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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 14:54 GMT
Walsall rejects 'ugliest town in world' tag
The New Art Gallery looms over Walsall
The New Art Gallery was described as resembling a 'Stasi HQ'
Councillors in Walsall have leapt to the town's defence after a critic writing in an American magazine described it as like "Ceaucescu's Romania with fast food outlets".

Walsall is a town which is working hard to pull itself up by its bootstraps

Mike Bird
Walsall council leader
Walsall council leader Mike Bird dismissed as nonsense claims published on the internet that the Black Country was one of the "most depressing areas of urban devastation" in the world.

Writing in the New Jersey-based publication New Criterion, critic Theodore Dalrymple described Walsall as possibly the ugliest town in the world.

'Urban devastation'

His article, entitled Crudity Beyond Belief, describes the town's New Art Gallery as resembling a post-modernist grain silo and claims: "It is possible that there are uglier towns in the world than Walsall, but if so I do not know them.

"While Walsall undoubtedly exists, it is difficult to know where precisely it begins and ends, because it is in the middle of one of the largest and most depressing contiguous areas of urban devastation in the world."

A derelict chip shop in Walsall
Images, like this of a derelict chip shop, abound on the Ugly Walsall website
But Mr Bird said criticisms of the town and its 21m New Art Gallery in the influential American arts review magazine were unwarranted.

The councillor said: "He should keep his ridiculous views to himself.

"I have the guts to take the brickbats as well as the pats on the back.

"Walsall is a town which is working hard to pull itself up by its bootstraps and the gallery has received international acclaim.

"Everything has its critics but the plaudits that we have received about the gallery outweigh the comments of a small-minded individual who is better off staying wherever he lives."

It is possible that there are uglier towns in the world than Walsall, but if so I do not know them

Theodore Dalrymple
New Criterion
The row comes only months after the town received a chunk of bad publicity following the setting-up by resident George Roper of an "Ugly Walsall" website dedicated to photographs of boarded-up buildings, scenes of urban decay and other eyesores.

Mr Dalrymple insisted in his piece that Walsall's plight was shared by much of the Black Country, adding: "There is nowhere in the world where it is possible to travel such long distances without seeing anything grateful to the eye.

"To the hideousness of nineteenth-century industrialization is added the desolation of twentieth-century obsolescence. The Black Country looks like Ceaucescu's Romania with fast food outlets."

After visiting the gallery, Mr Dalrymple, wrote: "One veers between thinking oneself in a fascist foreign ministry and a sauna of gigantic proportions."

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