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One of the great centres of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham has been the birthplace of several inventions; it was home to steam pioneers James Watt (1736–1819) and Matthew Boulton (1728–1809) and chemist Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), to name a few. By the mid-19th century, though, the city exemplified much that was bad about industrial development. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, under enlightened mayors such as Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), that Birmingham first became a trendsetter in civic regeneration. But WWII air raids and postwar town planners were to undo their good work in large part.

Fortunately, the city’s leadership is once again devoting itself to ground-breaking civic revitalisation, creating the award-winning Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Millennium Point and, most recently, the Bullring in formerly grim urban wastelands.