The Drama of the City

Shivering Assembly Members returning to their offices in Cardiff Bay will drop their jaws an inch when they look out at the BBC “drama village” which has sprouted on the horizon.

The future home of BBC productions is taking shape at astonishing speed. A sweeping arc of architecture now exists in Cardiff Bay, stretching from the Wales Millennium Centre to the Senedd and this giant production house.

The concept of the great capital city has fallen out of favour.

Parties routinely promise at elections to move departments into the regions in an effort to spread prosperity. Accusations of “London-centric thinking” abound and every US senator seems to get elected by vowing to sabotage Washington DC from within.

But great cities are also places of adventure, where people who would never otherwise cross paths suddenly live, commute and work alongside one another.

A world city is in a constant state of reinvention and transformation. If it ceases to be a hub for people and ideas, experiments and carnivals, then it will quickly become a fossilised heritage piece.

Cardiff has been in perpetual evolution since the 19th century when its population started to soar.

It has experienced the cataclysm of industrial decline yet been reborn to enjoy an astonishing vitality – it feels like a city whose best days are ahead of it.

This settlement was never the capital of an ancient Celtic kingdom, but it has earned its right to call itself a capital. Institutions like the WMC, S4C and the Assembly draw people from across Wales and the world, just as the universities and the drama village are also magnets for international talent.

Whatever Wales is, you can find it on the streets of the city. When a nation locates its identity in the vanished past it can only see change as a work of corrosion; but in this country there is a political culture where people seek to embrace the nation as it is and look to the future with a generous optimism.

The Assembly can be lambasted as a citadel of cosy consensus, but Wales can take pride in an institution where people on both the left and the right approach politics with a humane set of values which prize inclusion and community.

This should be celebrated. Modern liberal European democracies have been shaken by the rise of demagogues who seek to spear scapegoats, demonise and divide.

But in these pre-election months, as the drama village moves towards completion and aspiring politicians compete to move into the adjacent Senedd, let us recognise that this is an excellent moment to be alive in a young Welsh democracy.

A Saturday column