Leading Article: We should reclaim our streets more than once in every millennium

TOMORROW, HUMANITY will greet the dawn of a new year, a new century and a new millennium with "The Dance of the Buttocks", a traditional number that will be performed in grass skirts on the most remote coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean micro-state of Kiribati. The dancers will perform for their president and, by live satellite feed, for millions of television viewers across the world.

We look forward to their turn. On these small islands, the time has long passed when we could mark important occasions with such a simple gesture. However, dancing buttocks or not, most of us are still intending to have a good time, whether with family, friends or strangers. And for those wanting to see in the new millennium in style there are plenty of festivities to choose from, as befits the home of the Greenwich meridian.

We are not thinking here of things down at the Dome. It is churlish, but irresistible, to point out that many who visited the Dome's "dress rehearsal" before Christmas came away a bit bored. The bulk of the Dome's exhibits retain that worthy but dull, didactic, you-will-be-educated-whether- you-like-it-or-not, New Labourish air that many critics dreaded from the beginning. And while the Dome might pass as a tolerably good science museum or an updated version of the 1951 Festival of Britain, those vast sums of money clearly were not devoted to fun.

It is also hard not to smirk at the news that all the hotels, nightclubs, pubs and restaurants that rushed to exploit people's desire to celebrate are now rushing to drop their prices - that is, if they have not cancelled their events altogether. Rather encouragingly, it appears that people are spurning such over-priced and over-hyped events in favour of a night with those closest to them, whether at home, at a street party or just roving around the village, town or city centre.

Look at the events that are proving attractive: they all seem to allow people in this disparate nation to join together for a few hours of celebration. Of course the Scots always celebrate New Year in style, but even by their standards Edinburgh's seven-day festival promises to be a Hogmanay to remember. Birmingham's Party of the Millennium in Centenary Square (pounds 6 a head), featuring the legendary Roy Wood, is a sell-out. Leeds will be transformed into a city of lights. Belfast will be one great big jazz club. Some 40,000 will throng Manchester's music festival. And central London will become a traffic-free zone so that as many people as possible can enjoy the spectacle of the Thames "on fire" and the unveiling of the London Eye ferris wheel on the South Bank opposite Whitehall, to say nothing of the free concerts and fun fairs.

So, if these events are a success then why not enjoy them - or something like them - every year? They provide communities with a sense of shared experience - a rare commodity these days. Ban the cars and lorries, and give our streets back to the people for just one day. We need to be tempted to turn off the television and reminded that we live together, not just as atomised individuals. Belfast, Manchester, London and the rest are "venues" far more spectacular than anything to be found under the Dome or in a nightclub. And who knows, by the next millennium we might even rediscover our own community, like those revellers in Kiribati?

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