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Michael
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The Times - The brain map: How smart is your city?

A ranking of the UK's smartest cities published in The Times (Saturday 13th November) places Oxford first and Birmingham last (26th).

1 = Oxford
2 = Bath
3 = Cambridge
4 = Durham
5 = Edinburgh

26 = Birmingham

Inspired by a similar exercise undertaken by the US political website The Daily Beast — which put Boston, Massachusetts, top of its country’s intellectual league table and Las Vegas bottom — we have compiled a list of Britain’s major cities, ranked according to their intellectual and cultural stature, using metrics ranging from graduate population to proportion of registered Scrabble players, and given each their own IQ. And, while undoubtedly subjective (see box), it is also unashamedly elitist.

In our scale, independent cinemas are better than multiplexes, literary festivals beat rock festivals. Bookshops are good, but not the wrong sort of bookshop.

The wrong sort of bookshops, since you ask, are identified, with cultural concision, by the Mantel-Price index: the ratio of sales of books by the Booker prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel to sales of books by Katie Price. Nothing stops an intelligent person being interested in the memoirs of a glamour model, but on a population scale we think that the M-P index gives a fair assessment of a city’s literary priorities (Portsmouth — you can no longer hide the fact that you buy three-and-a-half Price books for every one by Mantel).

The outcome has been, in some ways, entirely unsurprising. Top, by a long way, are Oxford, Bath, Cambridge and Durham — all small cities, all dominated by universities. As major employers, and producers, of graduates, they benefit from a virtuous circle: people visit precisely because of the intellectual reputation, with tourists attending theatres and going to lectures in numbers that allow a cultural infrastructure that would otherwise be unsustainable. And, if they choose also to buy books in one of the many bookshops, they are as likely to be interested in Jordan the country as Jordan the reality-TV star. Of course, they still may have a copy of Price’s magnum opus at home but they don’t visit Oxford to buy it.

So, in some ways, those topping the league table are to be ignored as outliers. Far more interesting, and far more relevant to Britain today, is the fight among the larger, more diverse, cities: in particular, the combination of factors that determine the bottom slot.

Birmingham: Britain’s lowest IQ

In a London art gallery, a lady with a bum on her face would be an edgy installation. In Birmingham, somehow, the edges are blunted.

It’s not that, despite working in Britain’s supposedly least intellectual city, Joan Sutcliffe isn’t highbrow enough. On the contrary. “The work is playing on Surrealist imagery, and also asking questions about sexuality,” she says of the outfit she is wearing at the Midlands Arts Centre.

It’s more that, somehow, she can’t quite muster the pretentiousness required to explain convincingly a costume that centres on putting a plastic posterior on your head. She laughs too much. And she calls it “Bumface”. There’s also just the smallest hint that, maybe, she knows she is talking out of her arse — and not just in the literal sense.

Bumface, or rather the owner of Bumface, is one of several dozen people I am introduced to, over two days, as part of Birmingham City Council’s attempts to prove that the decision by The Times to place them at the bottom of our league table is unjust.

They very nearly didn’t need to bother. For a long while it looked like Plymouth would take last place. On this extremity of Britain, only 13 per cent of working people are educated beyond A levels compared with 30 per cent in London. The number of skilled jobs, correspondingly, is the lowest in the country. But education is not everything. As the other statistics came in — bookshops, independent cinemas, theatres — slowly Plymouth rose up the rankings. And, slowly, Birmingham fell behind.

This isn’t, Birmingham believes, fair. “We allow ourselves to be mocked too much,” Councillor Martin Mullaney tells me. “We’re too modest, we don’t shout about what we’re doing, and it’s time to stop that.” Mr Mullaney headed the city’s recent failed bid to be declared the 2013 City of Culture, and, taking me on a tour of the city, he is encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its cultural geography.

Here is the bar where UB40 first played, there is the pub where Tolkien had romantic assignations. Have you seen the Custard Factory? Did you know that the Black Country is where metal music started? Striding around Birmingham’s artier districts, Mullaney seems, like a rapper in a music video, to know everyone and be known by everyone — glad-handing in every pub. He runs his own comedy club (“We had Jimmy Carr once, he died a death and I didn’t want him back”). He helped to fund an arts magazine (“We don’t have a Time Out”). He has a passion for old pubs (“I got 13 listed”).

In his view Birmingham is just in a period of transition. “We are a typical postindustrial city. We have some fantastic universities, but there’s a brain drain. In the inner city we have a large pool of people without the right skills, but when we train them they leave too. It’s my job to make this an interesting place, culturally, for skilled people to live.”

Much of his hope is centred on the Custard Factory. A vast area of warehouses just outside the centre, it used to produce custard for the Empire’s puddings. Today it produces — not in quite the same quantities — computer programmers, graphic designers, artists and publishers. And its owner has aspirations to take over what, much like London’s Docklands a few decades ago, is largely derelict light industrial land.

With a cigarette in one hand, a coffee in another, and an excellent cravat around his neck, David Peebles would meet the entrance requirements of even the most bohemian of Parisian pavement cafés. As the marketing manager at the Custard Factory, he has just completed renovations on a third warehouse and is trying to attract companies to move there. “We don’t want people running to London,” he says, standing in the exquisitely trendy, and as yet unfilled, penthouse office. “We need to be cooler, funkier, more connected. Birmingham is one of the last great cities in Britain not to be developed; there are so many opportunities here. The perception that we are an intellectual or cultural wasteland is so detrimental.

“You know,” he says, taking me out past the limits of the area that has been developed, “you are always told with regeneration projects like this that you have to be careful about gentrification.” He pulls a face. “I’d love that dilemma, bring it on!”

1 = Oxford (scored 160.2)
2 = Bath
3 = Cambridge
4 = Durham
5 = Edinburgh
6 = Brighton & Hove
7 = York
8 = Exeter
9 = Greater London
10 = Aberdeen
11 = Newcastle
12 = Norwich
13 = Nottingham
14 = Cardiff
15 = Manchester
16 = Bristol
17 = Swansea
18 = Southampton
19 = Belfast
20 = Portsmouth
21 = Sheffield
22 = Glasgow
23 = Leeds
24 = Plymouth
25 = Liverpool
26 = Birmingham (scored 63.2)
 

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What a pointless load of bollocks. Clearly there is a journalist with too much time on his hands, sat with his finger up his wotsit.

Mullaney shouldn't recognise this patronising crap by even commenting.

I might go and make up a set of statistics of my own that shows the Times is read by the most cretins in the country - it'll be easy to do, I'll just need to manipulate the data until I get the answer I want. Perhaps they'll publish that......and perhaps not.
 

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What a pointless load of bollocks. Clearly there is a journalist with too much time on his hands, sat with his finger up his wotsit.
Not at all. A city will only ever grow, develop, expand etc if people with brains STAY there, and more COME there.

Looked what happened when Joseph Chamberlain came from London all those years ago and how much happened to Birmingham from that one decision (and not of his choice)

On another topic on this web site (Desirable Birmingham) someone asked if the city could make the top 20 of the worlds most liveable cities by 2028.

Here is the reply I put to that topic and I will apend it again as it also applies here:

The success of any city depends on those with the brains and the drive STAYING there, and others with brains and drive COMING there.

As we all know London is such a city, it has a history of famous people from all over the world coming to it, and living and working there. These include politicians, artists, actors, musicians, thinkers, architects, designers, scientists etc etc.

Unfortunately Birmingham has a reputation of being a "metal bashing" city (a lot of the industry has gone but the reputation stays) so it is not an attractive city for those type of people.

It also has street after street of bland, small, terraced houses, with few "quality" areas to live in. Edgbaston, Harborne, Sutton Coldfield are just the few that come to mind. I moved out of Birmingham to Solihull to find a nice area to live (I know many others who have done the same).

Many of the other areas in Birmingham are inner city ghettos (how many of us could reel off area after area we would not want to live in).

Whenever I drive into Birmingham I have to take certain routes to AVOID the worst areas like Sparkhill and Sparkbrook as driving through them is too upsetting.

No, I am afraid Birmingham has a HUGE mountain to climb to get itself a better reputation.

p.s. As an example, on TripAdvisor the other week someone asked about visting Birmingham and there were loads of negative comments. One guy just said "get on the M6, then drive straight past the city"

Maybe he had not visited the city for a while, but the problem is a reputation takes a long time to lose (how many of you STILL think Skoda cars are rubbish when in fact they are now excellent cars?)
 

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Yuo make a fair point Guilbert, but all those failings of Birmingham are not unique.

I go to Leeds regularly, where there are still loads of Back to Back terraces - yes, in Birmingham they are a museum piece, in Leeds they are 2010 housing.

All the negatives of Sparkhill, Sparkbrook and the like and matched by many positives such as the Balti triangle. For each of these suburbs, there is an equivalent in Manchester, London, Glasgow etc etc etc. And the troubles these areas suffer are in large part of teh economic cycle - when I was in my "youth" Handsworth was regarded as a no-go area. Nowadays, it's thriving in comparison, generally well kept and much better than it was in the '80's.

My problem with the article was that it seemed more about bashing certain places, than actually making a point about education levels, skills or anything else.

And where to they get this "information"? I have a degree and am a chartered "professional", my better half has a degree and an MA, i have good friends with PhD's, degrees and no end of qualifications. I wasn't asked by any survey, and neither were they to my knowledge, yet we all live in Birmingham.

Perhaps we should all move to Oxford to satisfy the ego of a probably ill-educated cretin in "Fleet St".
 

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It's Sting. So What?
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I'm going to have to apologise in advance for a few things, firstly, what I'm about to write is probably going to nauseatingly long, and secondly, it's going to contain a lot of things that I've said before but I feel it's only right to say them here as they are relevant.

Birmingham has developed much of a bad reputation now through a change of focus in society. In the past, well-educated people were held in high regard but the quality of the city was often judged by those who had attained the skills that got them jobs in industry. Being an industrial city, Birmingham's population was lavished with compliments due to their productivity and the wares that they produced. Back then, you would not have seen articles such as the one above even considering the educational attainment of the workforce, as it simply wasn't considered necessary. The workers were generally poor, forcing them to live in the inner-city areas of Birmingham such as Aston. From generation to generation, families would continue to live in these areas and the main concern for the children was ensuring that they could learn and master the skills of manufacturing as early as possible so that they could secure jobs and get bread on the table. Learning to read, write and do your times tables wasn't considered a priority at all. This is an attitude that has continued to be passed down today.

Throughout the 20th century, everything has changed in the UK. Gradually, we've moved from a predominantly manufacturing-fuelled economy to a service sector dominated economy and Birmingham has been one of the last cities to hold on to its manufacturing dominance. People are still alive today who can remember the city being filled with chimneys and smoke stacks. There are people who remember working for the big manufacturing companies, and it is their children who then moved on into those companies as well but as those companies leave there attitude that you needed to attain those skills remained. This is being passed on still in those inner city areas and it is something that is being engrained into the minds of the children that are growing up there.

They can look up to their parents and see two people with poor educational attainment. The generation above them will still be telling them to get the skills for life in a manufacturing industry or at least something that is hands on, such as construction. The motivation isn't there to seek higher educational attainment and from an early age, children are pretty much giving up on themselves and their potential. They don't see the point in school and they become troublesome truants. I hasten to say that this isn't a sweeping generalisation of parents either, because I know there are so many parents out there who desperately try to force their children to go to school. There are some parents who actively assist their children in avoiding school too, though. This is where the notion of gangs gets born, as children start to discover new things to do in their environment. Small teases and troublesome acts in primary school, without discipline, do lead to crime and other issues later on in life.

There's also the issue of the school itself. There are so many teachers in the profession working at primary schools who see kids just messing about and not giving a damn about their education that they almost give up on the job. There are kids who are not being given the motivation from their teachers, or at not being encouraged by their teachers to realise their potential. There are young kids in these areas who have the ability to become doctors, scientists or even teachers themselves but there's no one there who actively aids them along. So, there are kids going into schools who don't see what they'll have at the end of it.

Saying that, however, there are kids who are realising their potential and are moving out of these areas, pursuing higher education and getting the professional jobs out there. However, there is another factor that means inner city areas remain areas of lower educational attainment, and that's immigration. Just as manufacturing has slipped away and the attitude that education gets you the jobs out there, immigration has exploded. Immigrants naturally come from the poorer areas of the world and so moving into the inner cities is their only choice. From my experience, immigrants represent the two extremes of motivating their kids for educational attainment. You'll find some parents who are determined to get their kids into the best schools, then to the best universities on the most prestigious of courses so they can get lucrative jobs. But then you'll find some parents who are determined to prevent their kids from integrating and exploiting the education available to them for fear they will forget their culture or family, or whatever. The sudden increase in immigrants has also upset the balance at schools in the inner-cities. The fact that so many inner city schools are now composed of 100% ethnic minorities is no surprise to many of us, nowadays. Most of those kids as well do not speak english as their first language, because as soon as they go home again, they're speaking to their family in their or their parent's native tongue. This makes it difficult for them in school and it's known that children who struggle at a very early age tend to lose the drive later on in school. They eventually slip behind and they do lose that ability to go to better schools. They end up finishing school with poor academic standards and have nowhere to go, essentially. This easily manifests into other social issues and is part of the reason why we're seeing a failure of multi-culturalism in some areas.

Indeed, as f&n has pointed out, Birmingham has made great strides in improving the inner-city areas that effectively encourage poor education. And it does go to show that everything I've mentioned above is changing. After all, it's a generational thing and the issues become less and less noticeable the more we go on. I actually think it is something that is comparable to attitudes towards racism. As we go on, society becomes more accepting of people of other races. On that list, you can see that the cities at the bottom are the cities that were the last to see that transition from manufacturing to service sector based local economies. Mullaney's reasons were absolutely spot on, and it's actually quite refreshing to see him not coming up with some irrelevant figures that poorly mask the real picture. I believe Birmingham will remain in last position for quite some time too, simply because the effects of immigration are compounding and exaggerating the issue more than cities with low proportions of ethnic groups such as Liverpool and Leeds.
 

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The results in the article are nothing more than a statistical anomaly which is in fact hinted at in the article itself. If, for instance , you assume the population of Manchester to be only around 300,000, and the population of Birmingham to be around 1,000,000; then Manchester would appear to have 1 top rated university for every 150,000 residents, while Birmingham has only 1 university for every 500,000 residents. In point of fact both cities serve very similar populations. This distortion is compounded in every catagory in the article, There are lies, damn lies and statistics
 

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The results in the article are nothing more than a statistical anomaly which is in fact hinted at in the article itself. If, for instance , you assume the population of Manchester to be only around 300,000, and the population of Birmingham to be around 1,000,000; then Manchester would appear to have 1 top rated university for every 150,000 residents, while Birmingham has only 1 university for every 500,000 residents. In point of fact both cities serve very similar populations. This distortion is compounded in every catagory in the article, There are lies, damn lies and statistics
It is not about how many universities you have, it is about how many of those people who GET a degree stay in your city, and how many leave and go to work in "nicer" cities.
 

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Back then, you would not have seen articles such as the one above even considering the educational attainment of the workforce, as it simply wasn't considered necessary.
The thing is, it is not the education levels of the "workforce" that is important, but the education levels of the "top 20%" as I will call it.

If you can have a top strata of educated, driven people they will start the companies, build up the businesses and so on. The "workforce" will work for those companies (although I agree for "high tech" companies you need a certain level of education).

As I have got older I have begun to realise that it is one or two individuals (Richard Branson, Bill Gates etc) who are vital for starting and growing a business, the rest hang on their coat tails.

So within this upper 20% strata you will get the Mathew Boulton's of this world. Look how much business that one man brought to Birmingham. James Watt was so impressed he came down to Scotland to work with him.

In modern times think how much "work" Bill Gates has generated for people all over the world, by starting and growing Microsoft. (He is not my favorite person as I worked for IBM all my life but I do admire him for what he has achieved).

But if he had been born in Birmingham UK would he have stayed here to start and grow Microsoft, almost definately not. He would have moved to the Thames Valley area West of Lonsdon where many high tech firms are.

So we need these type of people, but if they are born here they just aint gonna stay in Birmingham, and given the choice they are not going to come to live in Birmingham.

I moved from London to Birmingham 30 years ago (with IBM) and now deeply regret it. I now have family here so am rather "stuck" here, but given half the chance I would be out like a shot.

Sorry to be so negative, but Birmimgham has a long way to go to get off the bottom of this chart.
 

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Indeed, enterprise drives the creation of jobs. It doesn't even take education to create enterprise. But what I was referring to was for the average person to be able to stand a chance of getting a decent job nowadays, they have to have a certain level of education. There will be them anomalous people in the crowd that stand out and have the zest to push forward a new business that actually succeeds.
 

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In terms of cultural awareness, I think it's there waiting to get out but the problems are that:

It's so fragmented and barely known about that you will only ever get any news if you are a student at the BCU art or design schools or in regular attendance at any of the Custard Factory exhibitions. And to this day it's still true- many of my friends have left there, live in the city but find it's much more difficult to stay in the loop - not impossible but much more difficult - hardly any information goes around the city.

The people in Brum are a lot more realistic and down to earth about what they think about art. In London, a routed board painted white might give a curator a screaming orgasm but Brummies aren't really easily fooled (for your interest, said piece was created by a builder for a laugh and he pocketed £400 for it!).

People in Birmingham have also perhaps got a lot of things to think about too - don't forget unemployment is quite high in the native population here, and simply getting on with day to day life is their biggest concern, where art comes later.

Birmingham city centre has also been accused of not having a soul, and it's difficult to pin-point what this means but I can sort of feel it - the fact that there is just pure large scale retail here and not a lot else kind of backs this up - the only well known gallery being the BM&AG. Why is there no design museum? why is there no museum for contemporary modern art? Why is there no museum for modern music - and Birmingham's contribution to it? Why is the science museum so far away??

IMO, New Street station has a lot to answer as it currently dominates the town and has hidden away sections of the city - hopefully, with the revamp, the Electric Cinema will become more exposed and possibly much more used. John Bright street should also have become Birmingham's mini 'West End' theatre land - that old strip joint has potential, the casino should be pulled down for some workshop style theatre companies (a 'multiplex' idea might actually work here).

Birmingham really needs to be marketted better - not just to those outside of the West Mids but also to those in the immediate area.. good PR is a bit thin and the council rarely big-up the place in terms of what culture actually exists...
 

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In terms of cultural awareness, I think it's there waiting to get out but the problems are that:

It's so fragmented and barely known about that you will only ever get any news if you are a student at the BCU art or design schools or in regular attendance at any of the Custard Factory exhibitions. And to this day it's still true- many of my friends have left there, live in the city but find it's much more difficult to stay in the loop - not impossible but much more difficult - hardly any information goes around the city.

The people in Brum are a lot more realistic and down to earth about what they think about art. In London, a routed board painted white might give a curator a screaming orgasm but Brummies aren't really easily fooled (for your interest, said piece was created by a builder for a laugh and he pocketed £400 for it!).

People in Birmingham have also perhaps got a lot of things to think about too - don't forget unemployment is quite high in the native population here, and simply getting on with day to day life is their biggest concern, where art comes later.

Birmingham city centre has also been accused of not having a soul, and it's difficult to pin-point what this means but I can sort of feel it - the fact that there is just pure large scale retail here and not a lot else kind of backs this up - the only well known gallery being the BM&AG. Why is there no design museum? why is there no museum for contemporary modern art? Why is there no museum for modern music - and Birmingham's contribution to it? Why is the science museum so far away??

IMO, New Street station has a lot to answer as it currently dominates the town and has hidden away sections of the city - hopefully, with the revamp, the Electric Cinema will become more exposed and possibly much more used. John Bright street should also have become Birmingham's mini 'West End' theatre land - that old strip joint has potential, the casino should be pulled down for some workshop style theatre companies (a 'multiplex' idea might actually work here).

Birmingham really needs to be marketted better - not just to those outside of the West Mids but also to those in the immediate area.. good PR is a bit thin and the council rarely big-up the place in terms of what culture actually exists...
Whilst I think you may have verged away from the whole issue of Brummies being intelligent (or not according to the article), you do still raise valid points.

The whole art thing is quite true, from my experience. I'm going to do this a lot, consciously and subconsciously, but comparing Bristol to Brum, I can see some really noticeable differences in the art scenes. Bristol's art scene is closely rooted to its musical history, and so they go hand in hand here. There are raves going off everywhere still and in these areas you'll find some exquisite graffiti work. There are then exhibitions in the smallest of spaces but they are still well-attended because people support the local art. Whether we agree that something is art or is not, it still receives positive responses here. Not far from me there's a barber shop that doubles up as an art gallery space - and there are similar sort of concepts throughout the city.

And I might as well skip my waffle, but I think one major issue is that Birmingham doesn't need to market itself to the UK better, it needs to market itself to itself better. Compared to other cities, there's very little civic pride, unless its a great big glass and stone shopping centre. People need to appreciate the bricks and mortar.

Get more art on the street - art that people can relate to and appreciate better. Getting a major sculptor to do a project along the street is pointless as it puts people out of touch with supporting the art locally.

It does link to the issue of the city centre supposedly having no soul. The main reason for that, I believe, is that the main shopping area of the city centre consists of a poorly gelled amalgamation of styles. Other cities have retail cores which consist mostly of Victorian styles or early 20th century, whereas Birmingham has all these styles sitting awkwardly next to eachother, all then dominated by the Bullring. Birmingham isn't exactly alone though, again, Bristol is quite similar, I find. Cabot Circus is its Bullring, Broadmead is its Big Top (although much much larger), and The Galleries is its Pavillions. I think instead of trying to start again with those buildings, its just best to glue them together better. Improve the street itself, and create a coherent paving scheme throughout the whole city centre - basically everything that the Retail BID plan is looking at doing.
 
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