Adendum to 6 Things That Would Vastly Improve Manchester

Following my earlier post, which explored the idea of Manchester having some civic-minded awnings about the place, I did a little (very little) research and found images of awnings in the Chorlton area of Manchester (on a fantastic site called Chorlton History).

This is proof that in 1913 at least someone was magnanimous enough to offer pedestrians and window-shoppers some cover. Civilised that is.

Chorlton in 1913 (from Chorlton History / Andrew Simpson)

Chorlton in 1913 (from Chorlton History / Andrew Simpson)

Now fast-forward 100 years. The totally re-built Manchester centre had a chance to be this considerate, to learn from these historic examples, but chose instead to offer no sort of cover to people on foot at all. If it rains the city invites you to hide in a coffee shop.

And check out this for mean spirited…

What’s left of those Chorlton awnings seems to miss the point entirely. You can’t wander freely from one shopfront to the next here. These awnings are for patrons only!

Mean spirited awnings

Mean-spirited awnings in Chorlton


6 Things That Would Vastly Improve Manchester

Manchester getting a bit exuberant

No jokes about dropping the atom bomb. We don’t want the fallout here in Cheshire.

We do want Manchester to be better though, but our nearest big City doesn’t have much pull. We need to confront a truth that we aren’t very good at cities these days.  No British city ever gets in those lists of the most livable. We don’t even get one in at the bottom.

To me that’s like never getting even a bronze in the whole history of the Olympics. We have poor air quality, expensive and unreliable public transport, clogged roads, characterless chain-stored-to-death centres (and then same again on the edge of town), uber car-centric infrastructure, and nowhere to hang out where you don’t feel some pressure to spend money.

1. Get Your Portici On.  

Awnings – they are perfect for a city with rain issues. Mancunians are sick of being reminded, especially by Londoners, that this city gets a lot of weather. This city seems to live in denial about being the first place Atlantic cloud systems dump their loads.

Manchester is such a [relatively] young city. You’d have thought the vast cotton industry wealth would have been ample to cover (literally) some city centre innovations to keep people dry and central when the sky is weeping.

A typical street in Bologna with porticoes.

A typical street in Bologna with porticoes.

There are examples to look at all over Europe, but check out Bologna. The whole city centre is lined with streets like these (24 miles-worth in fact), where people can walk under the cover of porticoes.

They can do business, hang out, shop etc. while staying out of either the scorching sun or the rain. And a bonus for city-dwellers is everyone living on the first floor and upwards gets an extra 15×20 feet of living space.

In Bologna that might be used for an extra long family dinner table and a shrine to Padre Pio. In Manchester that could mean room for an even bigger telly and a little indoor pot farm.

2. Canals as Cycle Routes.

Cycling by them, not in them. Again, hardly a secret in Europe as all canals lead to Rome, or the city centre. Except the ones in Manchester which weirdly get less cycle-able the nearer you get to the middle. It’s almost as if they want to keep cyclists out.

Bridgewater Canal

Bridgewater Canal

Take a canal ride from Sale to Stretford, for example, and you get a ten foot wide surfaced path, with honking geese, joggers, spring flowers and cheery old folk on longboats living off camping-stove bacon and tinned beer.

Continue on past Trafford Park and the same stretch of canal (see above) suddenly turns into a foot-wide strip of mud, with occasional moody-looking dopers to weave around.

The final stretch into the city centre is often simply blocked.

Bridgewater Canal for cyclists

Bridgewater Canal for cyclists

Manchester’s canals could combine the poetry of a gritty Northern heritage with a little Dutch-style romance, if only these routes were spruced up, optimised, made a feature of and embraced as a green and free way to commute.

3. The City Square. Piccadilly Gardens.

I can’t think of a worse city square that I’ve ever seen, anywhere. It’s the only square in the world that would actually be cheered up by the arrival of a column of Chinese tanks.

Piccadilly Gardens: The Beating Heart of Manchester

Piccadilly Gardens: The Beating Heart of Manchester

Not that its the job of architecture to be perpetually cheery, but it is the job of a city square to not be depressing. The job of the square is that of communal meeting space; it should be agreeable, it should require you to spend no money.

Trying to find something positive to say about Tadao Ando’s concrete pavilion, I suppose you could stage a convincing open air production of George Orwell’s 1984 here. I’m sure it was meant to be slightly arty but mostly something that blocked views of the bus station. [A better idea might have been to build a an attractive looking bus station, like Preston.]

concrete pavilion by Tadao Ando

Concrete Pavilion by Tadao Ando and a plastic toilet

Tadao himself more or less admitted his concrete wall was all wrong for this space, but it’s not his fault it’s there. He didn’t commission it.

The trick with ‘doing a Brutalism’ – if you’re determined to have some – is to be utterly defiant and bold. The main problem with the pavilion is it’s the most small and timid example Brutalism you could possibly find, outside of a Lego convention.

The encroachment of One Piccadilly Gardens onto the square I can not fathom. It’s an office block. 25% of the UK’s office space is empty. So why build more? On a city square?

I suspect Britain’s massively corrupt construction industry combined with Britain’s massively corruptible city councils came together here in a towering show of what’s possible with the right level of dim-witted, spineless opportunism, bent and secretive procurement processes and some shameless land-grabbing greed.

One Piccadilly Gardens

One Piccadilly Gardens

A lot of cities would love a big open space like this. Put some plinths up. Dozens of them. Take the cue from Trafalgar Square and run with it. Get rid of the grim grey wall. Put up a big glass awning.

4. A Greater Manchester Travel Card.

A one-day travel card, designed to let you explore your region, from Ramsbottom to Macclesfield, Wilmslow to Saddleworth. Why on earth not? The Toronto TTC day pass is a good example to follow. They actively encourage you to give the ticket to someone else when your done with it. Friendly Canadians.

5. Goodbye to Balconies.

Since the mid Blair-years, Britain has gone utterly bonkers spec-building ‘Luxury Apartments’. Nowhere more so than central Manchester. These are tiny one and two bed flats, smaller than the legally allowed smallness of last century’s Glasgow tenements.

Most of them were so flimsily-built you could, of an evening, sit down and listen to your neighbours blinking. These flats could accommodate  two people, they could accommodate the stuff two people might own, but they could not  accommodate  both.

The rusting balconies of Manchester

The rusting balconies of Manchester

What sold everyone on the idea of the balcony? I believe the clever spec-builders had twigged that the British – after decades of Spanish package holidays, presumably – equated a balcony with summer sun, good times and luxury.

One of Manchester's crap balconies (temporarily dry)

One of Manchester’s crap balconies (temporarily dry)

Manchester has gone balcony-building mad. They seemed to think building them would force the sun to come out. It didn’t. Nowadays we see leaking luxury apartments and balconies covered in rust.

6. Not so Central Park.

Manchester really needs to wrestle Pomona Docks away from Peel Holdings. Peel have been allowed to rule this part of the world for too long. They are not democratic. They don’t care about community. They are tax-dodging money grubbers who are happy to push elected leaders around. They want to turn this important bit of green space into (guess what?) yet more (yawn) luxury flats.

Pomona Docks, closest thing Manchester has to a city park

Pomona Docks, closest thing Manchester has to a city park

Manchester needs to keep this land as a water-fronted park and a place of natural wonders. But not a park as city councillors, town hall accountants and other assorted dullards think of parks. We don’t need formal rose beds and a statue of the King.

Push the boundaries of what a park can be. Keep it rough and wild, maybe. Look at what Paris did with Parc de la Villette in the 80s. What would an avant-garde Mancunian park-designer do in 2014?

[The above picture is one of a series and comes from an excellent study of the Pomona Docks area by Skyliner. Every thinking Mancunian and urban explorer should take a look at it.]

Boris Johnson, King of the Cornflake People, Mayor of your City

The Tories don’t like nuance. For a start it’s too nuanced. They like to put a finger in the air and then let you have their certain conclusions. The mild mannered expert, the academic, emailing a hefty, nuanced report is just a wishy-washy bothersome waste of time.

And we know what time is.

It’s obvious to say, but the Tories do like money. They trust things that make money. Just as they are confused by and distrustful of things that don’t.

The NHS, old people, the unemployed, art galleries, forests, foreigners, spare bedrooms, academics writing hefty reports or trying to preserving wildlife, or cyclists – to people like Boris Johnson, these things are all deeply suspicious.

When Boris talked openly about lovely old greed, and the natural order, and the Good Samaritan being necessarily a wealthy man (ergo even Jesus Christ likes greed), and the tax-avoiding true-Brit Margret Thatcher  being an inspiration, and people with high IQ’s being the natural engine behind economic success in London, it’s difficult to know which of his dim-witted delusions to think about first.

Just equating money-making with high a IQ, brainy equals rich, is profoundly simplistic. As is equating people to cornflakes that rise or fall in the packet.

Boris overlooked all those clever cornflakes, the people with high IQs who are not interested in money or self aggrandisement. There are far more High IQ Cornflakes who object to greed and an idea of a happiness index linked to the economy, just as there are plenty of low IQ Conflakes who make piles of money. You only have to look at Michael O’Leary or Simon Cowell to know that.

Johnson’s ideas about people and cornflakes and IQ’s and greed are hopelessly deluded, and on so many levels, but the most unforgivable thing is that as the Mayor of a major city, he hasn’t looked at the plentiful and nuanced data readily available on how cities work best.

Cities that at least chase an idea of equality (rents, road usage, planning permission, shared spaces, sports and arts venues) are happiest.

The happiest cities in the world (they publish lists every year) are the ones that work well for all citizens. Not just the ones with high IQs or lots of money.

No British city ever get’s onto these lists, by the way. Not even at the bottom. If you think of these lists as a sort of ‘rich list’ (just to help the Tories grasp this concept) then London, and every other British city, is miserably poor.

Again, you see Boris’s confusion about things that don’t (at a glance) make money in his attitude to those terribly bothersome dead cyclists.

When a handful of cyclists are killed each month in his city, under his watch, it’s most commonly a lorry or construction vehicle that’s done the squashing.

Boris looks at this situation and thinks this: lorries are important, they are the machines of industry, busy making money. Cyclist should respect that and be more careful to make way.

The nuance any mayor could and should have picked up on by now is that cycling makes money for the city.

Besides all the benefits to health, and the consequent effect of individual productivity, there’s the huge reduction in wear and tear on city infrastructure. Cleverer Mayors than Boris (there are many) have engaged with this idea. Their cities are on that list I mentioned above.

When a lorry kills a cyclist, let’s say a doctor or a news reader, this is confusing to Boris too. Despite being a cyclist himself, he see’s cyclists mainly as poor people who can’t afford the train.

But lorries are no respecter of income. Doctors and News Readers and nice bright high IQ Cornflakes get squashed by lorries just as often as people in other social classes.

In the nuanced scheme of things, a smart mayor might have concluded that it might be more cost effective for the Lorry – let’s imagine it was off to deliver sugar sachets to a tax-avoiding coffee shop chain – to stay off the road and let the Doctor arrive safely at work to help keep hundreds of Londoners healthy.

Of course the biggest delusion of all that Boris is helping to perpetuate is this idea of clever people being rich, and vice versa.


Let’s paint a picture. There’s a man living in a shack by the sea. He catches a fish each day and eats it while watching the sun go down. He’s fictional so we can describe him as being happy with his life. Far more content than say multimillionaire George Osborne.

His life may be simple but he’s not interested handouts. He’s against a ‘something for nothing’ culture. Not like people who inherit millions from their Dads. No, but he is interested in carefully judging the least amount of work-related stress he can put in for an acceptable, livable return.

For return, read life. He’s doing the intelligent thing of putting in just enough effort to be happy and free.

The Tory view of the world is that the poor and lower-middle income earners are all proto-rich. They could all be wealthy, they just haven’t applied themselves yet. If these people just pulled their fingers out and worked much, much harder, they’d have Air Miles and Range Rovers and be a huge help to the economy.

It’s hard to see the world through someone else’s eyes, but most of us – let’s stick a Tory-like finger in the air and say categorically it’s 60% of us – have no desire to spend a single moment working any harder than we absolutely have to in order to be happy.

And it’s not because we’re feckless. It’s not because we hate the idea of owning a yacht. It’s because we want to have a good life.

We want time with friends and family. We want to sleep in. We want simple things that take time, like reading books, redecorating the spare bedroom, listening to music, walking in nature, kicking a ball around the park and unhurriedly eating a bowl of cornflakes.

Doing better than good, and why that’s never enough for Tesco – Published: 11 Aug 2009

In 1998, the government commissioned a study of the impact of big stores on market towns. It found that when a large supermarket is built on the edge of the centre, other food shops lose between 13 and 50% of their trade.

The result is the closure of some town centre food retailers; increases in vacancy levels; and a general decline in the quality of the environment of the centre.

Towns are hit especially hard where supermarkets “are disproportionately large compared with the size of the centre”.

In these cases the superstore becomes the new town centre, leaving the high street to shrivel.

Read George Monbiot’s article in full

The Tesco Effect, as witnessed by me, on my local high street…

A Tesco opens

A new Tesco opens on the high street, with its tried and tested formula...

Long established grocers Harts and also Cullens both close down.

…and long established grocers Harts and also Cullens, both of which offered a product range based on local demand, were forced to close down.

Your heritage is safe with us – Published: 16 Dec 2008

Take a look at this amazing, grade one listed building in Leeds…

Temple Mills, Leeds

And then read about how well they’re looking after it

I remember studying this building for an ‘A’ level in art history. I thought at the time this structure should be a major attraction and celebrated, locally and nationally. Now parts are falling down.

Though this is a rather extreme example, you see this sort of thing all over in the North. Visit Liverpool and see dozens of fantastic buildings simply falling to bits.

Temple Mills

Temple Mills collapses

Liverpool – introducing its all new private police force and gated city centre – Published: 28 Sep 2006

Butt-raped by the Tories, now ‘stolen’ and sold off by Labour, Liverpool is being used in yet another of John Precott’s piss-poor PFI experiments.

If you think any of that stuff I spew about Tesco and ‘High Street Anywhere’ is appalling, you’ll die a little inside when you consider what they are currently doing to city centre Liverpool. 

43 acres at the heart of this city has been demolished to build shit like this… (See picture of shitty thing below.) Gosh how happy we’ll all be. People from all over Europe will flock to Liverpool because it has the newest, sparkliest versions of all the same chainstores you can find everywhere else.

And they’ve called it The Paradise Project

The faded splendour of Liverpool’s past is not to be restored, cherished and passed on to other generations. It is to be flattened so that Specsavers can expand. Now that’s short-sighted.

It is also – horror of horrors – privatized! Liverpool sold the whole area, public rights of way and everything, on a 250 year lease to a private company (Grosvenor). So, thanks to John Prescott, Liverpool city centre will have it’s own gated rules, it’s own privately run police force, you’ll have to conform to how the Grosvenor greedsters want you to behave when you cross into their domain… 

And so Liverpool becomes a Philip K Dick novel.

Liverpool One


Anna Minton’s work is concerned with other zones of conflict, subtler or more hidden, and worryingly closer to home. In her illustrations about how space is being privatised a shocking first emerged about Liverpool.

This is the first British city to agree to privatise part of its centre. The Grosvenor Paradise Project, covering 42 acres in the heart of the city, due for completion in time for 2008, is to be privately managed. Traditional rights of way will be replaced by ‘public realm arrangements’ policed by Grosvenor’s own ‘quartermasters’ or ‘sheriffs’, in which beggars, skateboarders and protesters will be outlawed.

Grosvenor will buy-in facilities like security and waste management, usurping the local authority’s role in its own city centre. “We are now seeing a real urban renaissance. A new Agenda – A new urbanism,” says John Prescott on the Paradise Project website.

The full, alarming article on the same subject… gives you an insight into the tiny PFI-addled mind of John Prescott.

Shopping for tat is what out economy is now based on. That’s the great, great sadness here I feel.

Also it is sad that, to the current generation of politicians, the success of a town or city is measured entirely on whether people shop there.



A visitor‘ left this comment on 17 Oct 06
How will anyone tell the difference from normal though?
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 14 Oct 06
So that’ll be riots in Liverpool in the spring of 2009, then. Excellent.


The Post Post – Published: 14 Sep 2006

an american sign post So. I wanted to talk about signposts today; in fact, more specifically the post that holds up the sign.

We have nice ones here in the UK. They point to the Museum or the Halal Abattoir and are sturdy cast iron things you could chain a pet elephant to while you go into a shop to buy a hat.

Not so across the pond. Look at this sorry picture.

Why do Americans and Canadians (shame on them!) consider this super-economy-B&Q-style-no-budget-shelving-system-leftover an acceptable baton to use to bear a notice?

You see these used everywhere over there in the US. I guess it’s a product of their culture. “I don’t never use that sign, so I ain’t going to pay for no fancy post. Etc.”

For the love of Philippe Starck, get some self re-cocking-spect.

A British signpost

A British signpost

This is no post for a sign. Certainly not one you’d want in a public place. Anyone with half an ounce of civic pride would reject this post on the grounds that it looks like a very large pencil holder.

A post like this says, ‘in this town we’ve given up.’ It also says, ‘in this town the mayor sleeps in a tracksuit with bits of breakfast stuck to it and keeps wearing it to go to council meetings.’

It says too, ‘we used to have park here but now it’s a place where the government tests chemical weapons on cats. Our school is also the local Burger King.’

A Parisian signpost

A Parisian signpost

This is the type of post I’d expect to see somewhere in the frigid north, in a polytechnic car park, with a sign attached saying, ‘please mind the sick.’

Come on Americans. And come on Canadians too, you have aesthetics and should know better. Sort out your signposts. Street furniture, much like stationery, represents who you are to the world and where you want to go.

By that token, you clearly want to go and support a shelf in your dad’s garage, one that has some tubs of putty on it and an old swing-ball.



Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 14 Oct 06
Aren’t they designed that way so that drivers don’t kill themselves when they crash their cars into them?
Tim‘ left this comment on 26 Sep 06
I think a practical solution for Americans and Canadians (and I do hope they all appreciate me putting some thought into their problems) would be to plant some ivy at the bottom of each post and let it grow, using the holes to cling on.They might actaully end up looking very attractive. Someone would obviously have to keep it trimmed near the top, otherwise the sign might become obscured.

A visitor‘ left this comment on 19 Sep 06
I always assumed that they’d looked at the trade-off between strength and cost, and decided that rather than having a stiff post which would probably survive a collision with a car (but if it didn’t would be expensive to replace), the signpost designers had decided to go with the option that if someone looks at it funny it needs to be changed – but is so cheap to produce that it doesn’t matter.
A visitor‘ left this comment on 17 Sep 06
I would just like to say that it’s quite practical to have sign posts with holes in them. They don’t look nice but we save a lot of finite resources like steel and iron so that they can be used to make other more important things. I think globally there is a shortage of these materials so I would rather have a sign post with holes than no post at all.
Tim‘ left this comment on 15 Sep 06
Those aren’t pictures of sign posts, you ninny. Them’s pictures of Jesus.