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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 20:53 GMT
Cardiff: The compact cultural capital
Cardiff skyline
Cardiff 'represents the new enlarged Europe'

There is something that sets Cardiff apart from heartland Wales - its accent, a twang that has anyone born within earshot of the City Hall clock pronouncing the name of our fair city, 'Keeaaardiff'.

But let's not anyone confuse idiosyncratic speech with the belief that we reckon we are bidding to be a capital of culture with a capital "K".

This is already a multi-cultural city, serving a multi-lingual country rich in both traditional and contemporary cultures.

Young capital

At this point, though, I have a confession to make. I was brought up in the 50s a short sprint from Broadway.

For long years, it concerned me that a down-at-heel street of used-car lots and dingy pubs selling Brains Dark by the bucketful should have such a vaunted position in international culture.

Dean Martin sang a song about it, they premiered plays and musicals there - though the only place I could see big enough for even the most rudimentary stage was the old soup kitchen.

Welsh rugby player Scott Quinnell
The home of Welsh rugby is at the heart of the city
It was almost a relief to discover Broadway, Cardiff, was not Broadway, New York - otherwise my horizons, my whole view of life, would have had to be dramatically downsized.

But not any more. My Broadway might not bring the Japanese coach-loads calling, but Cardiff need not feel second best to anywhere

This, after all, is Europe's youngest capital and it has the edge, a certain feistiness, that goes with being the new kid on the block.

Nowhere illustrates that better than the old docks area, immortalised as Tiger Bay.

By the early years of the last century, a small market town had been transformed into the world's busiest coal exporting port.

Family jewels

The ships shoehorned so tightly into the docks, you could walk from one side to the other without dipping a toe in the water.

Inevitably, like the pits that supplied it, the prosperity waned.

It's that compactness that provides much of its charm

Thrusting commerce became crumbling facades and shabby shopfronts with only the legend of Shirley Bassey to enliven them.

That is, until the area became one of Europe's biggest building projects.

The Tiger had gone, now it was just The Bay, and Cardiff could see where it's future lay.

The old family jewels - one of the finest civic centres in the world with it's City Hall; law courts and the National Museum of Wales; Cardiff Castle with its Norman keep and Roman origins; the University - now had a present to go with their past.

With that comes an outstanding track record of hosting major international sporting, cultural and political events.

A drop-kick from the Millennium Stadium, which has played host to a Rugby World Cup and football's FA Cup climax, brings you to the Cardiff International Arena, venue for the Labour Party Conference.

A 60-second burn-up in a Ford Focus from Network Q's opening rally stage would hurl you to the stage of St David's Hall, where the world's top acts regularly perform.

Community network

Cardiff is compact and complete. Well almost.

A new Wales Millennium Centre and a debating chamber for the Welsh Assembly still have to be built, but the former should be ready when Cardiff celebrates the anniversary of both city and capital status in 2005.

And it's that compactness that provides much of its charm.

The Queen addresses The Welsh Assembly
A debating chamber for the Welsh Assembly still has to be built
Picture the scene. May 2002. The sun shines. You park your car - legally and free - a quarter of a mile from the city centre.

You walk towards it, the River Taff, with its salmon and seabirds, glinting on one side; the castle grounds, its old walls, people sunbathing, on the other.

On the Millennium Stadium's doorstep, there are more pubs and restaurants than you can shake a stick at.

Inside it, Arsenal play Chelsea in the FA Cup final. And a well-known football pundit looks on approvingly, saying "You know, you could almost be in a European city!"

Er, quite! But it certainly beats Wembley.

The Cardiff 2008 bid, however, is not just for Cardiff, but all of Wales.

The message highlights Wales as a network of communities, working together to build relationships between individuals and those communities, communities and the their cities, cities and the region they serve.

It's a message of a city in the unique position as a capital of a bilingual and multi-lingual nation, a capital representing the new, enlarged Europe.

As filmmaker Ed Thomas wrote in Song from a Forgotten City: "Take me somewhere good".

Somewhere like Cardiff.

More from south east Wales
See also:

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