38). Historic regions across the continent are now confronted with a limited number of economic opportunities, and cultural tourism is increasingly being regarded as a significant economic alternative; the associated commercial value is therefore transforming the past into a product of the present. In other words, "Today, historic towns and quarters are competing to attract tourism, and previously unknown locations are appearing on the heritage market; Eastern Europe has become accessible again, and former industrial cities look to discover historic areas with 'potential' within their urban fabric" (Orba-li, 2000 p. 38). This is precisely what the City of Birmingham has been endeavoring to do today.
According to the city's Web site, "Since the 1980's major restoration and conservation work has carried out making the area a prime attraction for visitors from all over the world. More recently, the Jewellery Quarter has become the focus for a £250 million investment project. The Prince's Foundation is to advise on the project. His Royal Highness, Prince Charles has commented, 'Here a precious and unique industrial craft neighbourhood is beginning once again to become a place where people want to live, work and enjoy themselves'" (Birmingham's Historic Jewellery Quarter, 2005 p. 1).
This initiative follows a trend that began during the post World War II-period when suburban development across the country exploded; in the process, downtown districts suffered and these traditional "central business districts" and downtown shopping districts were unable to compete with their less urban rivals because of perceived inconvenience and safety considerations (Gindroz, 2002). Today, such restorative development efforts have become the fastest-growing economic sectors, currently accounting for almost $2 trillion annually; however, these initiatives have not been without their problems, particularly when they involved historic districts such as the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter (Cunningham, 2003). According to Gindroz:
At first, downtowns tried to reinvent themselves following suburban forms, but by diluting their urbanity, they sealed their fate as business and retailing centers. But then, beginning in the early 1980s, these urban centers began to find new life as mixed-use districts that combine entertainment, cultural activities, shopping, business, governmental and civic uses, and downtown living. After a long period in which virtually no new downtown housing was built, a substantial market emerged for downtown apartments. By being in an urban setting in the middle of the action, either as lofts in rehabilitated historic buildings or as apartments in new buildings, the new wave of downtown residential has quickly expanded and become the essential ingredient in the revitalization of downtowns. As twenty-four hour, seven days a week neighborhoods, they have the image of security and stability that makes it comfortable for people from all over the region to come and participate in the urban life. (Gindroz, 2002 p. 1420)
Embracing the historic elements of a city's past and integrating them into its modern infrastructure has been an increasingly popular approach to turning this trend around; however, this approach has not been without its problems. For example, in his essay, "Historic Preservation and Planning," Robins (1995) points out that, "Many of the conflicts that arise between planning and preservation may be traced to an inherent condition of historic preservation, namely, that it is an evolving process" (p. 95). In some instances, Robins notes that urban planners begin their planning efforts around currently identified landmarks and historic districts, only to discover that later on that new landmarks and historic districts have been identified that interfere with their plans.
These problems are not unique to Birmingham of course, but the special qualities of the district make long-term planning absolutely essential to ensure that all of the stakeholders' interests are taken into account. The conservation of the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, then, will require a detailed understanding of both the physical form of the community as well as its demographic composition in order to succeed (Gindroz, 2002). Fortunately, these steps have already been taken in the planning stages. According to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Conservation Area Appraisal, 2002: "In the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, characterisation has been used to show how the particular architectural character of a wider urban area is directly related to the structure of ongoing businesses engaged in the jewellery trade" (in Hunt, 2003 p.…[continue]
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