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.

‘Eat that!’ yells a vilified Netto

New vast Tescos at Trafford, Manchester

Depressing, moi?

Which? Magazine (my Dad subscribes) has a feature this month called Best and Worst Supermarkets.

Forget what supermarkets do to undermine communities, this survey was purely about what they are like to shop in.

The survey placed the mighty Tesco at the very bottom of the list. ‘Eat that!’ yells a vilified Netto.

The survey looked at pricing, the freshness of fresh produce and the great British afterthought, customer service.

Participants found shopping in Tesco ‘unpleasant’ and that stores tended to have ‘surly staff’.

Quote: Tesco is also considered the supermarket which cares the least about its customers and is least trustworthy.

‘It’s too keen on profits and not keen enough on service,’ one member told Which?.

Only 27% of members felt that Tesco is helping to ease the strain on their food budget. No other store in the Which? survey was as poorly-rated in this respect.

Apollo Greed – Published: 15 Sep 2006

1. One for your web-heads to kick off…

2. We all know Tesco is an evil monopolistic greed machine, but after reading this news about them taking on Argos, I did feel just a slight sympathy for them.

Basically they’ll move into someone else’s patch (as they do, relentlessly) by launching Tesco Direct, a home shopping service which will have (slightly) better home delivery options (i.e. they’ll deliver when you are actually at home – who knew anyone wanted that?) than Argos – thus beating them!

If it were anyone other than Argos you might care. But, frankly, Argos deserve to be wiped of the face of the shoddily inferior self-assembly home furnishings planet. http://www.tescopoly.org/

3. On the subject of rampant greed… Anyone seen what they are doing to the Brunswick Centre? I went there recently to visit SKOOB – a good secondhand bookshop – only to find the urban planners were re-modelling the place. SKOOB is no more.

This is what the planners say they have done: They have created “…a fresh dialogue between the architecture of The Brunswick Centre, the local community and the general public.” Presumably that ‘fresh dialogue’ involves people spending all their money in bunch of chain stores.

Look. If you are an urban planner, why don’t you just kill yourself now? We need a cull. Then we need to start again. Everything you stand for is wrong. 

If you don know this area, it’s another quirky corner of London that’s about to have all the living quirk kicked out of it. The quirk (second hand bookshops, camera shops, independent restaurants etc.) is being be replaced by cleaned up ‘space’ home to a giant Waitrose, Starbucks, Specsavers and on and on.

It’s being turned into yet another High Street Anywhere.


Worth Waiting For

The definition of democracy is, or should be, this: the choice between two middle-aged, middleclass white men with similar views.

Democracy is worth fighting for, we are reminded quite often. We have one. And we must preserve it!

We seemingly bombed Iraq into being a democracy. They can now vote. The choice will now be two or three similar men in suits, they get to put one of them in charge.

Of course the word democratic should imply a representation of what most of us want, at any given moment.

I live in a democracy, yet I don’t see the majority of people getting their way on anything.

We got Jedi registered as a official religion, thanks to some curious census data. That seems pretty democratic. Trying to be devil’s advocate here, but can’t think of another example.


The Tories admit they made some bad decisions when they privatised the rail network, way back when. Public transport in this country is broken. And forever. Most of us, presumably, voted for them. But did we vote for them to do that? Who can we vote for to undo it? Michael Palin? (if only). 

They made changes that no one voted for. Now the choo-choos are broken. Mmmm, democracy. I’d vote for it to be mended.

I didn’t vote for the Post Office to be privatised. I was happy with it the way it was. I suspect 56 million other people felt roughly the same in the UK. Yet, for the benefit of a few share holders, they privatised it and now it’s broken.

You now have a 60-40 chance of your letter actually arriving. The kind of odds you can reasonably work with?

It’s the same with gas, with electricity, with telephones, with water, our town centres, with traffic calming, our roads, our buses, our airports, cameras watching us (we’re the most watched-by-cameras nation in the whole world).

Did any of you vote fot that?

They keep selling bits of things to private greedsters, for some short term win. I’d vote against that, if they’d let me.

It’s easier than it ever was to be democratic in the digital age. You could send a democratic text. Send ‘build no’ or ‘build yes’ to the Can Tesco Build Another Hypermarket in the middle of your Town and Restructure Your Road Network Vote. Calls cost nothing because it’s democratic.

Just an example.

We should vote on more things, since we can. Anyway. here’s something…


Stansted Airport, discuss – Published: 26 Apr 2006

Don’t know about you but I sit about just loathing Stansted Airport, day after day. It’s all I do.

Grrr! That pitiful, poo-smelling so-called transport node!

It has (official!) the most expensive airport car park in the world, the most expensive train link, a bizarre Stansted-only ‘no-pick-up or drop-off policy’ – so you can’t collect your granny after her hols in Majorca.


It’s a wearisome plastic tent full of Ryan/Easy dreariness and has a serious cash-extraction agenda. In effect it’s a car park enterprise, with an airport tagged on.

I read this week that Stansted Airport, and its rail link, also have a total ban now on bicycles! Wonderfully green and progressive attitude, that. Well done everyone concerned.

Practice Cops

Staying with bikes… If one of those new light-blue community-type almost-police officers tells you to stop riding your bike on the pavement, do you have to obey? These guys have a uniform, a radio and pac-a-mac belt attachment but, in theory, no powers of arrest. Any thoughts, please do share.

And while I’m grumbling, has anyone noticed how in-your-face pharmacists are these days? You buy some Anadin and they want to know why you want them, how many you plan to take, if you are pregnant, if you have a history of flatulence. I was told recently by a girl in Boots not to take Night Nurse more than three times per bout of illness. This is a shame as I was buying it to drink it as an aperitif each evening before dinner.

Staying with airports…

Thinking About Airports, CO2 and Luton – Published: 29 Apr 2006

easyjet ryanaire

On a recent weekend jaunt, me and C were blessed with the chance to jet off from Luton Airport (sometimes called London Luton by Easyjet and people who aren’t very good at geography).

This international node seemed remarkable to me only in that it appeared to be an airport built on a hill. Surely that’s not sensible.

Anyway, it was at Luton railway station that we saw an advert for a local nightclub, called CO2.

C02, you ask? I feel only a place like Luton would name it’s only nighclub after a harmful by-product. Oxygen – too obvious, Helium – too silly, Sodium Chloride – might attract nerds… So let’s stick with CO2! Carbon Dioxide! It’s such a sexy, glamorous gasseous molecule!

We worried that many Europeans flying into the UK might make this their first port of call. “Ah-ha! Zee sophicated breedeesh nightclub, full of charactereeztic youthful energy and joie de vivre! Zut Alor! Why are zees fat drunken breedeeshers vanting to put zee broken bouteille in my face?”

Here are some real reviews of C02 taken from the www.knowhere.co.uk guide to Hertfordshire:

  1. CO2 Club – Very crap Font Bar- Same music every night, and Drinks are stupidly priced, it’s supposed to be a student bar!
  2. Above the back of Iceland / next to the pool hall.
  3. Seamus is the only place you get generally old people, with some music, and alcohlic drinks. Other than that theres STIMULATION once a month for 14-18 when everyone that goes there is from primary skool as they get picked up by their fit mums in jags or jeeps.
  4. The rhythm club????? is that it? who knows! GO LUTON!!
  5. I’ve heard CO2 is a great place to catch HIV ( – my personal favourite) 
  6. there is only CO2 which is a bit of a dive and could end up in a fatal injury, just go to London only 20 mins train.
  7. there are aload of clubs like the shades pool clubs and hatfield youth football team and roller hockey in birtchwood hatfied is a great place loads to do sport wise.
  8. CO2 Club is not worth the visit. If your gonna give it a try I’d suggest you go with a big group of friends so you dont feel like outcasts. This place is full of attitude!
  9. C02 Club, Hatfield is great. Fridays are House, Garage, RNB and they often have top DJs & MCs there, Mike Ruffcutt Lloyd, Martin Larner, MC Viper, Pay As You Go and loads more. There’s no ‘fascist dress code’ as one person stated, but if you insist on going out clubbing straight from the ‘pigsty’ then yes there is. And as for ‘attitudes’ if you have a BAD one, then they will! Moron! Drinks are cheap too, £1 Bottle, my pocket loves it! Oh, and ONE NIGHT STAND are coming on 1st March, great line up. And EZ will be here again soon. Can’t wait. On Saturdays, its OVER 30s night, so won’t suit most you, but great for your parents!! 

Look Around You – Published: 1 Feb 2005

The only science programming currently on the BBC is a spoof science programme called Look Around You.

Inventor of the Week, Leonard Hatred demonstrates his spray-can noise blocker ‘Psilence’ on presenter Peter Packard.

From an interview with Robert Popper (co-creator of Look Aroun You)….

Collective: Which particular vision of the future do you like best and why?

Robert: I like the vision of the 1430s as proposed by the people of the 1390s. They thought that ruffs would still be in.

‘Dogs Must Be Carried’ left this comment on 5 Feb 05
I’m left wondering whatever happened to those synthesizers with built-in security alarms. Oh, yeah – they all got used on dodgy Italian dance records in the late 80s… Good old Synthesizer Patel.

Visit me @ http://dogsmustbecarried.blog-city.com/

Do the Crawl 
Published: 5 Feb 2005

So, commiserations to Daisy, baby-racer and one year old daughter of Tom and Vicky … She took part in one of Dick and Dom’s baby races this morning but didn’t really get off the blocks.

Dick and Dom in da Bungalow is a surprising funny (for adults) kids programme on Saturday Mornings. The racing of crawling babies is only one small part of the chaotic silliness.

My favourite ‘feature’ is a puppet cat who seems to be doing a weekly ‘Crap Towns‘ report. This week Letchworth Garden City… which truly is a crap town.

Need laughs? Visit the Letchworth Garden City website. Grief.

Also This Week…

Saw a film called Sideways which was one of those no-budget wonder-films. Excellent, funny, moving buddy movie stuff. You feel like you’ve had a little holiday after leaving the cinema and you’ve learn a lot about wine without really trying to.


‘Dogs Must Be Carried’ left this comment on 5 Feb 05
Bogeys is about the only funny thing on Dick & Dom (apart from when they have to apologise for wearing risque t-shirts to keep their jobs). The rest of it is sub-Tiswas drivel or, as you highlight, nicked from successful coffee table / toilet books such as The Idler’s Crap Towns series.
Bring back Sally James, I say.

Visit me @ http://dogsmustbecarried.blog-city.com/


Towns – Published: 13 Dec 2004

Dewsbury, not a cradle of common senseI’ve commented many times on this blog just how irreparably damaged Britain’s town centres are.

Chain-shopped and re-developed into characterless oblivion. I sound like a broken record.

Well here you go, here s my hometown. Right under the splendid, sturdy and proud Victorian structures of 150 years ago, right in the very heart of the town, some fuckwit allowed a tin shed to be vomited up on behalf of Matalan.

No park, no green space, no seats, nothing for the soul, just another chain store retailing the shit some poor school-age child sewed together for three cents an hour somewhere on the other side of the world.

Behind the camera is about half a mile of parking space.


A visitor‘ left this comment on 14 Dec 04
The Ex-Pats perspective
———————–I know Americans aren’t very popular right now in Europe, but one thing the Americans do well these days is civic planning.

I’ve been in the US two years now and I’m amazed at how well the zoning laws (separating commercial, industrial and residential areas from the outset) can work to create a decent, if not rather SimCity-esque place to live.

Ok, so I live in the newer, more affluent part of Southern California, where the cities started with a master-plan from the beginning. Go up to L.A. and you have a bit of a mess.

But what amazes me is that, whilst cynics might say these are boring places to live in, they are pleasant places to live. So fucking pleasant.

And sometimes, city authorities have declined an application to retail from Walmart. Good for them I say. I’m proud that a Walmart is not present in Irvine, CA.

Just this year, also, three adjacent cities, including Irvine, fought for the creation of an enormous park, to be called the Orange County Great Park, to be built following the dismantlement of a massive US Marine Air Base. Some had wanted to turn it into another airport (like we needed one, not), but sense, and public pressure rang out. When was the last time a great park was built in Britain? 1851?

Maybe I should go to Milton Keynes to make a comparison, but I imagine the Brits really could learn a thing or two from the yanks.

Ben Ranson