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AGENDA: Societies must be engineered from the bottom up; BIRMINGHAM POST.

Bridging the gap between rich and poor is one of the great challenges for decision makers, and in Solihull the challenge will take all the skill and determination of more than just the political elite.

What is happening in the north of the borough is - as Council leader Ken Meeson says - a wide-ranging project in "social engineering" rather than a simple cash injecting exercise.

True, the pounds 1.8 billion that is being pumped into the area will help bridge the gap with the south.

But it is the change to the fabric of the districts of Chelmsley Wood, Smith's Wood and Kingshurst & Fordbridge that will prove just as beneficial to the community.

More than 40,000 people will be affected by the redevelopment which will see outdated 1960s homes, tower blocks and ugly, graffiti-strewn shopping centres demolished.

Five "village centres" will be constructed offering new shops and facilities; 8,000 homes will be created and 12,500 existing homes refurbished. Roads and public space will also be enhanced.

Urban designers long ago came to the conclusion that the environment had to be improved for the local population to be given any chance of rebuilding lives that are disadvantaged by lack of educational and job opportunities.

Chelmsley Wood, for instance, has long been known for its warren-like alleyways and Eastern Bloc-style shopping centre, which increase the fear of crime and entrench the outsiders' view of the area as somewhere to avoid at all costs.

Those who live in north Solihull do not need anyone to tell them that the area is not on its knees, however, they would be the first to recognise that a major transformation is desperately needed.

And because of this, it is not just those who make decisions in Solihull's council chamber who will need to grasp the nettle in these crucial times for the borough.

The 40,000 people who live in north Solihull will have to get fully involved with the fledgling schools, community centres and new facilities which will be springing up on their doorsteps.

Communities a few miles down the road in Balsall Heath only managed to gain national recognition from the likes of David Cameron and HRH Prince Charles after they led the transformation of their neighbourhood.

While the men in suits who study maps and balance sheets are needed, social engineering can only succeed with a "bottom up" approach from residents who want to restore pride in their communities.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 25, 2008
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