Tuesday, January 22, 2019

What is Cardiff like?

It's been a year since I moved to Cardiff. In that year one of my key tasks has been to answer the simple question: what is Cardiff like?

I remember my first official day working in Cardiff, I thought how amazing it was that my "commute" involved walking past a castle. But the castle is just one of the most obvious things about Cardiff. Today when I walk past it I always notice all the tourists. The coaches always park outside the castle and they stream out. And as far as I can see they just visit the castle, take pictures of the animal wall and then get back on their coaches.

That's the tourist side of Cardiff - but what is it actually like when you get down deeper? When you, for example, just go over the bridge to the side of Cardiff on the other side of the Taff?

I still feel inadequate to answer the question really, even after a year. I don't have the insight of a born and bred Cardiffian, or someone who has lived in the area for decades. I can only reflect on my personal experiences.

In many ways Cardiff is like many other places: there's a Costa Coffee on every corner, there's modern redevelopment that's happened since the 1990s, there's modern rented flats everywhere, a shopping centre that looks like every other one.

There's lots of students, there's lots of homeless, parking is a headache, traffic is bad, housing is not very affordable.

There are city centre bars, chain restaurants, little coffee shops.

It is a city. It is a capital city. And yet in some ways it's pretty small. That makes me think that the word I want to use for it is deep. I walk from one side of the city to the other all the time (not entirely, I mean, not including the whole of Cardiff and every suburb, but what I think of as the whole of the city) and so it's a place that feels entirely walkable to me. And yet there are layers and layers under those few miles - layers of people, and languages, and history, and experience. There's history going back to the Romans and there's layers of immigrants defining the city generation by generation.

It's got an accent that takes some tuning in to. It's not what English people would think of as a typical Welsh accent. It has it's own kind of guttural character sort of not unlike a Liverpool accent while also being nothing like a Liverpool accent - but perhaps some other combination of Welsh, Irish, and English making something different from the same ingredients.

It is a greener city than many I've lived in. The River Taff creates a meandering green strip that goes right through the city and gives it deep lungs. I really love this about Cardiff. It has such a massive park right in the middle of the city, something very unusual for an industrial revolution-era city.

I love the river and I give thanks every time I walk over the bridge. It's also great to be by the sea. You can go many months in Cardiff without seeing the sea and can forget that it's actually a port city. Cardiff Bay it not quite the sea but there is something spiritually refreshing about being near large bodies of water. The seagulls, though, are not a great thing about the city, especially in summer when they are very loud. 

It is also a very dirty city with a big litter problem. The system of bags of litter on the street does sometimes mean rubbish goes everywhere. It's a bit depressing.

It's a city big enough so that it means you are always meeting new people but small enough so that you bump into the same people all the time. It's small enough to seem like it could actually be a coherent community.

There's poverty and there's relative wealth, and it's all in quite close quarters.

From my point of view, it is a city where it has been fairly easy to make connections. There's enough going on that I've been able to find things out and go along to different groups and begin to make relationships through these.

As a capital city it is a centre of the arts, politics, broadcasting, charities, out of proportion to its actual size. That gives it a certain flavour.

It's also a changing city I think. I think it will change quite a lot over the coming decades, and they'l be new flavours and layers mixed in.

Cardiff is like this, and more. I really really like it and I think I will live here for a very long time. It feels like home.