I have lived in both Swansea and Cardiff. In fact, I still do. On my days off I live in Cardiff with my partner. When I am working, I live with a friend in Swansea, as it’s an easier commute to Carmarthen from there.
Which city is better, Cardiff or Swansea? If you asked 100 people from Swansea, they’d say Swansea. If you asked 100 people from Cardiff, they’d say Cardiff. Of course, this is obvious. Where it becomes interesting, is when you ask people from OUTSIDE these two places. The majority of people I know prefer Cardiff. The question is, why? Is it purely because Cardiff is the Welsh Capital? An obvious advantage yes, but I don’t think that’s the reason….
Cardiff has always seemed to have the upper hand. They were granted city status in 1905, where as Swansea didn’t get this until 1969. By this point, Cardiff had already been declared capital of Wales.
So is it a question of time? Has it always been a one horse race? By the time Swansea became a city, Cardiff had already hosted the Commonwealth Games (1958), and become the home of the Welsh Office. This was soon followed by the Arts Council For Wales, and the Welsh Development Agency.
Swansea has been fighting an uphill battle. Whilst Cardiff had its share of disaster during World War 2, Swansea was practically flattened. Yet the people refused to be defeated. Swansea was rebuilt from the ground up. It’s this sort of thing that makes me proud to be Welsh. As the song goes, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…”.
So whilst Swansea had to step back and start again, Cardiff was like a juggernaut… or was it? Whilst making a name for itself in the political and sporting world, industry was struggling. The East Moor steelworks closed in 1978, and Cardiff’s population dropped dramatically (5% over ten years).
So was this the start of Cardiff and Swansea drawing even? It’s no surprise that the 1980′s were a hard time for the whole of the UK. Changes needed to be made. Coming into the 1990′s, both cities had battled through the hardship, and came out fighting. Swansea and Cardiff were among very few cities (outside London) that experienced growth in population during this decade.
Call centres brought much-needed jobs, a growing local economy saw town centres grow and flourish. Things were on the up… for now.
There was a double-edged sword just around the corner… retail parks. I LOVE retail parks. All the shops I want, in one place. Easy access and well designed road systems. Generally away from the city centre’s, so traffic is lighter… and you can park right in the middle of this consumer paradise, FREE OF CHARGE!!!
For the consumer, this was brilliant. For the High Street, it definitely wasn’t. Another nail in the coffin was the dawn of the online shop. The overheads for these companies is greatly reduced, allowing cheaper pricing.
This raises another question… Why is the centre of Cardiff still developing, whilst Swansea appears to have stalled?
In Cardiff, the recent development of the St David’s 2 shopping centre is very intriguing to me. It’s a hybrid of sorts. A shopping centre, with on site car park, in the middle of the city… retail park meets High Street…
I know what you’re thinking. The Quadrant. Swansea has had the Quadrant Shopping Centre for years. With a multi-storey car park attached to Debenhams, and a central location, is this not the same thing? Or is it that the stores within the St Davids Centre are slightly more cosmopolitan than those of the Quadrant? or is it my BIGGEST bone of contention…
Swansea’s road system is shocking. Abysmal in comparison to Cardiff. Box junction after box junction. Confusing one way systems. Traffic congestion on an epic scale at times. I’m not saying Cardiff has the perfect network. Realistically, no evolving city can. All I can say is that I am far more comfortable driving through Cardiff. The road system seems more… logical. When you are trying to get people into the city, this is vital.
Tourism is vital to any cities survival. Comparison is very difficult here.
Swansea has the beaches of the Gower. Fantastic views and great surfing conditions. The Liberty stadium is attracting high-profile acts such as Pink and JLS. The SA1 development, whilst in its infancy, looks promising. Sadly, the recent recession was bad timing for SA1, but it’s not a lost cause yet…
Cardiff has a growing city centre, with the St Davids Shopping Centre,and a multitude of lovely arcades. The Castle provides wonderful multilingual tours. The beauty of Bute Park is evident all year round. The Millennium Stadium has become a world-famous stadium. Then there’s Cardiff Bay… where do you begin?
I think Cardiff Bay is definitely the trump card in this debate. There is no competition. Techniquest is great for children. The Red Dragon Centre plays host to Capital FM, Odeon cinema, a casino, and various restaurants. Ikea is just around the corner. The Wales Millennium Centre, a hub of creativity and reasonably priced performances. Roald Dahl Plass has become a popular amphitheatre. The Norwegian Church is now a popular art centre. The Pierhead building has been re-opened as a Welsh history museum. To top it off, a restaurant quarter with a diverse range of choices to suit all the family.
I love Cardiff Bay. It’s so relaxed and welcoming. It’s aesthetically pleasing. It embraces modern living, yet retains its historical roots.
I think there will always be competition between Cardiff and Swansea. Competition is healthy, it inspires creativity. These two cities should be loved by all Welsh people. They are equally important in our history, and will be as important in our future. Sadly, this isn’t always a shared opinion. Competition can become aggressive. A South Wales Derby football match between the Cardiff Blues and the Swans can result in violent and destructive behaviour. Thankfully, this is a small portion of society.
In summary, I find that the question “Which city is better?” is not an easy one to answer. Even as an outsider, it comes down to preference. These two cities have grown in different ways, and accommodate different things. Cardiff wins for me. It feels like home. I like Swansea, but I love Cardiff.
It’s up to you which you prefer, and your reasons will be just as valid as mine. It’s about which one best accommodates your needs.
People from Cardiff and Swansea will always have their differences. Just remember one thing:
Both cities are a valid part of a well oiled machine. That machine is Wales… and isn’t she beautiful?