Urban Life in Britain and France

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The Independent Online
LYON, FRANCE'S second city, is concentrating its efforts not so much on improving the city centre - that was done in the 1980s and brought criticism of ``subsidised gentrification'' - as on attracting blue-chip companies. One city hall brochure says Lyon wants "a metropolitan stature comparable to Milan, Barcelona or Birmingham''.

Lyon's middle-class housing is concentrated in the centre where stylish blocks of flats - some built above Renaissance shopfronts - dominate an elegant urban landscape.

Residents enjoy, as in all French cities, bakeries, delicatessens and supermarkets within walking distance. Lyon's traditional small restaurants, known as "bouchons" are considered the best in the country. The best wine, of course, is just up-Rhone and due east lie the Alps. Deprivation - of which there is much - is confined to sprawling estates on the periphery where young second generation north Africans have become ghettoised in bleak conditions with unemployment reaching 25 per cent. The average unemployment rate in greater Lyon is 12 per cent, the French average. The Lyonnais believe they pay too much tax towards a council which is "ill-organised". But city pride is such that when the right-wing mayor, Raymond Barre, organised a pounds 10m bond issue for the city, 95 per cent of it was bought by local residents.

BIRMINGHAM'S CENTRE has been transformed during the 1990s. Instead of a bleak concrete desert, the core of Britain's second city - slogan "Europe's meeting place" - has become a place to play and stroll and linger.

But the centre is surrounded by run-down inner-city wards in which poverty is concentrated. According to a recent government report, Birmingham is England's fifth most deprived council area.

The Labour-run authority admits it needs more people with jobs, incomes and aspirations to choose to live within the city. Teresa Stewart, council leader, said: ``People move to Worcestershire, and then clog up our roads commuting into town. We want to keep them because we need a good mixture of people living in the city.''

Forty years ago only 18 per cent of those working within the city boundaries lived outside. That has climbed to 30 per cent. However its population, currently 989,000, has declined much less rapidly than other big British cities.

A 17-mile overland metro linking the city centre to Wolverhampton via Walsall is due to open in the spring. Another new jewel in Birmingham's crown is Brindley Place, a canalside development of offices, upmarket homes and bars and restaurants including an art gallery and aquarium. Smaller than Canary Wharf in London, it is also friendlier and more attractive.

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