EightyTwenty is a fortnightly roundtable event that Partisan hosts, where we invite business leaders connected with the built environment to join us for breakfast to discuss the issues that are close to them.
This week, conversations developed around what would be required to make the city a more liveable space, and how the work-life balance applies to the built environment.
Untapped and Working Assets
Canals were central to the development of industrialised Manchester, transporting raw materials and coal into the city and finished goods out of it.
Now, however, they are simply part of the city’s urban heritage and, as such, an untapped asset.
Manchester’s waterways are now focused on leisure and recreation, but could they once again become a more vital, working asset? If so, working for whom?
Are they a victim of a kind of inverted work-life balance, where lifestyle has eclipsed their wider potential?
Activating Spaces in the Public Realm
Psychogeography dates back to 1955, invented by Guy Debord and the French Situationist International movement.
It advocates non-purposeful walking in the city, a form of drift, which allows the individual to uncover hidden aspects of it.
This sense of activating otherwise ignored or hidden routes and locations could be applicable to modern urban planning. It is a question of thinking differently about the public realm.
It also connects with wellbeing, because the more the city can offer variety to its residents and users, rather than treating them as compartmentalised commuters, the more they feel connected to it culturally.
What about the practical use of green space to break up the monotony of buildings and to soften the urban experience and even humanise it?
Greener aspects of the urban environment are often marginalised, when they should play a pivotal role in restoring a sense of balance to the spaces people pass through and occupy.
Living to Work or Working to Live?
Research suggests that over 70% of us in the UK work to simply get by, waking up to head to the office just to pay the bills.
Can the urban built environment rebalance people’s approach to work and to living?
While there is plenty of accommodation in Manchester city centre, how much of it is designed to suit families?
Then there is the question of what should come first, the infrastructure or the amenities, which can then help redefine and broaden the culture of city living?
Residential and commercial builds need to be more interconnected. Ground floor units might be a catalyst for cultural renewal if they attract occupiers who will become informal community hubs.
This could be anything from cafes to launderettes. What matters is that they become shared spaces.
There are other essentials to consider, of course, such as schools, healthcare providers, along with accessible infrastructure for various transport modes and pedestrians.
Playing the Long Game
Regeneration is not a quick fix. It is about setting in motion a process of evolution, over 20 years or so. This requires a high degree of ground-level activity, so that it is not overly dependent on top-down, political leadership.
The reason being, that leadership changes, and this can lead to the disruption or abandonment of projects.
Changing how people use the urban environment, so that they maximise its living as well as working potential, requires a collective effort on the part of people with an interest in improving it.
Our Guests This Time
Our guests for the morning included:
Ian Chapman, Fairhurst Design Group
Gareth Davies, Vectos
Andrew Toolan, MIDAS
John McHugh, CBRE
Jonathan Miley, Exterior Architecture
Gavin Watts, define
Sophie Weinmann, Ashdown Phillips