Urban Life in Britain and France

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Population: 416,000 (city), 1,963,941 (conurbation)

Public transport: Three high-speed train stations, international airport, metro system, buses.

New developments: Expanding conference centre, new Hilton hotel and casino, plan to divert major motorway around city, planned museum of technology.

Deprivation: High unemployment and poverty in high-rise suburbs around city.

THE LATEST proof that the 1,963941 people in France's second city cannot be wrong came in October, when the Mayor of Lyon, Raymond Barre, asked to borrow 100m francs (pounds 10m) for improvements. In two weeks all "Lyon 2000" bonds had been bought.

Yet, according to a survey by the council, most Lyonnais believe they pay too much tax to an ill-organised administration. And, in common with most Continental metropolises, the concept of inner-city deprivation is unknown on the bourgeois streets of Lyon, which has a metro and buses, three high-speed train stations and plans for trams.

The trouble is in the suburbs: greater Lyon has some of the most violent high-rise slums in France, where unemployment reaches 25 per cent among second-generation North African youths. The average joblessness figure for Lyon is 12 per cent.

Twinned with Birmingham since 1951, Lyon is only now losing the `s' which for years inexplicably plagued its ending in English orthography.

This summer, as part of an ever-improving partnership between the cities, "Lyon Week" will be held in Birmingham.


Population: Birmingham City - 989,000. West Midlands conurbation - 2.7 million.

Public transport: InterCity train service. International airport. Suburban railway network. In spring a pounds 145m section of its overground metro opens. Buses.

New developments: International Convention Centre, Symphony Hall.

Deprivation: England's fifth most deprived council area, after Liverpool, Newham (in London), Manchester and Hackney.

BIRMINGHAM'S CITY centre has been transformed by ambitious and highly praised new developments during the Nineties.

But its council admits that Britain's second city still has a long way to go. The core is largely surrounded by run down inner city wards where poverty is concentrated.

According to a recent Government report, it ranks as the fifth most deprived council area in England.

The upwardly mobile still tend to move out of Birmingham if they can and yet, compared to other big British cities, such as Liverpool and Glasgow, Birmingham's population has declined much less rapidly, and its problems of deprivation are not as severe.

There is a boom in city centre living, with thousands of new apartments being built. The council is teaming up with developers to erase the worst of the grim Sixties developments. And it is breaking through the ``concrete collar'' of the inner ring road which cut Birmingham's centre off from the rest of the city. The hope is that this regeneration can spread into the run down neighbourhoods beyond.