I've been wearing out Google for the best link to the Luton is Crappest Town in Britain story, in which I have have a personal interest.
Luton's been banged about by factory closures - GM closed Vauxhall Motors the year before we moved there for one thing - and has quite a few middle-aged and elderly unemployed; it's also been used as a dumping ground for the inadequate and the lost, including needy asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world. I've never seen so many chavs and drunks as I have since moving back to Luton 2 years ago, the town's not respected by the people who live there and has very little attractive building - most of what there once was was bulldozed in the 60's and 70's and replaced by ugly concrete, much as in a hundred other towns. I think if you respond to the "crappest town" jibe as the mayor just did, by pointing out the new multiplex cinema with bars and amusement arcades in the town centre, you're probably actually confirming the problem.
It's a betweeny sort of town - it doesn't have that reflected imported prosperity that a London dormitory town like Watford has, but it isn't far enough away from London to really have enough sense of separateness and difference. Hence, civic pride is hard to come by, and that's reflected in the rubbish-strewn ugliness that is probably the first thing you notice, especially if you come in by train. Luton's in a really nice setting though- go 3-4 miles in any direction (make it 7 if you go in the Dunstable direction, which is that terrible thing, a seriously crap town which thinks it isn't) for some lovely downland, rolling hills, country parks, pretty villages. It has fine parks, a few good pubs and a branch of Wilkinsons, which is obviously cool. It needs skilful and sensitive long-term re-modelling (and needs HM Government's 24-hour pisshead's charter like a hole in the head, but that's another story). For all the negatives though, it's not such a bad old place. I can always think of worse, anyhow!
Incidentally I have not heard ANYONE do that old Campari advert since I've been back, so shut up at the back there!