Birmingham is our supreme example of an industrial city expanding at breakneck speed over two centuries, exporting all over the world, and left behind as newer producers conquered the market.
In the last century it became a watchword, under Joseph Chamberlain, for enlightened active civic management. In recent decades public policy has engineered the international airport, exhibition centre, conference centre,Symphony Hall and a world-famous orchestra. But what is to happen to the texture of daily life, far from power and influence, in a vast city where a multitude of manufacturing jobs have just faded away?
This book grew out of a conference which examined small and local initiatives, rather than grand city-wide ventures. Contributors in the education field, for example, describe the turn-around of one Nottinghamshire secondary school, seeking to "generate resources above and beyond what it received from the local education authority", while John Rennie shifts the argument to the potential progression from opting out of municipal control to making every school a real community school.
Similarly, Joe Holyoak, an architect and urban designer who has been the spokesman of many resident regeneration projects, reminds us how "from about 1955 to 1975, the inner areas of Britain's cities were subjected to a programme of doctrinaire replanning and redevelopment".
Much of his work has been in trying to give ordinary residents control over the process in which they have been treated as passive recipients of superior wisdom.
And Carl Chinn provides a dazzling historical evocation of the urban villages and neighbourhoods which poor people developed in the pell-mell migrations of the Victorian working population. The pattern is having to be rediscovered in post-industrial cities.
Other contributors struggle to tease out the implications of the casualisation of work, the growth of self-employment - the "third sector" of the social economy.
Ian Morrison, for example, claims that this third sector accounts for perhaps 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, while manufacturing industry has shrunk to 19 per cent of GDP.
He also finds that "the labour force of the voluntary sector in this country is about 500,000 people, which is larger than the agricultural industry. Other work in the US and the UK confirms that as many as one in 20 jobs worldwide occur within not-for-profit organisations."
Most of us would actually prefer to see our children employed in serving the needs of fellow citizens, rather than in, for example, the advertising industry, and other writers in this book explore the potentialities of community development trusts, which have a more positive future than the estate agencies closing down on every High Street.The book is an honest exploration of urban futures.
Colin Ward's latest book is Talking Schools (Freedom Press Pounds 5)