If you asked anyone who does not live in Brighton what the most iconic or recognisable thing about the city is, I’d wager that nine times out of ten they would say the Pier. That alone says how much of an institution it is – as quintessentially Brighton as a stroll through the lanes, a night at the Haunt or a delayed Gatwick Express service to London Victoria. It’s a tourist hotspot on England’s rare sunny days and it has fun for all the family. But it’s got to go.
Think about the best cities in the world. More specifically, think about what makes them the best cities in the world. London, Berlin, Washington D.C., New York – they all have a unique aura which makes them immediately familiar wherever you are in the city. Furthermore, their landmarks are truly one-of-a-kind: no other city can boast a White House. Nowhere else has anything as distinctive as St. Paul’s Cathedral. And it’d be rather strange for the Berlin Wall to be anywhere other than, you know, Berlin.
But the Pier isn’t a landmark of this ilk. It’s a generic structure inherent in most, if not all, seaside towns. Nobody is ever wowed by the Pier, nor does Brighton’s own aura shine through. It’s just sort of there.
I suppose I could forgive it for not being particularly attractive if it still served a huge purpose but nowadays it’s something of an irrelevance. The age of quaint and archetypally British trips to the seaside are long gone. These sorts of domestic holidays are antiquated – they’ve died out as they were a result of having nothing better to do in the days before easyJet or Ryanair. Think of resorts like Coney Island, for instance. Sure, it used to thrive in the heady days of domestic adventure and young, free youth. Now? It’s an absolute wreck. Coney Island does not represent what Brooklyn is about, so why on earth should the Pier represent Brighton?
Because that’s arguably the main issue. It’s not, strictly speaking, a Brighton landmark. As we’ve already discussed, piers are a result of seaside tourism and they’re ten a penny in coastal towns. I don’t think anybody in Brighton could honestly say that this one-size-fits-all antique jutting out of the picturesque harbour could represent the ideals and values inherent in Brighton. To continue this tenuous clothing analogy, Brighton isn’t about one-size-fits-all, it’s about having many sizes for many different sorts of people.
For instance, just a mile or two inland are arguably the real attractions. The Lanes, to name but one, are Brighton’s true landmark. Brighton’s true catalyst for the aura it truly possesses. A plethora of shops and outlets fit to bursting with the exciting and unusual represent true avenues for discovery, for genuine adventure, for self-actualisation and becoming who you are, all the while nobody can say any different. Surely that is the real Brighton, and not the crass and outdated commonplace seaside tourism of the Brighton Pier?
Getting rid of the Pier wouldn’t result in anything irreparable or damaging. Brighton will always have its seaside and beach. It’ll always have its cafes, its bars, its clubs and, most importantly, its trademark culture of acceptance. The Pier doesn’t affect any of this.
And it’s not about old making way for new – major cities blend history with innovation seamlessly and side-by-side. But for Brighton, a city which so readily embraces the alternative and the independent, a uniform landmark of aged holidaymaking does not belong at its heart or soul.
Matt Cowdock, @MattCowdock, firstname.lastname@example.org