I have had a letter from a reader who has asked me to settle for once and for all the answer to the question "What is a City?"
Come on, tell us, he says. What makes a place a city, not a town? Is it something to do with having a cathedral? Or a charter? Or a blessing from the Queen? Or what? Lord bless you, my loves! All and yet none of these things! Being a city depends on lots and lots of separate mysterious qualifications, of which the following are the chief ones. (To make it even more mysterious, you don't have to have all of these...)
Ready? Here we go! A proper British City should have:
1. Two famous football teams, of which one is pretty good now, and one used to be very good, or even, as in the case of Bristol, where neither is now much cop and probably never used to be.
2. A run-down waterfront.
3. Which may or may not by now have been converted into an arts complex with cafs, bars etc.
4. Which may or may not be run down again by now.
5. The remnants of a canal.
6. An imposing multi-storey car park built in authentic Heathrow Terminal style.
7. One or more park'*'ride schemes, built in authentic Lib Dem Wishful Thinking style.
8. A cosy business mafia set-up on the city council, which doles out all the work to the boys, and everyone in the town knows who they are, but nobody ever says anything, because they may be crooks but they are our crooks.
9. Another city nearby, on which this city can look down in scorn, and vice versa (cf rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester, Bristol and Bath, Glasgow and Edinburgh etc etc ).
10. A pet name for the inhabitants which is either too posh (Glaswegians, Mancunians,) or over-familiar (Brummies, Geordies). Only Liverpool seems to have one of each (Liverpudlians and Scousers).
11. A statue by a man called Gormley.
12. A totally baffling one-way system, understood least of all by the natives.
13. A pedestrianised shopping street right in the middle of town which, if reopened to cars, would solve all traffic problems.
14. A multiplex cinema, showing all next year's TV films.
15. A sweet little old cinema, showing proper films.
16. A grim shopping area from the 1960s, always distinguished with a heritage name like Danesmead, Kingsbridge or Southgate, thus commemorating the great historic feature which had to be destroyed to allow the construction of the grim 1960s shopping complex.
17. A Youni, as all universities outside Oxbridge are now called.
18. A section of town which becomes so like a jungle at weekends that nobody in their right mind would go there after 10pm, known as the City Centre.
19. A zoo.
20. A botanical gardens.
21. A museum.
22. A big theatre, housing refugee musicals from London.
23. A small theatre, housing local amateur productions.
24. The city's very own local newspaper which comes out every day and is bought once a week. In despair, it is about to go weekly, under the slogan "Your great new weekly paper!" All the features in it also appear in its 48 sister- group publications up and down the country, of which the city itself is blithely unaware.
25. A ring road, leading to
26. A business park, past a
27. Motorway link, and maybe even
28. A small airport, serviced by an
29. Edge-of-town Hilton Hotel, not far from
30. A huge roundabout locally supposed to be the biggest in the UK, which is twinned with a vast traffic works near Darmstadt.
31. Something in the town centre that looks like uncleared German wartime bomb damage, but is actually just another botched City Council clearance scheme.
32. A good working system of gun gangs and drug warfare.
33. A huge fair that takes place every 30 years.
34. An unexpected outbreak of Polish delicatessens.
35. A personal recent visit by Boris Johnson to apologise for something or other.
36. Oh, and a cathedral.Reuse content