The handsome town hall presides over a waste – it is a town with its heart torn out. Everything speaks of its decline. Over the course of a century, as its industries decayed, it lost its work and its wealth. Then came the planning blight: the replacement of human slums by inhuman ones, the marooning of churches in traffic islands, the building of precincts where once there were shops. Finally two decades of garrotting from the government in London, and everything civic or social was choked of funds: schools, libraries, hospitals, transport. The town which had been the home of the co-operative movement lost its sense of community.
The theatres closed. Every one of the five cinemas closed. The literary and scientific societies shrank or disappeared. I remember my despair when I heard our bookshop was going to close.
[Vikram Seth describing the possibly fictitious town of Rochdale in An Equal Music, p. 90. That’s just what Birmingham felt like to me, or any of the unreformed towns of Poland or Czech ]