From red-light to highlight – regenerating the Bay


This moving war memorial to merchant seamen sits on the dockside in Cardiff Bay, south Wales.

Approach from one direction and you see the ribs of a ship resting on its hull. Seen from the other you see the face that represents all the mariners who lost their lives keeping Britain’s shipping lanes open.

The Bay area is now a place of plush apartments, swish hotels, yacht marinas, fancy restaurants and arts venues. But it wasn’t always so.

When Cardiff was a thriving port, booming on coal exports, the lure of plentiful work and good pay drew people from around the globe.

With them, too, came ladies of the night, enticed by the prospect of separating lonely sailors from enforced celibacy and fat pay packets.

The area then was known as Tiger Bay and was a notorious red-light district, but as the coal trade went into decline so did the port and dereliction and dole became the new realities.

Despite the regeneration effort that began in the late 1980s, the scheme continues to be controversial.

Cardiff-born planning specialist Adrian Jones recently called it a contender for the worst example of waterside regeneration in Britain.

That seems a bit harsh considering what was there before, but it does reinforce how hard it is to build communities and that the intricate web of everyday life requires more than simply money and shiny new architecture.


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