High Rise Flat: Are We Falling Out of Love With Manchester?

Every fortnight, Partisan hosts Eighty Twenty, a breakfast meet-up for businesses and professionals involved in the built environment.

Our latest roundtable discussion centred on high rise developments in Manchester, and whether something vital is being missed in the rush to create an impressive skyline.

Is Manc-hattan a Convenient Myth?

According to The Guardian, Manchester has sold its soul for luxury skyscrapers.

Developments such as Deansgate Square, Trinity Islands and MeadowSide look set to become towering monuments to luxury living.

In an interview with the newspaper, Ian Simpson, the architect behind Beetham Tower, appears to double-down in his argument defending these kinds of developments.

In his opinion, Manchester needs more not less luxury, high-rise living, to attract the wealthy people who would otherwise choose to live in commuter suburbs such as Didsbury and Altrincham.

He suggests the lack of affordable housing in the city centre is down to financial viability. Only luxury developments will bring in the right level of profit for developers.

But is this just another way of framing the old, and often discredited, trickle-down argument for wealth creation in an economy?

And what about the spaces in between the skyscrapers?

When Cities Become Too Exclusive

The challenge of any regeneration project is to ensure it offers genuine benefits to the surrounding area and to the communities within it.

Unfortunately, the pattern of so much regeneration in cities is to create luxury living, retail and leisure spaces which ultimately become harder for people to access because they can no longer afford to live in closer proximity to them.

Again and again, development spreads into previously neglected corners of cities, transforms them but then renders them utterly unrecognisable.

This is well-documented in New York and London, but does it mean that Manchester should follow suit?

The essence of a city is not in the sheer spectacle of its skyline. Rather, it comes from those who live and work in it, and who make use of all it can offer.

This is the humanity that runs between the high-rises, the people who depend on essential elements such as employment, transport infrastructure and affordable living.

There is a business case here too, because companies risk losing talent if their employees or potential recruits perceive there to be better opportunities for them in the capital.

The 21st century city needs to be both accessible and affordable to its workers.

Society or Spectacle?

In The Society of the Spectacle, The Situationist movement founder, Guy Debord, wrote:

“Spectacle is capital accumulated to the point it becomes image.”

It is where authentic social life is replaced by a mere representation of life. If the city is simply an outwardly gleaming metropolis and playground for the rich, then its essence becomes hollowed-out.

The cost of living rises with the skyline and the city becomes a transient place, which people pass through and may admire, but where they don’t feel they truly belong.

What is the Price of Independence?

Manchester prides itself on its sense of cultural distinctiveness and fierce independence.

But it risks losing these qualities if its city centre simply ends up emulating those other cities where gleaming towers overshadow the actual quality of life for the majority of citizens.

This is not a question of either or. Development is not a binary decision. You can have both spectacle and society, but this requires meaningful placemaking strategies.

Our Guests This Time

The guests at this Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:

Warren Bennett, BWB Consulting
Rodney Hunt, Epsilon
Andrew Jail, Mosaic Town Planning
Joe Lynch, Liberal Democrats
John Martin, Bespoke Property Ltd
Leo Price, Assets We Sell
Gavin Watts, Define Architects

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