The contrast could scarcely have been greater. While city council leaders were in Chicago promoting Birmingham as a modern global player, planning committee members were at home conducting a last ditch stand against 21st century technology.
A decision to refuse permission for a digital advertising screen on a building overlooking the busiest and nosiest part of the central retail area on the grounds that people viewing the Lord Nelson statue in the Bullring some 300 yards away might be discomfited is as inexplicable as it is daft.
A bemused spokesman for Scottish Widows, the applicants, gently reminded councillors that electronic advertising screens are commonplace in many British, European and American cities, certainly in places serious about promoting themselves as globally relevant. The proposal for the corner of New Street and High Street, opposite the entrance to the Bullring and Pavilion shopping centres, would have used no moving pictures or sound and could not in all seriousness be described as intrusive in abustling and changing street scene, but committee members allowed themselves to be swayed by an argument that the sight line from behind the Nelson statue would be damaged by the transmission of 12 digital adverts every four minutes.
There was also a claim by a council official, presumably with unintentional irony, that residents in the Rotunda apartments would no longer be able to relax in the "quiet enjoyment" of their properties, while West Midlands Police feared that crowds gathering to marvel at the wonders of electronic advertising might make pedestrian congestion in the area even worse. The fact that council approval had already been given for advertising at the top of the Rotunda, somehow not disrupting the view of Nelson or luring large crowds, was conveniently brushed aside.
This is the same committee that approved a BBC TV Big Screen in Victoria Square, rejecting claims that the ambience and views of the Town Hall and Council House would be harmed. On that occasion councillors would have been fully justified in saying no, since the historic civic quarter is not a suitable place for huge television screens, but they pressed ahead regardless.
Members caved in over Victoria Square, an application backed by the council's controlling coalition, and dug their heels in at the Bullring when they could and should have granted permission. A clear impression is emerging of a planning committee uneasy with the demands of modern city centres.