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The culture of Birmingham is characterised by a deep-seated tradition of individualism and experimentation, and the unusually fragmented but innovative culture that results has been widely remarked upon by commentators. Writing in 1969, the New York-based urbanist Jane Jacobs cast Birmingham as one of the world's great examples of urban creativity: surveying its history from the 16th to the 20th centuries she described it as a "great, confused laboratory of ideas", noting how its chaotic structure as a "muddle of oddments" meant that it "grew through constant diversification". The historian G. M. Young – in a classic comparison later expanded upon by Asa Briggs – contrasted the "experimental, adventurous, diverse" culture of Birmingham with the "solid, uniform, pacific" culture of the outw

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  • The culture of Birmingham is characterised by a deep-seated tradition of individualism and experimentation, and the unusually fragmented but innovative culture that results has been widely remarked upon by commentators. Writing in 1969, the New York-based urbanist Jane Jacobs cast Birmingham as one of the world's great examples of urban creativity: surveying its history from the 16th to the 20th centuries she described it as a "great, confused laboratory of ideas", noting how its chaotic structure as a "muddle of oddments" meant that it "grew through constant diversification". The historian G. M. Young – in a classic comparison later expanded upon by Asa Briggs – contrasted the "experimental, adventurous, diverse" culture of Birmingham with the "solid, uniform, pacific" culture of the outwardly similar city of Manchester. The American economist Edward Gleason wrote in 2011 that "cities, the dense agglomerations that dot the globe, have been engines of innovation since Plato and Socrates bickered in an Athenian marketplace. The streets of Florence gave us the Renaissance and the streets of Birmingham gave us the Industrial Revolution", concluding: "wandering these cities ... is to study nothing less than human progress." The roots of this distinctive cultural trait lie in Birmingham's unique social and economic history. By the early 1600s the area had already developed a reputation as one where the traditional power of the aristocracy and the established church was weak, becoming a haven for incomers who did not fit in with established thinking elsewhere: religious non-conformists, scientific and literary free-thinkers, industrial entrepreneurs and political dissenters. The Midlands Enlightenment that followed in the 18th century saw the town's growth into an important centre of literary, musical, theatrical and artistic activity, and the emergence of an unusually tolerant, secular society, characterised by "unfussy conviviality ... lack of dogmatism ... and a sponge-like ability to absorb new ideas". This openness and cultural pluralism was further encouraged by the town's broad-based and entrepreneurial economic structure. The "city of a thousand trades" was made up of a wide variety of highly skilled specialists operating in small workshops, producing a constantly diversifying range of products in response to changing market conditions and collaborating in a shifting, fragmented web of overlapping and informal groupings. The result was the development of a culture that valued variety, adaptability and change more than uniformity and continuity; whose need for cooperation and trust bred an innate suspicion of boastfulness and pretension; and which was characterised by the remarkable capacity for "accommodating difference" that has been an enduring theme of the city's history. The historian William Hutton, noting the diversity of Birmingham's culture as early as 1782, remarked that "the wonder consists in finding such agreement in such variety". Over two centuries later in 2008 the philosopher Sadie Plant could still describe "the city's unique, almost declassé mixture of individualism and co-operation". This inherently non-conformist culture has tended to set Birmingham apart from the London-dominated English cultural mainstream. The Independent wrote in 2012 of Birmingham's "intangible sense of the other, of being different despite being the bullseye of Britain". The poet Roy Fisher called it an "off-shore island in the middle of England". Writing in 1945, while the poet W. H. Auden was arguably the dominant figure of English literature worldwide, the American critic Edmund Wilson could still note how his "Birmingham background" meant that "in fundamental ways ... he doesn't belong in that London literary world – he's more vigorous and more advanced". However the same characteristic that sets Birmingham apart can also make it difficult to characterise and understand from outside. Disjunction and incongruity lie at the heart of the city's identity, and Birmingham often lacks the superficial unifying aesthetic of more homogenous cities. Writers, artists or musicians cooperating in socially close-knit groups but producing work with little stylistic unity have been a characteristic of Birmingham's culture from the Lunar Society of the 1750s, through the Birmingham Group of the 1890s and the Highfield writers of the 1930s to the B-Town music scene of 2013. The city's "tradition of the untraditional", of moving forward through "waves of creative destruction", has also led to what the novelist Catherine O'Flynn has called the city's "complicated relationship with its past, where it's always trying to burn photos of itself". The result is that Birmingham has never been an easy city to define, its lack of a clear, simple image, coupled with its own characteristically ironic and self-deprecating sense of humour, often leading to its being stereotyped as "a non-place surrounded by motorways". (en)
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  • The culture of Birmingham is characterised by a deep-seated tradition of individualism and experimentation, and the unusually fragmented but innovative culture that results has been widely remarked upon by commentators. Writing in 1969, the New York-based urbanist Jane Jacobs cast Birmingham as one of the world's great examples of urban creativity: surveying its history from the 16th to the 20th centuries she described it as a "great, confused laboratory of ideas", noting how its chaotic structure as a "muddle of oddments" meant that it "grew through constant diversification". The historian G. M. Young – in a classic comparison later expanded upon by Asa Briggs – contrasted the "experimental, adventurous, diverse" culture of Birmingham with the "solid, uniform, pacific" culture of the outw (en)
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  • Culture of Birmingham (en)
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