Moving up in the outside lane…

2 12 2007

This post is by way of response to some of the comments that followed Birmingham: the photogenic city where Mitch said:

“Nearby Coventry, which deserved its reputation as a concrete monstrosity, is also improving – it’s an entirely different city to the one we settled in 18 years ago”

Having been around the city since coming to university here in the early 80’s I can only agree… although compared with Birmingham the changes are much more recent and there is much more to do. Care will be needed not to make the same mistakes as when the city was rebuilt after the devastation of the blitz.

reminder

So let’s start with a recognition of what Coventry is having to rise from, which is no better illustrated than the infamous ring road: a concrete girdle trapping the centre in a failed experiment in road design. It is possible for visitors to survive on the ring road but only after studying the complete guide to the ring road on Chris’s British Road Directory which has a route map, history, photo tour, detailed junction tour and even a video tour.

But if that is Coventry’s past what of the present? For me, Birmingham’s regeneration started around 1991 with the building of the Symphony Hall. For Coventry I would suggest it was another major public project that was the catalyst, the new Transport Museum which most recently had a £6.9 million redevelopment in 2006.

Coventry!

What’s strange about the museum is that it is not just of interest to transport enthusiasts as it is as much about the social and manufacturing history of the city. And the recent manufacturing history is very depressing. As appears to be the trend with museums, the guides are local people who used to work in the vanished industry which they are telling visitors about. There is also a poignant reminder of things past at the entrance to the museum where there is a large board with a long list of hundreds of businesses which made cars, bicycles, motorcycles etc in the city. What’s frightening is that of this list only one single company, LTI Vehicles, is still building vehicles (and doing rather well at it).

Ghost town

The Transport Museum is only one part of a major redevelopment, known as the Phoenix Project, which cost some £50M and includes Millennium Place in front of the museum with the Whittle Arch leading you towards Priory Place and then on to the Priory visitor centre and garden (for Coventry’s first cathedral) and finishing by Holy Trinity Church. Throughout the project are numerous public art works including Francoise Schein’s Time Zone Clock, Jochen Gerz 45m long Public Bench and his Future Monument, Susanna Heron’s Waterwindow (below) to name but some.

Through the waterwindow

The Transport Museum was short listed for the 2005 Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries and the whole development was shortlisted for the 2004 RIBA Sterling Prize for the building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year.

coventry 07

Of course it’s not just the architecture that’s improving, there is also a strengthening arts scene. The Enemy may have been getting all the headlines but the music scene in Coventry is better represented by the atmosphere at Taylor John’s House. Oh, and if you are in Priory Place then the Dogma Bar and Kitchen is well worth a stop for food and drink!

You can find more of our Coventry pictures here, here, here, here and here with the Flickr group here (there is also an official guide to the city and the surrounding area).

— Words Paul
— Pictures Paul & Elizabeth

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One response

2 12 2007
Mitch

Thanks for this post and all the photos – you have certainly done the city justice. It is improving all the time, although you’re right, there’s a fair way to go. There are apparently plans for a £4m improvement to the Burges (the grotty bit between the transport museum and the rest of the city centre).
Priory Place is a lovely place to hang out and ‘hanging out’ in Cov is something that you never really used to be able to do.
Perhaps the ring road is the one thing they shouldn’t change – it’s not too bad to drive around once you know the etiquette and it’s great fun scaring visitors with it – it’s like a mad rollercoaster with cars.

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