Monthly Archives: July 2012

A (Green) Roof Above Your Head?

by Andrew Speak, PhD candidate in Geography

There are some exciting, positive changes going on in some of the world’s cities and most people don’t even know it is happening.  That’s because it is happening above their heads!  I’m talking about green roofs.  A green roof is basically replacing conventional bitumen or concrete roof surfaces with a layer of plants.  The main type is known as an extensive green roof and consists of a thin layer of soil, which supports a mat of Sedum plants.  Sedum is a succulent plant that comes in many varieties, and has pretty flowers, but importantly can withstand the harsh conditions on a rooftop – periods of drought and high winds for example.  At the other end of the scale is an intensive roof which has a thicker soil layer that can support a wider variety of plants such as small trees, shrubs and even vegetables.

Extensive sedum green roof on Number One First Street, Manchester


Urban vegetation has many benefits, which are increasingly being recognised by city planners.  Street trees possess these benefits, but there is generally a lack of space at street level for tree planting schemes, so the space afforded by rooftops is a perfect site for urban greening.  There are a number of specific benefits:

  1. Reduced solar energy gain by building materials, through shading and replacement of concrete surfaces.  This lowers the need for air conditioning in summer which can lead to huge financial benefits.  Plants reflect more radiation than conventional urban surfaces.  Vegetation also has a cooling effect from the process of evapotranspiration which uses incoming long wave radiation to change water from liquid to gas.  The altered thermal budget of cities leads to a reduction in the Urban Heat Island phenomenon, which can make cities very uncomfortable places to be in summer.
  2. Plants act as passive filters of urban air pollution by providing a larger surface area for deposition.  Pollutants are then washed off in rains.
  3. Replacement of impervious urban surfaces with soil can reduce the pressure on urban drainage systems by acting as a storage buffer in rainfall events.  The water retained by green roofs is then returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration.  There is some evidence that pollutants can be retained within the soil layer as well, thus reducing the impact on receiving water bodies.
  4. Green roofs can provide habitats for birds and insects, thus replacing the biodiversity lost to urban sprawl.  Using native plants on green roofs is frequently promoted.
  5. Urban green space has a strong aesthetic quality and has been shown to reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being.
  6. By protecting roof membranes from huge diurnal temperature extremes and UV radiation, the lifetime of the roof is extended, thus adding another long term financial incentive.

The ability of green roofs to counteract high urban temperatures is being promoted as a form of climate change adaptation.  Work done by Manchester University’s Ecocities group has demonstrated the usefulness of green roofs to keep the city cool under future climate projections.

So if they are so beneficial, why aren’t UK cities full of them?  Currently, a lot of green roofs in this country tend to be ‘showcase’ roofs on National Trust visitor centres, garden centres and art galleries.  One inescapable reason is that green roofs do have a fairly high initial construction cost and intensive roofs can also have considerable maintenance costs.  Plus, not all existing buildings can support the extra weight that a wet or snow-laden green roof would add to the structure.  But this hasn’t stopped countries like Germany, Austria, and more recently the US and Japan, changing their googlemaps satellite street views from grey to green.

The contemporary green roof movement started in German-speaking countries.  One theory is that they sprouted spontaneously from flat roofs in Berlin that had been covered in sand as a fire-proof method after the war.   Deliberate roof garden construction was a large feature of the modernist movement, with flat roofs seen as an extra space to be utilised for enjoyment of healthy outdoor lifestyles.   The environmental movements that started in the 70s ensured growing numbers of people would start to look for alternative ways to live more sustainably.  Germany, Austria and Switzerland have always been very proficient at incorporating verdant elements into urban design, as beautifully demonstrated by the architect Hundertwasser.  Perhaps, it is something unique about the German appreciation of nature that has influenced the design of cities with a desire to bring nature into them.  Whatever the reason, Germany leads the way in green roofing with 5 square miles of green roofs being built every year, helped by government subsidies for construction costs, and policies that state new builds of a certain area with a flat roof MUST have a green roof.

‘Waldspirale’ in Darmstadt, Germany, by the architect Hundertwasser


Ubiquitous green roofing also exists in Scandinavia, where the turf roof dominates.  These roofs serve the purpose of acting as insulation from extreme winter cold, and have been in use since Viking times.   A recent trip to Norway opened my eyes to the possibilities of turf roofs, with everything from car garages to bin-sheds supporting mini-meadows.

No roof is too small for a green roof in Norway

A traditional turf roof in northern Norway


The UK lacks a definite policy at the moment with regards green roofs.  A number of architects install them on new builds, with the motivation being mostly driven by meeting BREEAM sustainability standards and getting an A or B on the Building Energy Rating, but there are no legal or carrot-and-stick methods to ensure green roofs are factored into new building designs.  Some new living roofs are even criticised because they are high-profile and well-publicised, which has led to accusations of them being a form of green-washing of neoliberal construction projects.

There are signs that the UK is catching up though.  The Green Roof Centre in Sheffield is doing great work at promoting green roofs and carrying out research on suitable plants and substrates.  They have also drawn up a UK specific code of best practice for green and living roof installation.  The Centre have been involved in a number of projects on schools, bus shelters  and university buildings, helping Sheffield towards having the highest number of green roofs.  London is also unveiling more and more green roofs of various sizes and types, often thanks to the influence of charismatic urban ecologist and green roof fanatic, Dusty Gedge.  Here in Manchester there are a number in the city centre, such as Number One First Street, The Hive, Spinningfields Apartments, Whitworth Art Gallery and MMU’s All Saint’s building.  There are a couple of notable roofs in the suburbs as well, such as the roof vegetable garden at Hulme Garden Centre and the intensive green roof on Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton which even has a pond on it!  And small DIY green roofs are popping up all over the place in people’s gardens.

So the ball is rolling, albeit slowly here in Britain.  Whether the motivation is to reduce air conditioning bills, attract wildlife, lower the burden on the city’s drains, or just have a conversation piece on the garden shed, more and more plants are sprouting up in the urban roofscape.

Andy Speak is a 3rd year Geography PhD student, investigating a number of environmental benefits of green roofs in Manchester. Watch Andrew talking about his research in this video.

Further info on green roofs:

Welcome Back Planning…

…with the release of Manchester’s Core Strategy, a new vision for the city emerges. 

by Iain Deas, Nicola Headlam and Graham Haughton, Planning, University of Manchester.

Manchester’s core strategy was approved last week (11th July 2012), setting out a series of planning policies to help realise the council’s vision for the city in 2027. The plan had already hit the headlines a month previously, when the Manchester Evening News led its front page with the headline “Manchester: the masterplan”, accompanied by a fine aerial picture of the regenerated city centre[1]. Beneath this were a series bullet points setting out Manchester’s aspiration to “join the ‘first rank’ of world cities – ahead of Milan and Munich”, with 80,000 new residents and 60,000 new homes, a built environment replete with new skyscrapers and pedestrianised zones, and a ‘jobs bonanza’ resulting from continued economic growth.

After years in the doldrums, it was of course heartening to see planning become front page news again. In a context of recurring efforts to discredit planners, it was doubly reassuring to see planning presented in a positive light.  And given the occasionally adulatory coverage of Manchester’s successes in urban regeneration, acknowledgment of the central role of planning was undoubtedly overdue.

The release of the new plan suggests that planning in the city may not be quite as irrelevant or problematic as some critics have claimed. For some years now influential voices amongst Manchester’s policy elite appear to have viewed planning as an impediment to growth. The result has been that planning concerns have often been relegated to the margins of debate about how best to engineer Manchester’s economic, social and environmental revival[2]. Sceptical views about planning have been articulated repeatedly over the last two decades. In 1995, the Manchester Evening News (p.9) carried a full page interview with the chair of the city’s planning committee, Cllr Arnold Spencer, in which he set out in forthright manner his exasperation at the increasingly anti-planning stance of the council, then under Graham Stringer’s leadership. In it, Spencer bemoans the apparent antipathy to planning amongst the city’s leaders: “Stringer has actually said that congestion is a sign of economic growth. For him all that congestion in Cross Street means the city is doing well. People are gasping with asthma, but Manchester is doing well.” This was just one year after Manchester hosted the ‘Global Forum’, a post-Rio Earth Summit meeting, which attracted 1500 visitors from over 60 countries.

For some of the key people at the heart of the growth coalition that emerged in Manchester in the mid-late-1990s, planning was an unavoidable but mundane administrative activity, not unlike environmental health, with which the formerly freestanding planning department was eventually merged. Reading between the lines of the book written by the then director of the Manchester’s planning department,[3] one can just about sense the tension between a view of planning as a formal, ordered and necessary control on development, and the strongly pro-growth, development-first view articulated by the self-styled go-getters driving the city’s growth coalition.

This tension emerged at a time when the city’s policy elites were beginning to piece together a more expansive and longer-term strategy for Manchester’s future development. Emboldened by successful efforts to attract grant funding and high profile events, and encouraged from above by Whitehall civil servants keen to see provincial cities ‘punch their weight’, the city’s leading policy actors embarked on a series of initiatives to develop strategy that extended both spatially (to the neighbouring authorities) and sectorally (to an array of participants from public agencies and business). Marginalised within this otherwise inclusive grouping was the city’s planning department. Amongst the city’s leaders, it seemed, there was little appreciation of the potential for strategic planning to offer a bold, imaginative and farsighted vision of the city of the future. Inspiration and foresight would come from elsewhere – from the movers and shakers of the city’s elite, rather than the technocrats of the planning department.

The paradox here is that although planning, as a profession and as an administrative entity in Manchester City Council, has often been side-lined, planners have often played an instrumental role in shaping efforts to regenerate the city. As Michael Hebbert has argued[4], planning principles – notably from urban design – have been central to many of the regeneration efforts for which the city has been lauded.  Urban design ideas were critical to the redevelopment of the city centre, guided by an overarching masterplan, from the late-1990s. They also underpinned the revitalisation of Hulme, and subsequently informed a design guide which extended across the city. Planners occupied senior positions in the organisation managing the regeneration of East Manchester, as well as Hulme.

The marginalisation of planning in the heyday of Thatcherism is, of course, well documented.  What is perhaps more surprising is that the ‘planner blame thesis’ has endured, undiminished amongst leading policy-makers in Manchester. The perception of planning as yet another form of red tape, stifling entrepreneurial zeal and hampering the city’s economic recovery, has been one that has proved difficult to dislodge.

This was a view that infused parts of the Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER). Prepared in 2008-09 at a reputed cost of some £1m [5] the MIER set out to sketch the city-region’s economic destiny, as seen through a series of commissioned position statements prepared by local and external experts. An LSE submission on agglomeration economies, for example, argued in robust terms that planning impeded growth. Whilst the final MIER report and recommendations acknowledged that “Manchester has a record of effective planning policies, with a high degree of co-ordination,” much of the remainder of the report talked of the need to change planning fundamentally to accord to market needs.

The MIER constituted an important part of the background against which Manchester’s newly approved Core Strategy was prepared. It set out in powerful terms the case for strengthened city-regional governance, but exemplified longstanding agnosticism about the potential role for planning in shaping Manchester’s future. Viewed in that context, the bold and expansive vision set out in the Core Strategy, and the high profile accorded to it by the city’s leaders, signals a welcome – if belated – re-embrace of planning.

The leader writer of the Manchester Evening News (19 June 2012, p.8) captures the significance of the document well:

“The plan includes many ideas that should impact on the lives of ordinary Mancunians. If there is one persistent criticism of the redevelopment of the city in recent times, it is that the positive effects have not always been felt across Manchester. There are parts of this city still characterised by deep deprivation. The benefits of a bustling city centre have not been shared as widely as they should have been. Rightly, this plan looks to address this.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves – so welcome and good luck Core Strategy on your adoption. We wish you well.

Related Post: Andreas Schulze Bäing and  Jenni Viitanen “The Manchester Core Strategy development process – could it have been more public?”

Twitter: Nicola Headlam @networknicola, Iain Deas @iaindeas

[1] Manchester Evening News 19th June 2012. See also and the lively debate in the blog that accompanies the on-line version.

[2] See e.g. Peck, J. and Ward, K. (eds.) (2002) City of revolution: restructuring Manchester, Manchester: Manchester University Press

[3] Kitchen, Ted (1997) People, Politics, Policies and Plans, Paul Chapman Press, London.

[4] Hebbert M (2010) Manchester: making it happen, in J Punter (ed) Urban Design and the British Urban Renaissance, pp.51-67, Routledge, London.

The Manchester Core Strategy development process – could it have been more public?

by Andreas Schulze Bäing (Research Fellow) and  Jenni Viitanen (Research Associate) at the  Centre for Urban Policy Studies, University of Manchester.

After a long while in the doldrums, we have a piece of good news about planning in Manchester. Since 11 July 2012, the city has an adopted core strategy. This key planning document sets out the future development strategy and vision for the city and it is part of the Local Development Framework (LDF), which was introduced by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Embracing the principles of ‘spatial planning’, the LDFs have incrementally replaced previous plans, namely local and unitary development plans which were more narrowly focused on ‘land use’. The complex nature of ‘spatial planning’ meant that practical implementation has taken years, and Manchester has proven to be no exception to this rule. Nevertheless Manchester’s ‘slowly but surely’ approach has paid off, as the formal adoption of the core strategy was preceded by successful ‘test of soundness’ by the Planning Inspectorate, a test that many English planning authorities have indeed failed since the LDF process was introduced. One criterion for ‘soundness’ is robust public consultation – after all this is a statutory requirement in the planning process. However, to secure and support public participation in planning is more toilsome than is often acknowledged. It is easy to criticise the shortcomings of such efforts; among the substantial barriers that practitioners face are institutional and political factors discussed in the twin blog about Manchester’s trajectory (link), as well as public perception of planning more widely.

When the Manchester Evening News (MEN) printed the  headline “Manchester: the masterplan”, the immediate reaction among our colleagues was – ‘a masterplan for Manchester, have we missed something?’. As it turned out, the technical nature of planning jargon can create confusion in the public domain. On the rare occasion that planning hits the headlines for reasons other than the perpetual myth of it being a barrier to economic prosperity (a view challenged by the RTPI here[1]), or the well-publicised disputes and delays over controversial schemes, it is prone to being misrepresented. Precisely because of these barriers, we warmly welcome the MEN’s positive coverage of planning. Although a planning document of Manchester city council, the core strategy places the city and its vision firmly within a broader spatial context, not only the ten Greater Manchester authorities but also Cheshire East and High Peak, and the region as was, the North West. The city region, which the document routinely refers to, is not a ‘fixed’ space. This in its own right poses questions about aspects of public participation and representativeness in creating an overarching vision which crosses the boundaries of several planning authorities. The future of Manchester airport, for example, provides one obvious example of wider impact.

It is worth reflecting on the wider dimension of this story, particularly we wish to consider the extent of the public’s awareness of and participation in creating the spatial vision for Manchester. How has the document been developed over recent years?

As noted earlier,  there is a legal requirement for what is called community consultation in planning. For the Manchester core strategy this multi-stage process is documented in detail in a Consultation Statement from February 2011[2]. The process started with a series of public events on 17th May 2005 titled “What’s the plan”, explaining the process and gathering issues that the core strategy should consider. As part of the ensuing engagement methods, 13,000 postcards were distributed asking to name the three most important future planning issues for Manchester, while planning officers went on a tour of the libraries with an exhibition about the core strategy and collecting feedback. Following this, the development of the core strategy went through further stages, Drafting Objectives followed by Issues & Options, Refining Options and finally the Proposed Option. Each of these steps provided the opportunity for input from the general public. This included comments by email or in writing and attendance at various public ‘showcase’ events. The planning team even kitted out a dedicated bus which toured supermarkets and community venues with an exhibition about the core strategy options.

The Planning Inspectorate deemed Manchester’s community consultation process to be ‘sound’. The consultation statement provides figures on the number of people involved in the process. An impressive 700 organisations and individuals have been kept up to date throughout the process by email or post. From the 13,000 postcards distributed early in the process, 387 were returned (a response rate of 3 per cent). Throughout the process the Issues & Options document received the largest extent of formal feedback with 909 comments by 80 organisations and individuals. A long list of stakeholders, companies, planning authorities, pressure and community groups who took part is detailed in the consultation document. While it provides a snapshot of ‘interested parties’, it does not reveal the extent of their influence over the final vision, or whether people felt that their voices have been ‘heard’.

Can this be described as successful community consultation? Can or should we ‘quantify’ public participation in numbers? The core strategy process certainly allowed many opportunities for the relatively limited number of individuals, groups and institutions interested in planning in the first place, to contribute. An issue often overlooked is a qualitative evaluation of who was involved; young people, for example, tend to be underrepresented, as well as ethnic minorities, to mention but a few groups whose stake in a successful city vision would seem essential. It is telling that the consultation statement notes that whilst information on individual respondents’ age, sexuality, ethnicity etc. was gathered at the early stages of the consultation, this was abandoned as the response rates were too low to be meaningful. This is not surprising – the efforts of the planning officers involved were laudable, but the fruits of their labour in terms of sparking wider interest and debate about planning are limited. Creating a city-wide debate reaching people less enthusiastic about planning might require more pro-active efforts and perhaps a different approach. We should not forget the influence of leadership, and acknowledge the limited scope that planners sometimes have ‘on the ground’. It is still worth exploring how the principles of ‘collaborative planning’ might be implemented more effectively in practice.

One idea would be to set up an urban forum at an early stage of such a planning process combined with a media strategy reporting about the events and their impact. One of the cities where this has been tried is Berlin, where planners faced huge challenges in the early 1990s following reunification. Based on experiences in cooperative planning from the IBA in the 1980s, the so-called Stadtforum Berlin was introduced as an advisory committee for urban development. Its 50 expert members included different social groups and interested politicians, as well as planning academics and practitioners. Its monthly meetings were public, often held in large lecture halls[3][4] allowing larger audiences to attend. Findings from this forum were fed into the formal policy making process of the Berlin city council. The forum exists to this day though meetings and events are less regular[5]. The idea of a Stadtforum has subsequently been applied in a number of other European cities including Copenhagen, Graz, Vienna, Zurich, Munich, Hannover and Linz[6].

It will always be challenge to capture the public’s  interest in sometimes abstract and large scale ‘spatial planning’ and related participation processes, be it local, regional or national focus. Most people are mainly concerned about their immediate neighbourhood or about specific planning issues such as traffic congestion or particularly in England developments on greenbelt land.

In seems that the team behind the core strategy development in Manchester attempted to create two events in 2005 and 2008, provided on a smaller scale and offering a similar public forum of debate to the one in Berlin. But a more continuous public discussion with input from academic and practising planners and more regular reports in the local media could be worth trying for the next big plan in Manchester. It would also provide a welcome challenge for the research community to stick their heads above the parapet.

Related Post: “Welcome Back Planning – with the release of Manchester’s Core Strategy, a new vision for the city emerges” by Iain Deas, Nicola Headlam, and Graham Haughton.

Twitter: @baeing and @jenniviitanen

Manchester: Explorations of Meaning in the Sounds of the City

Image by Rafael de Oliveira on Flickr


by Alex Allred.

Alex is a postgraduate student at NOVARS Centre for Electroacoustic Composition, Performance and Sound Art.

The steady rolling rumble of the busses, the screaming throttle of a passing motorbike, jet engines above, sirens below, “tough” lads singing in the street after several inspirational pints, the city is always moving, always changing. The sounds of Manchester are loud, rough, and industrial. Like its own history, the city is hard. As the center of the industrial revolution, Manchester was filled with hard working people who endured difficult living and working conditions, indoors and out of doors. To understand the acoustic environment of the city, one must first ask ‘what comprises a “city”’; its people, spaces, and noises, its history, or its climate? From the diversity of its inhabitants, to the massive and ever-growing population of students, artists, workers, no ones, some ones, everyone, all occupying space, interacting with each other, and adding a new dynamic in the production of the city’s collective sound.

Setting out to explore the sonic environment of a city is a daunting task. Seeking to discover how and where meaning is attributed, in relationship to the acoustic environment, is a different beast all together. The aim is not to provide a definitive answer to these questions but to set out in a dialogue that employs landscape and acoustic ecologies with an anthropological perspective of culture, place and sound. In a recent document, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, aimed at establishing soundscape ecology as a branch of study, the author states:

‘Sounds are a perpetual and dynamic property of all landscapes. The sounds of vocalizing and stridulating animals and the non-biological sounds of running water and rustling wind emanate from natural landscapes. Urban landscapes, in contrast, are dominated by human-produced sounds radiating from a variety of sources, such as machines, sirens, and the friction of tires rotating on pavement’ (Pijanowski et al., 2011).

The document goes on to set out how one might study the production of sound. Setting out three branches of sound in landscape: Geophony or non-biological sound, Biophony or biologically produced sound, and Anthrophony, human produced sound. These categories help to ‘place’ sounds so that they can easily be discussed.

The meanings of the sounds in a city are ever changing, yet timeless through memory. The three spheres of landscape sound help one to view the interactions between the producers, and subsequently, to find the meaning in the sound. In such a discussion, it is necessary to ask questions without clear answers, to break down the structures already in place and examine the personal relationship between memory, as time and place, and the sounds of a city. In this discussion, I will address the sonic environment from the macro to the micro. We will look first at the city as a whole, then at one of its main arteries, Oxford Road, and finally, at Whitworth Park on the southern tip of Oxford Road. The accompanying soundscape composition of this project aims to demonstrate how the everyday sounds of Manchester relate to each other and interact in a given acoustic environment, evoking personal associations and displaying attributions of meaning through sound. Just as Steven Feld came to view the sonic environment of Basavi, Papua New Guinea, as an integral part of any discussion regarding the ecology of the Kaluli, one must also consider the significance of Manchester’s sonic environment when exploring the meaning of sound in the city (Feld & Brenneis, 2004).

The city breathes. The city changes. The city creates. Manchester is a place that stands out from others in the United Kingdom, even many others in the world. The structures that shape the city are as strong as the pride of the hard working people who call it home. Yet, with all of its strength, Manchester has a cultural transparency that demonstrates the city’s core identity, namely, the collective energy of its diverse and vibrant population. As the clocks turn forward, the faces that color the grey gloomy streets are ever changing. Thousands of students travel in and out of the city with each passing term. It is not uncommon to hear people say ‘It is quiet in the city this week, the students must be away’. Clearly, the gauge of the city’s activity and life is often based on the presence and level of noise.

The city sounds of wind, rain, engines and people making noise; that fact seems never to change. Whether by activities such as walking, or through vocalization, humans interact by means of sound. Such universality calls into question ‘what did Manchester sound like in previous decades or centuries’? Perhaps an ear to the past will provide some context for the sounds of today. In his book, Victorian Soundscapes (2003), John Picker describes the sounds of London in a time where the celebrities included figures like Charles Dickens, Alfred Tenysson, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell. The personal accounts of people like these shed light on the acoustic environment of times past. In the Victorian era, the discussion of sound, and its effects on the lives of all who hear, was actually more of a heated debate. Charles Dickens penned a petition aimed at stopping the performance of street musicians, namely Italian immigrants or ‘organ grinders’. The petition was signed by an impressive list of Victorian authors, artist and scientists including Alfred Tennyson, J. E. Millais, Francis Grant, Forester, Leech, Carlyle, Wigan, and so on (61). It would appear that the public disdain for the sound of the organ grinders was more closely connected to personal prejudice and political stance against immigration than that of the sounds themselves. However, Leech, at the time, defined the struggle as economic, occupational and nationalistic in nature (64).

In 1864, Charles Babbage wrote a list of ‘”instruments of torture” in use on the streets of London, including “The human voice in its various forms” “shouting out objects for sale,” in addition to the predictable musical suspects of organs, brass bands, and fiddles’  (57). These ‘noises’, or sounds produced in the public sphere that could not be controlled, caused great psychological and even physical distress for those who opposed, especially Leech (61). Prior to the debate over organ grinders, Florence Nightingale had already addressed the connection between ‘unnecessary noise’ and health and well-being (65-66). The sounds that nearly drove the great Victorian minds into insanity are not so different from the soundscape of today. Construction noise, human voices, and non-biological sounds of wind and rain are ever-present in the city’s sonic history. High heels have replaced the clicking and clacking of shoed horses prancing down the stone streets. Rumbling engines and the passing buzz of rolling tires replace the hollow bang of wooden carts and carriages. Music fills the streets of Manchester, whether performed on the street, or spilling out of pubs, clubs and passing cars, some things are timeless.

As humans, meanings are attributed to locations based on personal association to a specific place. This phenomenon can include activities that have occurred, as well as the sites, the smells, and the overall sensory experience. Specifically, sounds associated with a place, regardless of location and time, allow for humans to feel a continued sense of connectivity to a place on an individual level. The acoustic properties of a space cause shifts in human emotion. Physical elements of the materials encompassing a space are perceived by the mind as entailing certain qualities. For example, pastoral feelings such, as tranquility along with imagery of unheard natural elements, can be easily experienced in a park filled with rustling leaves and the soft sound of birds chirping; the experience remains with or without the park. The soothing tones of geophony and biophany, compared to the more hurried sounds of energy within a city center, proves that places are moments, events, and happenings; far more than they are simply spaces. (Casey, 1996) Unknowingly, humans actively participate within a space by both contributing sounds and absorbing them. People create the sounds as well as simply experience them.

Within Manchester, Oxford Road is the place in which one can easily contextualize the concept of distinct acoustics associated with personal meaning. Along this road lies the real life of the city; the universities, the pubs, the clubs, the restaurants, all full of people. Like an artery, Oxford Road acts as an extension of the unwanted noise such as construction and traffic to and from the City Centre. No matter the time of day, the spilling sounds of car engines and buses are balanced out by the quiet energy of the contrasting parks. Since the late 1800s, Oxford Road has been the heart of travel. From trams to horse and carriages, the foundational sense of the road itself has been movement, bring with it the sounds of engines, rails, bikes, and pedestrians (Anderson, 2012).

The inhabitants of the city are not the ones directly causing unwanted noise. Most seek interaction with each other in a secluded, controlled, and most importantly, dry space. The problems with the sonic environment come from all of the city’s gears grinding away as they fight to support the infrastructure. Manchester, even Oxford Road, as seen today is a city of neighborhoods and villages connected by centuries of industrial expansion. The greatest maladies in the sonic qualities of the city are those which move and support the support the city’s most basic needs: busses, trams, trains, and cars moving the people around. Trucks beep as they back into a tight alley to supply food or remove waste. Saws grind away and hammers pound out fleeting pulsations as the sounds of construction and renovation fill the air. These are sounds with which Manchester is quite familiar, sounds of progress, seemingly as continuous as its ancient history. The sound, however, represents more than the simple byproducts of construction, it also represents the efforts of the laborer.

As the sounds of nature are pushed farther away from the everyday lives of those who reside in the city, people are reaching for a new sonic environment. Every day thousands walk the streets and ride the busses with headphones plugged in and the sound turned up. Unresponsive to sonic stimuli around them, the listener is being immersed, even transplanted in some way. For those who are unplugged, the change in sonic environment often comes by visiting natural, open spaces and seeking out the sounds of the landscape wherever they can be found in the urban jungle.  Parks, courtyards, fields, or any green spaces offer a place to relax, reconnect, and enjoy life in its natural environment.

As a space, parks act to grant access to the earth below, a place for escape from the rigidity surrounding it; stone, brick, pavement and glass all around, accepting no sound, only passing on each piercing noise. In “Echoless: The Pathology of Freedom and the Crisis of Twentieth-Century Listening”, Veit Erlmann (2010) brings the views of philosophers, scientists and writers from the twentieth century into a dialogue surround the nature of listening and its correlation to one’s self. The ‘echolessness’ of a modern urban soundscape may cause the mind to interpret the space as un-natural and foreign, far removed from the sounds of the landscape. Georg Simmel, a critic of modernity, attributed the ‘alienation’ of society as being caused by more people, more noise, and less space (Erlmann, 2010). Certainly, these issues only grow in scale each year, but what does that mean for quality of life in metropolitan areas?

In the park, the texture is soft. Fields of dark green grass soak up sound like a thick carpet. Soft leaves hang from the enormous, outstretched arms of the oak trees as they reach to catch the light and the wind. The trees break the wind and provide shelter from rain, but they also produce their own acoustic dynamics. While still holding onto the branches, the leaves rustle with the gentle breeze, but the wood creaks as it sways in the stormy gusts. When the seasons change and the leaves fall to the ground, they become percussion instruments, waiting to be played by a visitor’s carefree step. The subtlety of such sounds can be experienced in the park because the environment acts to absorb sound, as opposed to the majority of the city’s hard surfaces, which simply reflect the noise.

Situated on the southern end of Oxford Road is Whitworth Park, the dividing landmark between Rusholme and Moss Side. Opened in 1890, the park was established as a place to experience an oasis from the hard life of the city, giving individuals a place to experience nature and freedom from the dust and smog of the streets. Peeling back the jungle of noise, Whitworth Park, even in its establishing documents, was conceptualized as a place for families to interact with one another and individuals to finally relax, free from the vices of the pub. Built in coordination with the previously established Whitworth Institute, the aim was to ‘secure a source of perpetual gratification to the people of Manchester & and cultivate taste and knowledge of the Fine Arts of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture’ (Giles & Jones).

Parks are timeless. Children will always play, just as weary souls will always need a welcoming bench in the shade of the trees. At the time of its opening, Whitworth Park had a bandstand, sailing lake, observatory, flower beds, fountains, and shelters (Giles and Jones). Although visual evidence the park’s past grandeur has all but disappeared, Whitworth Park continues to maintain the essence of its mission. Remaining connected to the Whitworth Art Gallery provides the park with a secondary meaning. More than a space with trees and grass, the park is an extension of the human experience, art in the gallery and art in the park. Today, the park is not riddled with structures, but instead, has a comforting sparseness. Paths lead from the four corners of the park to a central circle of flowerbeds. The children’s play area has been left as a natural area, tucked under the trees with leaves and dirt covering the ground. This ‘natural area’ provides a place for children to be loud, to enjoy the outdoors and run, free from the noise, the pavement, and the social structures of the street. The significance of the park’s acoustic qualities are not found solely in the absence of human sound, or in the presence of pastoral sounds. The significance of the park’s sonic environment is in the presence of both human and non-human sounds operating in a greater level of balance.

The soundscape composition that accompanies this paper is meant to pull each of these sounds from the city and its original context, and through their organization, to demonstrate their significance. By using these everyday sounds of the city, it becomes clear that through association, personal attribution of meaning and of memory are evoked. The soundscape works by painting sonic scenes, taking the listener from place to place throughout the city. The sounds, paired with an associated texture, set the scenes on the brief, yet sonically diverse, sensory journey.

The first fifteen seconds place the listener in an environment with water, running or falling, as the distant but steady rumble of a jet engine passes overhead. After the first fifteen seconds, the texture builds with the sound of leaves crackling underfoot while magpies call back and forth with a shrill crow. After thirty seconds, a bus pulls up to the stop and the squeaking breaks ring out with a shrill, high-pitched cry. Forty-five seconds into the scene the listener is on the bus, overhearing the conversations of the fellow travelers in the confines of the crammed moving box. Just after the one-minute mark, the listener has arrived in Piccadilly Gardens and hears a young man yelling about the pride of the Manchester City Football Club. A passing cart clicks and clacks over the patterned arrangement of the stone street. One minute and twenty-five seconds in, one can hear the whistles of the trams as they approach from a distance. The surrounding crowd of people can be heard speaking multiple languages as they pass by, occasionally raising their voices to be heard over the ambient sound. Just before the two-minute mark, a woman in high heels taps past in a steady, yet fleeting pulsation. At two minutes thirteen seconds, the tram approaching earlier passes just beside the listener. The whistle is abrasive and startling, followed by the screeching of metal as the wheels squeeze the steel tracks. Two minutes twenty-five seconds, a cyclist slowly cruises by as the petals click with each turn of the tires. Two minutes and forty seconds into the acoustic journey, the previously faint and distant construction noise becomes more present and eventually, overpowering all other sounds. When the sound of the electric saw cuts out, the listener can hear the traveler notice playing in the background on the nearby tram platform. As the noise of the trams, saws, and wind gain intensity, the dynamics of the voices surrounding become louder. When the environmental sounds become loud, those speaking must fight to be heard.

Now headed back down Oxford Road on foot, busses, cars and bikes zip past the listener, marked by the occasional honking car horn. On Oxford Road, traffic lights spread the vehicles out into groups of racing traffic. Moments of engines screaming throttles are matched by moments of relative quiet. Three minutes and eighteen seconds, a car with loud speakers quickly passes, demonstrating the Doppler effect heard so many times each day in Manchester. Just before the four-minute mark, a trash collector walks past as he pushes his cart down the pavement, whistling a tune over the busy noise of the city. After four minutes, the listener arrives at Whitworth Park. The sound of the place being distinctly different from the previous scenes, one can hear the birds sweetly chirping while the children play on the swings under the trees. While hearing the children play, one can make out the busses passing not so far away, and the beeping of a truck as it backs up somewhere in the distance. The crackling leaves and the calling magpies reenter the scene to mark the natural environment.  Just after five minutes, the rainfall becomes a steady drizzle, bouncing off of the leaves of a sheltering tree while cars pass the park driving through the water that stands on the road. The rain, which Manchunians unwillingly learn to endure, becomes subtly and beautiful in the acoustics of the Park.

The experience takes the listener out of their circumstances and places them in a series of memories and associations. Connecting the sounds of Manchester today with the sounds of Manchester over a century ago, the interaction between the three sound producers, geophony, biophony, and anthrophony, raises questions about the sonic future of the city. Manchester is a diverse and vibrant city filled with a multitude of sounds. All of the textures, spaces and sounds of the city evoke memories of places, events, feelings, and associations for all of its inhabitants, but who is actually listening?

Alex has created a soundscape piece to accompany this text which can be played below. Both text and composition were first performed at Locative Audio event organised by NOVARS on June 29th 2012.

Works Cited

Anderson, B. (2012). Rusholme and victoria park archive. Retrieved from

Casey, E. S. (1996). How to get from space to place in a fairly short stretch of time: phenomenological prolegomena. In S. Feld & K. H. Basso (Eds.),Senses of Place (pp. 13-46). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

Erlmann, V. (2010). Reason and resonance: A history of modern aurality. (pp. 307-342). New York: Zone Books.

Feld, S. (1996). Waterfalls of Song: An acoustemology of place resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Ginuea. In S. Feld & K. H. Basso (Eds.),Senses of Place (pp. 13-46). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

Feld, S., & Brenneis, D. (2004). Doing anthropology in sound. American Ethnologist31(4), 461-474.

Picker, J. M. (2003). Victorian soundscapes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pijanowski et. al.(2011). Soundscape ecology: The science of sound in the landscape. BioScience61(3), 203-216.

Ten Years After! What is the Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games for Manchester?

The B of the Bang was a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick and was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games.


In July and August 2002 the city of Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games.  This eleven day event was to mark the beginning of a strategy to systematically redevelop the east of Manchester.  After decades of losing its population and suffering multiple forms of distress, the plan was to use the Games to reintegrate the area’s neighborhoods back into the wider space economy.  New East Manchester, an urban regeneration company, was established to oversee the redevelopment.  Fast forward to July 2012 and London is about to host the Olympics.  A central feature of the discussions prior to the Games has been over their legacy in the area to the east of London.  This has involved learning from the efforts of other cities, such as Manchester, who have hosted major cultural and sporting events.

On 10 July 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the current state of East Manchester and the on-going legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue.  The aim is to develop understandings that can inform the wider redevelopment efforts in the city, particularly in the context of shrinking public sector finances. Below are some brief provocations from each panelist to initiate reflection and debate.

Pete Bradshaw, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Infrastructure, Manchester City Football Club.

Ten years on… legacy in action or inaction?

The Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly captured the imagination of people across our city, our region, our nation and across the Commonwealth too.

Manchester and its city region had gained valuable experience in bidding for two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) and in doing so, had the opportunity to stage a variety of international sporting events and an insight and understanding of what Games’ host cities needed – and indeed the risks involved. Embarking on a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games therefore, would need to be founded in reality, deliverability and should leave lasting legacy for the people of Manchester and for sport, locally, regionally and nationally.

When considering the development of Games’ facilities – it would be critical that they should be fit-for-purpose insofar as the Games were concerned, but no less important would be the need for those very facilities to provide a life beyond the Games without the need for further funding whilst developing new opportunities, events, inward investment and jobs.

Facilities  for the future and in helping deliver legacy would only be one consideration; participation and engagement another. Some twenty years previous, the Sports Council in its launch of Sport – The Next ten Years noted: “Although participation is made possible through facility provision, it is made actual only by sensitive management, inspiring leadership and energetic promotion”. Never more would this be the case with the legacy of Manchester 2002.

Programmes and activities directly related to the Games were (and are) there for all to see, successful at the time and in some cases setting precedence for events and investments ten years on. 15,000 Volunteers engaged with M2002 Pre Volunteer Programme and across the city we can still find them working on events and engaged in jobs as a result. There was Games XChange which created a comprehensive data base and event information resource; the Community Curriculum Pack shared with local education authorities from across the region whilst Let’s Celebrate engaged people of all ages in arts, cultural and events management. Passport gave people access to opportunities which included art, sport, environment, health and jobs and these were supported by Healthier Communities and Prosperity North West programmes.

The emerging development of east Manchester in 2012 is testament to the faith City leaders places in the Manchester 2002 Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure of Sportcity helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognises the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhood.

The changing, even unstable economic climate has presented challenges, no doubt, but the grounding, the character, the leadership and aspiration that lead City leaders to host the XVII Commonwealth Games is vital to our future success and the creation of and access to opportunities for people in our city. I remain convinced that there has been and will continue to be action and investment, there is certainly confidence in this city and about this city.

Rev. David Gray – Faith Network for Manchester and Growing faith in Community

Building trust between communities and practitioners is essential

Having been the workshop of the world during the great industrial push when mines, mills, factories and foundries were producing steel, cotton, coal and railway rolling stock for communities around the world, by the 1990’s East Manchester had become the most disadvantaged community inWestern Europe. Following industrial decline, the well meaning but empathy void slum clearances had broken the back and the heart of the community. Intricate connections reminiscent of eco systems like the Wood Wide Web were broken as orchestras, extended family networks, faith communities; sporting and artistic societies were broken up forever. As psychopathic predators preyed on the children who dwelt in a landscape where a once proud people no longer seemed to matter to those who wielded power, the working class became the post-working class and fell to their knees feeling useless, overlooked and de-skilled. Mortality rates rose to endemic levels due to the impact of hitherto misunderstood industrial diseases; mental ill-health spread like a plague and crime and anti-social behaviour took root among the disaffected. In a trail of broken promises from politicians and planners, hope began to retreat. Children growing up in a culture of unemployment that had been passed on like a baton down several generations lost any concept of there being a link between school and potential career paths.

In due course, a remnant of community activists and a new generation of regeneration professionals began to address the issues. But trust that had been broken had to be re-earned. The prospect of the Commonwealth Games being hosted in East Manchester came with mixed blessings. On one hand, this offered energising hope for the future – but on the other, fears of the gentrification of the area were fuelled as the dreaded compulsory purchases of living memory were once again used to destabilise the existing community.

The games themselves proved an uplifting experience for those local people who managed to remain in the community. Manchester Royal Artillery at nearby Belle Vue Barracks had been threatened with being disbanded, but received a reprieve when myself and others wrote to her Britannic Majesty to plead their cause as a force for good in our community, resulting in a battery salute from artillery field guns opening the games themselves.

The summer of 2002 was a balmy one and the atmosphere around the games was positive for visitors and host community alike.

The games over, a new threat reared its head when the politicians and planners put all their eggs into one basket with a proposal to regenerate the East Manchestereconomy by creating a super casino. Once again the long suffering community was filled with dread.

‘Communities for Stability’ was formed to explore alternatives and the Faith Network for Manchester held a conference “Gambling with our Future” that explored the positives of job creation alongside negatives such as organised crime, sexual exploitation and the impact of habitual gambling. Soon local communities were shouting loudly for something more diverse that was built on local experience and the diversity of the communities of this great city. In short, they were saying: “Bring Back Belle Vue – but with a modern, ethical ethos”.

In due course myself – by now made redundant from my post as community coordinator on the team that restored Gorton Monastery and going through the transition to becoming a sole trader – and unemployed trades union steward Damian Carr compiled, in consultation with local people, businesses, faith and community groups, Manchester City Football Club, police officers, teachers, children and health professionals a business plan that, with the help of Sir Gerald Kaufman, we presented to then communities minister Hazel Blears.

We took with us the directors of a company wishing to bring an eco-affordable housing manufacturing base to the area.

A lot has happened since that meeting. The Moscow and Chinese State Circuses have visited East Manchester; in September we will host a Circus themed parade and Carnival and the legacy of sporting and leisure represented by the games and the old Belle Vue have begun to inform the way ahead. But there is still no eco-affordable housing manufacturing base here, despite all the signs of its being sorely needed.

With a new national speedway stadium in the pipeline and the reintroduction of animal features such as EST Donkey Centre where Donkey’s housed in five star accommodation work to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties, the magic of Belle Vue is unfolding once again.

This is part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, but it has been far from easy for local people to help drive new initiatives with so many disappointments in the fields of politics and banking in our national life. We are determined that our future is not driven by the greed and self interest of a minority of people who are unlikely to settle here themselves to share a stake in our unfolding future. We don’t say we know best, but we do say that unless the indigenous populace – including people who settle here from other lands – are thoroughly involved in what emerges post Commonwealth Games, the damage done by previous waves of regeneration will be compounded and our communities, indeed our national life itself, may never recover from the resultant wounds, allowing apathy to take a hold that will slowly throttle breath out of democracy as people cease to exercise their voting power within a system in which they have totally lost faith.

Camilla Lewis, Social Anthropology PhD candidate, University of Manchester

An uncertain future?

In 2002, the Commonwealth Games were championed as a win-win solution for Manchester. The sporting event would bring worldwide attention and investment to the city and offer a unique opportunity to kick start social regeneration and transform the fortunes of some of Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods. East Manchester was chosen as an ideal site as it offered large, cheap, de-industrial areas suitable for the main sporting facilities. Over the past ten years, under the banner of ‘New East Manchester’, the area has been radically transformed through multiple processes of rebranding and rebuilding. The industrial past has been largely erased in order to refashion the landscape and, in turn, to create a sustainable, cohesive community. This begs the questions; what kind of legacy has the Games produced and have the expectations of the ambitious regeneration plans been met?

The answers to these questions are complex and contested. East Manchester is a large geographical area with a heterogeneous social landscape. Since local people report constant changes to neighbourhoods it is very difficult to talk about how a single event has changed people’s experiences in a uniform way. Rather than one moment of transformation, the social life and landscape in the area have been reconfigured in multiple ways with changes accelerating over the past decade. While there have been many positive reactions to the newly configured landscape, many local residents feel that the area is characterised by a sense of precariousness and uncertainty about the future. Despite the continuing regeneration efforts, East Manchester is still socially and spatially dislocated from the rest of the city. The future and sustainability of the area is questioned, due to the persistence of high levels of unemployment. In this context, new dynamics of social life have emerged in which relations to place have been reconstituted around historical ideas about community rather than a linear idea of progress and development. The Games promised to instill a sense of certainty and optimism for East Manchester which would be based on a socially accepted ambition towards progress. However, ten years after, community in the past is often remarked on with nostalgia and warmth whereas the future is described as uncertain.

Tom Russell,  former Chief Executive of New East Manchester

Lessons for driving social and economic renewal?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games, by common accord, was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester. It also has had wider significance in  terms of the approach adopted by London towards the staging of the 2012 Olympics, and by Glasgow in looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success in 2002.

The city was always clear, through the bidding process for the event and beyond, that it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Heavily influenced by Barcelona’s approach to the 1992 Olympics, the city’s primary objective was the comprehensive economic, physical and social renewal of the east of the city, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country in terms of poverty and urban deprivation. Yet the relationship between an international sporting event – elitist by definition and frozen in  a moment in time – and deep-seated problems of urban decline and renewal is not obvious, and cities have faced considerable criticism over the cost and opportunity cost that such events involve.

My contribution to the Forum will aim to examine this relationship and evaluate progress towards the ambitious objectives Manchester set itself, the continuing challenges that the area faces, and the lessons that can be drawn from Manchester’s experience of harnessing a major international event to drive economic and social renewal.