The centre of Coventry must have looked nice at one point, I know this because I’ve seen photos of old Coventry and been to the few buildings that are still older than the United States. Everything else about Coventry is grey and less than seventy years old.
You see this is what the city centre looked like in 1917:
Just thirty years later the old Victorian shops and medieval cathedral were gone, to be replaced with the concrete modernism that is now being demolished across the city.
This change all started when the city started to look like this:
This was all due to the blitz, and Coventry’s position as one of the most important centres for engines and armaments during the Second World War. Many of these factories were in among the suburbs, so when the city was bombed much of old Coventry was lost. One of the few buildings to survive was the reception venue for our wedding (which when we asked the manager about having a few candles on the table he replied “the Luftwaffe couldn’t burn this place down, we’re not worried by a few tealights from Ikea”).
After the war the city planners had the idea of making Coventry a city of the future, and what is more futuristic than a pedestrianised concrete jungle surrounded by a ring road?
Now, in 2015, the city is undergoing a major regeneration to correct some of those modern plans. The development of the city centre is constrained by the vehicular noose that encircles it, there are too many uninspired buildings (which is ironic because one nickname for Coventry is the “Three Spires”) which look tired due to their construction material and design. Being pedestrianised is fantastic, but the distance to walk across the city is too great to make it feel cohesive.
If I had the chance as mayor I would leave the city as it is, and let it develop organically. The problem with too many British cities that were rebuilt in the 1950’s (like Milton Keynes and Birmingham) is that planners thought they knew best.
I’ve played SimCity and other builder games enough to know that even if you have the best intentions when laying out your town/theme park/hospital you make mistakes and have to demolish and rebuild. Or you cheat. Real life doesn’t let you delete a road and rezone an area to low density housing with a new school and police station when you get it wrong.
That’s the problem with mayors, they meddle and try to solve one problem and create two more. Cities need to find their own feet, even the highly planned cities like London, Paris and St Petersburg have diverged from their original plans and grown up. True it helped that they were planned by some of the finest minds, rather than some civil servant, but they didn’t try to be the future just the best of the then and now.
So Coventry, in a few years you will be unrecognisable as vast swathes of grey rubble is removed from within the ring road. I look forward to the future when the glass and steel that is appearing in your place is also marked for demolition.