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During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in England. Birmingham was granted city status in 1889 by Queen Victoria. The city established its own university in 1900.
Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II's "Birmingham Blitz", and the city was extensively redeveloped during the 1950s and 1960s. This included the construction of large tower block estates, such as Castle Vale. The Bull Ring reconstructed and New Street station was redeveloped. In recent years, Birmingham has been transformed, with the construction of new squares like Centenary Square and Millennium Place. Old streets, buildings and canals have been restored, the pedestrian subways have been removed, and the Bull Ring shopping centre has been completely redeveloped.
In the decades following the Second World War, the ethnic makeup of Birmingham changed significantly, as it received waves of immigration from the Commonwealth of Nations and beyond. The city's population peaked in 1951 at 1,113,000 residents.
Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in the UK and the largest council in Europe with 120 councillors representing 40 wards. Its headquarters are at the Council House in Victoria Square. No single party is in overall control and the council is run by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.
The city is also the seat of regional government for the West Midlands region of England as the home of the region's Government Office, the regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, and the West Midlands Regional Assembly.
Birmingham's eleven parliamentary constituencies are represented in the House of Commons by one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat, one Independent Labour and eight Labour MPs. In the European Parliament the city forms part of the West Midlands European Parliament constituency, which elects seven Members of the European Parliament.
Birmingham was originally part of Warwickshire, but expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, absorbing parts of Worcestershire to the south and Staffordshire to the north and west. The city absorbed Sutton Coldfield in 1974 and became a metropolitan borough in the new West Midlands county. Up until 1986, the West Midlands County Council was based in Birmingham City Centre.
Law enforcement in Birmingham is carried out by West Midlands Police, fire and rescue by West Midlands Fire Service and emergency medical care by West Midlands Ambulance Service.
Birmingham is located in the centre of the West Midlands region of England on the Birmingham Plateau an area of relatively high ground, ranging around 500 to 1,000 feet (150-300 m) above sea level and crossed by Britain's main north-south watershed between the basins of the Rivers Severn and Trent. To the south and west of the city lie the Lickey Hills, Clent Hills and Walton Hill, which reach 1,033 feet (315 m) and have extensive views over the city.
The City of Birmingham forms a conurbation with the largely residential borough of Solihull to the south east, and with the city of Wolverhampton and the industrial towns of the Black Country to the north west. Together these make up the West Midlands Urban Area, which covers 59,972 ha (600 km2; 232 sq mi) and has a population of 2,284,093 (2001 Census).
Much of the area now occupied by the city was originally a northern reach of the ancient Forest of Arden, whose former presence can still be felt in the city's dense oak tree-cover and in the large number of districts such as Moseley, Saltley, Yardley, Stirchley and Hockley with names ending in "-ley": the Old English -leah meaning "woodland clearing".
Geologically, Birmingham is dominated by the Birmingham Fault which runs diagonally through the city from the Lickey Hills in the south west, passing through Edgbaston, the Bull Ring to Erdington and Sutton Coldfield in the north east. To the south and east of the fault the ground is largely softer Keuper Marl, interspersed with beds of Bunter pebbles and crossed by the valleys of the Rivers Tame, Rea and Cole along with their tributaries. Much of this would have been laid down during the Permian and Triassic eras. To the north and west of the fault, varying from 150 to 600 feet (45-180 m) higher than the surrounding area and underlying much of the city centre, lies a long ridge of harder Keuper Sandstone.