The rebuilding of Bristol city centre was characterised by large, cheap 1960s tower blocks, brutalist architecture and expansion of roads. Since the 1980s another trend has emerged with the closure of some main roads, the restoration of the Georgian period Queen Square and Portland Square, the regeneration of the Broadmead shopping area, and the demolition of one of the city centre's tallest post-war blocks.
The removal of the docks to Avonmouth Docks and Royal Portbury Dock, 7 miles (11.3 km) downstream from the city centre during the 20th century has also allowed redevelopment of the old central dock area (the "Floating Harbour") in recent decades, although at one time the continued existence of the docks was in jeopardy as it was viewed as a derelict industrial site rather than an asset. However the holding, in 1996, of the first International Festival of the Sea in and around the docks, affirmed the dockside area in its new leisure role as a key feature of the city.
The Council House, the seat of local government
St Mary Redcliffe church and the Floating Harbour, Bristol.
Main article: Politics of Bristol
Bristol City Council consists of 70 councillors representing 35 wards. They are elected in thirds with two councillors per ward, each serving a four-year term. Wards never have both councillors up for election at the same time, so effectively two-thirds of the wards are up each election. The Council has long been dominated by the Labour Party, but recently the Liberal Democrats have grown strong in the city and as the largest party took minority control of the Council at the 2005 election. In 2007, Labour and the Conservatives joined forces to vote down the Liberal Democrat administration, and as a result, Labour ruled the council under a minority administration, with Helen Holland as the council leader. In February 2009, the Labour group resigned, and the Liberal Democrats took office with their own minority administration. At the council elections on 4 June 2009 the Liberal Democrats gained four seats and, for the first time, overall control of the City Council. The Lord Mayor is Lib Dem Councillor Chris Davis.
Bristol constituencies in the House of Commons cross the borders with neighbouring authorities, and the city is divided into Bristol West, East, South and North-west and Kingswood. Northavon also covers some of the suburbs, but none of the administrative county. At the next General Election, the boundaries will be changed to coincide with the county boundary. Kingswood will no longer cover any of the county, and a new Filton and Bradley Stoke constituency will include the suburbs in South Gloucestershire. There are four Labour Members of Parliament and one Liberal Democrat.
Bristol has a tradition of local political activism, and has been home to many important political figures. Edmund Burke, MP for the Bristol constituency for six years from 1774, famously insisted that he was a Member of Parliament first, rather than a representative of his constituents' interests. The women's rights campaigner Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867–1954) was born in Bristol. Tony Benn, a veteran left-wing politician, was Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol South East from 1950 until 1983. In 1963, there was a boycott of the city's buses after the Bristol Omnibus Company refused to employ black drivers and conductors. The boycott is known to have influenced the creation of the UK's Race Relations Act in 1965. The city was the scene of the first of the 1980s riots. In St. Paul's, a number of largely African-Caribbean people rose up against racism, police harassment and mounting dissatisfaction with their social and economic circumstances before similar disturbances followed across the UK. Local support of fair trade issues was recognised in 2005 when Bristol was granted Fairtrade City status.
Bristol is unusual in having been a city with county status since medieval times. The county was expanded to include suburbs such as Clifton in 1835, and it was named a county borough in 1889, when the term was first introduced. However, on 1 April 1974, it became a local government district of the short-lived county of Avon. On 1 April 1996, it regained its independence and county status, when the county of Avon was abolished and Bristol became a Unitary Authority.
Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge.
There are a number of different ways in which Bristol's boundaries are defined, depending on whether the boundaries attempt to define the city, the built-up area, or the wider "Greater Bristol". The narrowest definition of the city is the city council boundary, which takes in a large section of the Severn Estuary west as far as, but not including, the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm. A slightly less narrow definition is used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS); this includes built-up areas which adjoin Bristol but are not within the city council boundary, such as Whitchurch village, Filton, Patchway, Bradley Stoke, and excludes non-built-up areas within the city council boundary. The ONS has also defined an area called the "Bristol Urban Area," which includes Kingswood, Mangotsfield, Stoke Gifford, Winterbourne, Frampton Cotterell, Almondsbury and Easton-in-Gordano. The term "Greater Bristol", used for example by the Government Office of the South West, usually refers to the area occupied by the city and parts of the three neighbouring local authorities (Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire), an area sometimes also known as the "former Avon area" or the "West of England".
The Avon Gorge, home to several unique plant species.
Bristol is in a limestone area, which runs from the Mendip Hills to the south and the Cotswolds to the north east. The rivers Avon and Frome cut through this limestone to the underlying clays, creating Bristol's characteristic hilly landscape. The Avon flows from Bath in the east, through flood plains and areas which were marshy before the growth of the city. To the west the Avon has cut through the limestone to form the Avon Gorge, partly aided by glacial meltwater after the last ice age. The gorge helped to protect Bristol Harbour, and has been quarried for stone to build the city. The land surrounding the gorge has been protected from development, as The Downs and Leigh Woods. The gorge and estuary of the Avon form the county's boundary with North Somerset, and the river flows into the Severn Estuary at Avonmouth. There is another gorge in the city, in the Blaise Castle estate to the north.
Situated in the south of the country, Bristol is one of the warmest cities in the UK, with a mean annual temperature of 10.2-12 °C (50-54 °F). It is also amongst the sunniest, with 1,541–1,885 hours sunshine per year. The city is partially sheltered by the Mendip Hills, but exposed to the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel, Annual rainfall is similar to the national average, at 741-1,060 mm (29.2–41.7 in). Rain falls all year round, but autumn and winter are the wettest seasons. The Atlantic strongly influences Bristol's weather, maintaining average temperatures above freezing throughout the year, although cold spells in winter often bring frosts. Snow can fall at any time from mid-November through to mid-April, but it is a rare occurrence. Summers are drier and quite warm with variable amounts of sunshine, rain and cloud. Spring is unsettled and changeable, and has brought spells of winter snow as well as summer sunshine.