Concrete examples;Reviews;Subject of the week;Environment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
A CITY FOR PEOPLE: Birmingham, Change and Development pound;6.95 each or pound;95 for 15 from Development Education Centre, 998 Bristol Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 6LETel: 0121 472 3255 Harvey McGavin sees Birmingham coming to terms with change

A city can be overwhelm-ing. It's not just the sheer size that makes it so daunting, but all the things within it. Amid all the traffic, the buildings, the noise and pollution, it's easy to forget the reason why cities exist and who made them. Any attempt to make sense of cities, and to do so on a human scale can only help our understanding.

That's what they've been doing in Birmingham. The tourist brochures like to remind us that, as well as the baltis and the Bullring, Birmingham has more canals than Venice. Unfortunately for Brummies, the resemblance ends there. The city's suburbs sprawl flatly outwards from a centre strangled by roads and mangled by town planners.

But Birmingham has been reinventing itself recently, rebuilding and renovating, modernising and - though Mancunians might not agree - staking its claim to the title of England's second city.

This collision of past with present and the knock-on effects for the future have given the city's Development Education Centre a fascinating case study on its doorstep.

It's all contained in A City for People, a 50-page booklet looking at Birmingham's unique multicultural make-up and particular place in the world.

Aimed at key stage 3 and 4 pupils, A City for People brings home to them, often quite literally, the impact of all kinds of local, national and international decisions. It begins with a graphic illustration of the place of individuals in all this - right at the bottom of a "staircase" of authority - and a simple exercise in matching up events with their place on the staircase.

Each chapter tackles a different issue - including Europe and global relationships, youth and unemployment, migration, housing and transport, and a detailed look at local regeneration in the Heartlands project.

The text is kept short and to the point with plenty of reader friendly real life stories and suggestions for activities. The graphics are colourful but bold and basic enough to be photocopied. In a four-page appendix of statistics by area, there are detailed maps, pie charts, and graphs galore.

This kind of geography has immediate appeal - even before you begin you know something about the subject. Put simply, young people can relate to it. Some of it - such as the Birmingham in the WorldThe World in Birmingham graphic and the What is a Successful City section - could easily be adapted to another setting.

Scott Sinclair of the city's Development Education Centre says that trials of the booklet have already attracted favourable comments from teachers outside the area interested in preparing similar materials. "We would encourage people to use it to stimulate something in their own locality," he says.

And even if the booklet centres on Birmingham, the issues go beyond that city's boundaries. "It's important in terms of understanding other places and your own that you understand the underlying commonality of experience. We are not an isolated place and you can't understand Birmingham's history without understanding its relationship with other places."

Children are receptive to these ideas, he says, because they have grown up in a global environment - characterised by everything from MTV to mass immigration.

A City for People - one of many initiatives under the umbrella Forward Thinking project launched by TIDE (Teachers In Development Education) a year ago - is built on this notion of togetherness. TIDE draws on a coalition of schools, universities, local authorities, housing trusts, economic development agencies, information centres and even the airport for its materials and such broad research shows in this booklet.

By starting local and going global, A City for People uses everyday experience as the springboard for wider knowledge. The message to geographers, wherever they may be, is to learn from this, follow the example and start compiling some resources about their own surroundings.

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