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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 17:58 GMT
The ugliest place in the world
An art critic, writing in an American magazine, has likened Walsall in the British Midlands to "Ceaucescu's Romania with fast food outlets."
The critic, Theodore Dalrymple, writes that there is nowhere in the world where it is possible to travel such long distances without seeing anything grateful to the eye.
Councillors reacted with fury, saying his criticisms were totally unwarranted. Walsall hit the headlines last year when a local resident launched an "Ugly Walsall" website.
Mr Dalrymple said that it was possible that there were uglier towns in the world, but he didn't know them. Do you? Which place do you think deserves the title?
If you have a picture of your least favourite place, please e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Allan Reid, USA
I've just come back from Daugavpils, Latvia's 2nd city, today. It seems like the communists forgot to pull out when the USSR broke up. All the shop signs are less than 10 years old (all the old Cyrillic ones have gone) but the place still looks like it did when Lenin rolled in!
I live in Australia and we do any city like Grimsville. The closest to it here is Queenstown in Tasmania, which used to have a mine that did huge environmental damage. Ironically because of this, the area is tourist attraction.
Athens was by far one of the ugliest and dirtiest cities I have ever visited. As a financial consultant, I found myself in this sprawling and disorganised city at all seasons with the same effect on my senses - ugh!
Quit knocking Detroit!
It has to be Riyadh, Saudi Arabia! And the worst thing is, you can't even drink to forget about its ugliness.
Owen Gibbons, UK
It has to be Croydon, particularly that hideous area around Lunar House.
No doubt in my mind, the ugliest place has to be Niagara Falls, New York - an industrial wasteland of abandoned factories beside a place of charm and wonder, the Niagara Falls.
Most people are fortunate enough not to have been in Malmo, the third biggest city in Sweden. I can, however, guarantee that Malmo is, by far, the ugliest place on earth.
Don't suffer in ugliness. Do something about it. Start with your own street. Get together with neighbours and check your street:
What is good about it?
What is bad?
How could it be improved?
How will it look like in 10 years time?
If it is an ugly street it will be affecting the value of your property.
Get together with your neighbours and the local council and see what you can do together to improve things.
There are some absolute hellholes on this earth but nothing on my travels has compared to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. It's a foetid swamp of a town that only exists so that Brazilians can cross the border and buy cheap televisions and cheap women. The whole place stinks. Just to defend Paraguay Asuncion the capital is one of the loveliest and most tranquil capital cities in the world.
For my money, it's a dead heat between Coventry and Reading with Wareham and Guildford pretty close behind.
Its not only the architecture - it is the people that make a town or city, New York is impressive; are its people?
I am originally from Middlesborough and I am afraid Billingham beats Middlesborough hands down. It is the most desperate looking town I have ever been anywhere near.
I think Skelmersdale in Lancashire takes some beating! Run down council estates, thousands of roundabouts that lead nowhere, and a town centre completely shut up at night - and this is a new town!
Graham Follett, UK
Ugly? Edinburgh! The place just oozes pompous self-importance and bogus antiquity, while to anyone who looks closely, the hypocrisy of the place shows through like a mould-stain on crumbling plasterwork. Give me Sydney, New York, or Tokyo any day - at least they are cities that are alive!
Whilst I would agree with most of Rebecca Griffiths' suggestions concerning London, I would propose that she has never visited Basingstoke. It has concrete everywhere, ghastly council housing and the people are worse than Londoners. A few of its inhabitants show signs of normality, but most are rejects from London (60s overspill). Sullen, anti-social and downright rude are the best adjectives to describe the general malaise.The only other towns that come close to Basingstoke are Reading and Bracknell.
On a positive note, the antithesis would likely be either Concarneau in France, or Soest (near Dortmund) in Germany. Both pleasant places with ample older buildings, inhabited by friendly people who keep the places clean. Of course, Perth too is a great place, but, in fairness, my domiciliary bias should discount my opinion.
Reading the various comments it seems clear that many people don't like the cities and towns they live in. BUT it was they who stood by and watched the town planners and so-called architects ruining our urban environment over the last 25 years
I don't think the author travelled much in Britain.
There are hundreds of urban and semi-urban areas in Britain contending for the title "Ugliest Place On Earth" Third world countries don't count as they don't have the resources for beautification.
The only excuses, I can think of, for Britain, are either perversity, or to break the spirit of those who live in such places.
Mark Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
Everyone can stop sticking up for the West Midlands people. Admittedly the people are great put the point of this conversation is the place and anyone who has ever driven by Wolverhampton will know what the definition of dump stands for.
Steve Peterson, UK
Southern New Jersey. It's nothing but strip malls and divided highways for as far as the eye can see.
Middlesbrough and Gateshead take some beating!
Dr Dalrymple's views should not be taken too seriously, being typical of the ill-informed, elitist and reactionary output of the writers on that weekly comic, The Spectator.
I think that Wuhan in China can take the title pretty comfortably, perhaps only rivalled by its neighbour up the Yangtze River, Chongqing. I come from Stoke and it is a long way from winning the title.
Admittedly there are some industrial towns in Britain which don't make the most attractive of vacation spots, but try a journey through post-communist Russia. There are mammoth eyesores there, which truly defy belief.
Andrew Reid, London, UK
Chelmsford is pretty nasty and Birmingham has a certain bleakness, but for long-term, soul-shattering ugliness descending into pure grot I must submit Milton Keynes; a collection of endless roundabouts, cardboard houses, old Doctor Who sets and concrete cows.
On the coast of the Med. Sea, is a town called "Hadera".
This town was build in the 50's, with bad architecture, overcrowded roads and loudmouth Israelis. By 9pm every shop is locked and all the people are at home, the streets are empty! I would say this is the worst place in Israel.
Only one place comes to mind, the town of Olongapo, Republic of the Phillipine Islands circa: 1960-1970.
Darron Jamal, USA
Walsall is pretty grim. But it's no
worse than Wolverhampton or
inner-city Birmingham where I
grew up. However, of all the places
I've lived in England the absolute worst,
the biggest dump of all, in my opinion,
is Crewe in Cheshire.
But the Americans can't criticise us - they
have some pretty bad hovels too. I lived
in Connecticut on the North Eastern Seaboard
of the US for about a year and I can say that
many areas I saw within that state and especially
around the town of Hartford were very grim indeed.
I agree totally that Walsall is the pits. It is the ugliest place in the world.
Obviously the critic never
ventured through Basingstoke.
Julian, Leeds, UK
Mr Dalrymple has obviously never
visited Lakeside via the delightful
hamlet of South Ockendon in Essex.
It may sound like an idyllic English
village, but believe me it truly is a
I think Newport, Gwent is worthy of mention. Although there is attractive countryside nearby, the town itself has little merit. Luckily it has good communications and as a local it is easy to leave.
A list: Milton Keynes, Middlesborough, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Daventry, Portsmouth, Croydon,
Coventry, Luton, Doncaster, Derby. Anyone disagree?
Robert Smith, USA
I suggest that Theodore Dalrymple wasn't looking very closely when he visited the West Midlands. Or perhaps his monocle was steamed up that day. There aren't many things much uglier than metropolitan arrogance. As for the least attractive place, however....Greater Manchester has the fewest redeeming features per capita of anywhere in the northern hemisphere.
The area around and
surrounding Newark Airport, New Jersey. It is a shame because this is what most people think of New Jersey, when there are really some quite pretty spots in the state. As for England, the most un-picturesque place would be Grimbsby: all those acres and acres of cars sitting there and no trees or grass.
I've lived and worked in the Black Country since 1996 and have found the people to be genuine, warm and funny - there is a good scattering of beauty spots within a stone's throw: ask anyone about Himley, Kinver or Bridgnorth.
Cambridge, no doubt about that. People don't even punt properly over there.
I would have to agree with John from Canada, Detroit takes a lot of beating. It's absolutely dreadful! The only other place in the UK which comes close is Harlow in Essex. A new town nightmare!
Without a doubt the most ugly place in the world is Dungeness. It really ought to be towed out into the Atlantic and sunk. And while you're doing it, could you take the rest of Romney Marsh as well?
My vote would have to be for Hanworth in Middlesex, UK. Not a city but one of the most depressing towns in Europe. I had to go and live on the other side of the world just to get over living 'near' it!!
R. McTaggart, USA
Most cities in the USA are uglier than anywhere else in the world.
Why? Because there is a total lack of variety. Everywhere is the same as everywhere else.
It's as if someone took a mould of one block of businesses and stamped it up and down the country over and over.
Drive down any main route and you see a constant parade of identical franchise outlets; Foot Licker, McAwful, What a Booger, Mal Wart, Taco Hell . . . on and on and on. True hell on earth.
I left Orpington 2 years ago and I'm never going back.
Where did I go? Amsterdam - What a swap!
Having lived in the US for 20 years (never again), I can say without doubt that Erie, Pennsylvania is exactly what a popular rhyme says, 'Dreary Erie, the mistake on the lake'. A close second is much the much larger Gary, Indiana, just south of Chicago. The only reason to stop there is if your car breaks down.
Stuart Egan, UK
My vote would have to go to Manila. The pollution is awful, the traffic intolerable and just about every place of historic interest was levelled in WWII meaning there is nothing but a pile of rubble. It truly is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. In close second would have to be El Alto Plano, the overspill of La Paz, Bolivia. If ever I have felt like I was in hell on earth, it was there.
Mary Macdonald, Canada
I have to say that most of south Georgia is worthy of the title. There are some nice little towns, but a six-hour drive on the interstate through the region convinced me that it is at best boring.
May I second Matt Brett's suggestion of Slough, even though John Betjeman beat us to it by a good forty years.
I'd nominate Cirencester. Like Lucretia Borgia, it's ugly on the inside.
I must agree with John, Canada. I love
driving to Niagara Falls, but I have to
drive through Detroit. There is no
eye-sore in the world like Detroit. The
roads have huge craters in them that
when I drive in I am afraid that I might not
come back out!
Guy Matthews, UK
I'm inclined to believe Mr Dalrymple. He's from New Jersey, which is widely recognized as the ugliest state in the USA. I've never been to Walsall, but if someone from NJ says it's ugly, it must be incredibly ugly.
Coventry City Centre is dire. Parts of Wolverhampton are grotesque. Birmingham's OK, it's just too big.
London is looking pretty ugly at the moment but I'm not talking about its appearance. Its attitude and the way its sucking the life out of the rest of the country with its own self importance and indifference are what make it the ugliest place in the world!
Charles Carrington, USA
You want to see what they have done
to Harrow in Middlesex. What was once
a suburb with many small thriving
shops and clean streets has been
turned into a dull, lifeless, soulless
place with high rise buildings, a warren
of pedestrian walkways, filthy streets,
empty offices. Does the council have
Stevenage is one of the most depressing and ugly towns I have ever known.
Jon Bailey, USA
I live in Walsall and although it has some areas which are grotty, there are some really attractive places too - the Arboretum, the new Wharf area with the award-winning New Art Gallery. Walsall is also receiving huge amounts of funding in order to improve those areas which are run-down. Who does Mr Dalrymple think he is?
Elizabeth, New Jersey, is certainly the ugliest spot on Earth. All the messy industries New York City relies on, but will not house, end up there. Driving through Elizabeth on the famous New Jersey Turnpike, one sees miles and miles of refinery smokestacks, those sources of the local imprecation, "It smells like Elizabeth." If an appearance that could have inspired Tolkien's descriptions of Mordor, and a smell that evokes universal gagging were not enough, Elizabeth also has one of the highest cancer rates in the Unites States. This one city, on the most-used roadway leading south from NYC, is by itself the source of New Jersey's reputation as an ugly state.
Running on from Nova Dudley's comments I too
went to Keele but found Stoke-on-Trent to be
a great place. To visit somewhere truly grim
I only have to wind up the windows and drive
through Leyton. The only shops there are
Take-away chicken shops, Cash Converter stores
and everything-for-a-pound shops, the true
hallmarks of a town that's lost it.
Milton Keynes gets my vote. I didn't hate it immediately, but after 10 minutes of wandering around the pavementless streets I developed a deep dislike for the place.
Houston in Texas has less character or charm than any griefhole I've had the misfortune to visit.
Derrick Stansfield, UK
Bracknell. I used to work there. I pity anyone who has to live there.
I must agree with the post-apocalyptic nature of Detroit. When one crosses the border from Windsor one is immediately routed through some pretty scary neighbourhoods, but one time a detour sent me through block after block of abandoned buildings before I could get back on the highway. It reminded me quite acutely of the ruins of Leipzig that I visited in 1992. In Leipzig's case the communists had simply built a new city after the war and left the ruined city where it stood. I don't know what has happened in Detroit.
My vote goes to Bayonne, NJ. There
are some very pretty places in the
US and over seas but Bayonne is not
one of them.
I am surprised that no-one has mentioned London, most big cities could be criticised for their ugliness, but at least the West Midlands has some friendly people, unlike most of London and the South east.
I have lived in or visited over 30 countries and for me the ugliest city in England is Luton. The ugliest in the world is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Both Luton and Riyadh are equally depressing.
Bracknell, Berkshire: Concrete, roundabouts and err... that's all.
We got lost in Brooklyn trying to cut across to JFK airport last year, and it was pretty grim. I won't be naming any of my kids after the place!
Evidently Mr T Dalrymple has not had the pleasure of visiting East Kilbride, truly one of the UK's worst cities - I should know, I grew up in the Black Country!
In East Kilbride's defence, it is near Glasgow - a fabulous place!
I don't know about being ugly but Farnborough is probably
the most miserable place on Earth. And I've
lived in Crawley and Basildon.
Without wanting to sound like a typical moaner who claims that a maligned area is really the centre of all excellence on Earth, I will say that Wolverhampton and the rest of the south of Staffordshire form a wonderful, vibrant area, with some of the friendliest people I've met, beautiful countryside and little sign of stereotypes associated with the Black Country. I don't know Walsall but each time I visit Wolverhampton is a joy.
No contest: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I travelled on four different continents and nothing else comes remotely close!
Theodore Dalrymple is not incorrect when highlighting the ugliness of parts of urban Britain. In defence of towns like Walsall - their lack of beauty is principally attributable to Britain being the world's first industrial country. The ad hoc development of towns like Walsall to meet the unprecedented and unplanned for growth in demand for urban space created by the industrial revolution is an unfortunate legacy. On the bright side however: Britain is also home to some of the most charming (Bath), impressive (Edinburgh) and exciting (London) cities in the world.
I must admit that I really can't see the point of Birmingham! Just seems to be a giant blot on the motorway that stops me getting from London to the North West quickly.
I think I have to agree about the Midlands - it's something I've always thought. Bradford comes close though and Stockport (and I'm from there). Strangely though, the ugliest place in Europe I've visited, save for the reconstructed "old town" is Walsall-sound alike Warsaw. What a coincidence!!!!
Anyone who thinks that Walsall is grim has obviously never been to Coventry
All the joys of 60s pre-fab concrete construction, coupled with a grim grey city.
It takes an awful lot to beat Wakefield, West Yorks, although I will second the motion that Detroit is an armpit of a place.
Where I grew up in Swansea, we took pride in Dylan Thomas' description of an "ugly, lovely town crawling, sprawling around a curved bay".
Not an unfair portrait of the place.
Mr Dalrymple has clearly never visited Detroit. The city has a post-apocalyptic appearance.
I know it is not an original thought, but I have yet to see a serious rival to Slough's long-held title of ugliest town in Britain.
I was at university at Keele for three years - a fantastic place, but Stoke-on-Trent is terrible. It has a nightmarish one-way system and such grim buildings, most of which are boarded up and pollution blackened. I am obviously drawn to this though; I now work in Croydon...
04 Jan 01 | UK
Walsall rejects 'ugliest town in world' tag
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