Monthly Archives: December 2005

Sustainable Urban Development: PRESUD

One of the most rewarding experiences of being a member of Birmingham City Council was the opportunity to become involved with major issues. One of these was the improvement of services through the Best Value initiative (of which more later), the other was to be part of the Birmingham team looking at sustainable development in 9 European cities: The Hague, Malmo, Tampere, Leipzig. Vienna, Venice, Newcastle, Nottingham and Birmingham. This was the PRESUD peer-group assessment project.
My involvement began in 2001 with a training session in an extremely Venice. The venue itself was in the cool environment of a converted warehouse on the Lagoon. The interior had been converted to be like the rigging of a sailing shipm an experience in itself. Our Venetian hosts took us to mostly fish restaurants with an amazing variety of local produce familiar and unfamiliar.
The first review I became involved with was in Leipzig in June 2002. Flying via Munich rather than Frankfurt was quite a long journey. Leipzig airport is quite small some way outside the city. Leipzig is of considerable historical interest, particularly to me with its associations with J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn. As I pointed out at he end of the presentation of our findings, Mendelssohn had association with Birmingham where he performed his works in the Town Hall. My last morning I sat in on a performance of a Telemann choral work. Quite simply stunning.
Sustainability was very much on the minds of the City Council and the surrounding area. There was much activity to create leisure facilities and some of the schemes were on a large scale. There was the use of the former coal quarries to form a lake for water sports and other activities, and a canal was being renewed to join it to a tributory of the Elbe which would open a route to the sea north of Hamburg. We borrowed bicycles to take a look at this project – quite a time since I had ridden! The canal development was one where officers from Birmingham City Council were able to provide the benefit of their experience of renovating the canal system in Birmingham. Bill Clinton visiting the G8 summit in Birmingham during his presidency of the U.S. had enjoyed his stay with a pint of beer in one of the canalside pubs.
The public transport system is well developed, and one of the newly built neighbourhoods was trying to get the extensive tram network into the area. The size of the population would not merit this, however. The exsistence of a car industry in Leipzig brought about a caution which was holding back on progress in sustainability. It was felt that compromises had to be made.
Leipzig was formerly part of Eastern Germany and a large number of people had left following reunification. This meant there were many empty flats and properties. There is a huge complex where Leipzig holds international events such as its Trade Fairs.
The report was welcomed as fair comment on the situation in Leipzig, although we were disappointed at the low turnout in the imposing Council House building. closed the presentation with a vote of thanks for the co-operation we had received with documentation and organisation.

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CBSO Thomas Dausgaard

I had thought this CBSO concert was due sometime next year but noticed it advertised in the Radio Times. I had seen a relay of Thomas Dausgaard conducting the Nielsen Violin Concerto from the BBC Proms and thought it a remarkable performance although I forget who the soloist was (Nicolaj Znaider?) I decided to take myself to Symphony Hall. This was broadcast on Radio 3 and the concert can be heard on line for a limited period.
Dausgaard’s conducting style appeared strange and at first disconcerting. He dispenses with a baton and uses both hands to effect in bringing in players. In the Brahms/Haydn Variations that opened the concert he didn’t continually beat time, but just indicated entries and dynamics- a bit like lighting the touch paper on a firework and standing back. I thought this was most effective in the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham. I often felt this work somewhat jaded, preferring the Nielsen Concerto, but not this performance. Hearing the opening live was quite magical with virtuosic soloist against shimmering hushed strings. He is a formidable player, but it is interestin tosee he is still portrayed as if a newly discovered artist when he has been around since the early nineteen nineties!

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Palestinian art recognised

An Israeli writer, Gannit Ankori, has surprised herself by looking at the art tradition of Palestine. It has led her to a fundamental reappraisal of the history of her country dominated and distorted by the Zionist vision.
Ankori: “I was travelling in a car from Jerusalem to the Galilee with an American journalist and a Palestinian writer to see a play by the Palestinian theatre company Al-Hakawati.
We had just passed Canada Park and the American asked: ‘ What is this beautiful place?’ I told him what I had been taught: ‘This is Canada Park, a wonderful place for picnics. The pine trees were planted as part of the Zionist ideology of making the desert bloom.’
The Palestinian responded: ‘Yes, this place, Latroun, is now called Canada Park. The trees were planted as part of the Zionist effort to cover up three Arab villages that were destroyed and depopulated after the war of 1967.’
I was shocked. I had no idea. As soon as we passed by Canada Park, I didn’t answer any more ‘American’ questions. I realised that I had to actively re-learn the history of my homeland. My quest to understand Palestinian art was related to this journey and to my need to uncover the narratives that had previously been repressed and covered up. This was in the mid-1980s and I found out.”

This vividly illustrates the way that two communities living side by side can be blinded to the reality of their neighbour’s lives, a fact shared with the communities in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile the prospect of peace recedes as Hamas denies it is prepared to call a truce with Israel pointing to assassinations and attempted assassinations of its leadership. As always this appears to be counterproductive. Why build a huge wall and then do all you can to ensure the cycle of killing continues?

Invisible women in World War 1

The Channel 4 series “Not Forgotten” reminded us of the integral part women played in the First World War. At the same time it is unusual for their names to appear on memorials. A notable exception is a chapel at York Minster which records over 1,000 women who undertook varied roles and contributed to victory.
In Britain women assembled the shells needed on the front. At one factory at Barnbow in Leeds there was a catastrophic explosion in 1916 which killed 35 women and injured many more. The story has not been told because the munitions factory’s existence was classified as an offical secret. Now a memorial has been erected in Leeds.

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