Monthly Archives: April 2013

Urban land and conflict in the global South

by Melanie Lombard, Global Urban Research Centre, School of Environment and Development

In an urbanising world, land is a critical issue. In cities of the global South, where most urbanisation is taking place, where and how people access land is one of the most pressing concerns for citizens and states alike. However, land as a resource is subject to scarcity, whether actual or market driven, and is often associated with urban conflict. The insecure tenure deriving from informal transactions is seen as a source of wider insecurity; the interests of informal settlers and private commercial interests frequently conflict; contestation of urban spaces between non-state actors and state actors is common; and the latter often perceive informal land development as unruly and conflictual because it is not regulated by state law. Meanwhile, widespread attempts to implement legalisation programmes are themselves contentious, as land tenure processes are often ‘complicated, political and violent’ (Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002, 241). However, relatively little is known about the precise causes and consequences of land conflict in rapidly urbanising cities.

These were some of the considerations that informed the agenda for a workshop on ‘Urban land and conflict in the global South’, hosted by the Global Urban Research Centre at the University of Manchester on 14 March 2013. Funded by cities@manchester and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, the event brought together a diverse group of (mainly) early career researchers, presenting work on these themes from a variety of fields including urban planning, urban studies, development studies, and conflict management, carried out in diverse contexts including South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Cambodia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. We were accompanied by colleagues from the University of Manchester who introduced and chaired sessions, as well as Professor Carole Rakodi of Birmingham University, and Dr Leonith Hinojosa of the Open University, who as discussants offered incisive comments on the content of the papers, drawing on their own extensive research experience in these fields.

The broad aim of the day was to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to exploring the relationship between urban land and conflict in cities of the global South, including the linkages between land conflict and violence in the urban setting, and policy responses to this. The quality of the presentations and ensuing discussions resulted in a fascinating and stimulating workshop. At the end of the day, considering how to develop future research agendas in this area, several key themes which offered particular analytical challenges stood out, namely: defining conflict in diverse urban settings; interrogating categories used to understand land development and conflict and to devise policy responses; identifying relevant actors and examining the connections between them; and incorporating scale into the analysis.

Defining conflict

Urban conflict – understood as social tensions, antagonisms and the ‘many forms of low-level instability’ (Beall et al. 2011, 5) that occur frequently in the urban environment – does not necessarily result in violence and so tends to receive less research and policy attention than civil war or violent insurgency. However, ‘protracted social conflict’ (Azar et al. 1978), marked by successive violent episodes, is arguably more common and more intractable; and although less visible, latent or everyday conflict may be equally damaging for local populations. Conceptions of conflict need to be rethought in urban contexts, to take account of the diversity of urban social and political contexts, plural legal and governance systems, and the tendency for land conflict to overlap with and be exacerbated by ethnic or other identity-based tensions, blurring the boundary between ‘divided cities’ and ‘peaceful’ ones. For instance, Kamna Patel’s paper on urban upgrading in South Africa considered how the characteristics of urban settings influence land-related conflict, particularly the ways in which identity may influence claims and contestations.

Interrogating categories

Typically, processes of urban land development are characterised as either ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, and the ‘formal’ (tenure and related arrangements governed by state law, administration and policy) tends to be privileged, despite persistent critiques of this dichotomous framework (e.g. Roy 2005). A second challenge, then, is to interrogate hierarchical categories and their implications for understanding and addressing urban land conflict. A common response to urban land conflict has been attempted tenure formalisation. Colin Marx’s research from South Africa showed how this is underpinned by a categorisation of land management practices into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. As a ‘solution’ to informal land tenure, formalisation is often preferable to displacement, an issue explored in Philippa McMahon’s paper on relocation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; but Beth Chitekwe-Biti’s work on upgrading in Namibia suggested that it may reproduce as much as ameliorate poor residents’ vulnerability to insecurity and exacerbate conflict.

Identifying actors

Essential to any analysis of the links between urban land and conflict is an understanding of the role of the state and other diverse actors. Environmental governance perspectives suggest focusing on resource coordination processes involving multiple actors (Budds and Hinojosa 2012); equally important is the power dimension underpinning the state’s fluctuating relations with other actors. Sara Fregonese’s paper on hybrid sovereignties in Beirut, Lebanon suggested the need to move beyond state/non-state dichotomies in the context of urban territorial conflict, while Sobia Kaker’s paper showed how land conflict emerges through ‘enclavisation’ in Karachi, Pakistan, when urban residents re-territorialise ordinary neighbourhood spaces in response to the state’s failure to address urban insecurity. In particular, state-market relations may determine intervention, in turn affecting state-citizen relations, as shown in Ozlem Celik’s work from Istanbul, Turkey. The third challenge is thus to identify the key actors involved in land conflict in particular urban settings, and the specific relations between them.

Incorporating scale

Finally, it is important to consider scale in analysing the development of urban land conflict. In my own work on local land conflict in two provincial Mexican cities, I explore the influence and interaction of global, national and regional factors on urban land conflict. However, multi-scalar approaches must incorporate local agency, relating to local power systems but also neighbourhood and household dynamics, where everyday conflicts frequently emerge and may be resolved, as suggested by several of the presentations.

Taken together, these four analytical challenges support the need to develop a further theoretical and empirical research agenda in this as yet under-researched field. While there has been considerable discussion of land conflict in rural contexts (Pons-Vignon and Solignac Lecomte 2004, USAID 2005, Huggins 2010, Development and Change 2013), it remains relatively underexplored in the urban setting. Some previous works have considered land tenure and urban poverty (e.g. Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002; Payne 2002) and conflict within urban land delivery systems (e.g. IDPR 2006), and there have been some attempts to assess policy interventions (e.g. Payne et al 2009). In addition, attention to conflict in urban areas has increased in recent years (e.g. Beall et al 2011; Moser and Horn 2011; Moser and Rodgers 2012). However, the specific land-conflict nexus remains curiously under-researched in the urban environment, perhaps because it is often difficult and risky to research conflict and violence, and because interventions that explicitly seek to address poor people’s needs may challenge powerful economic and political vested interests. Nevertheless, continued rapid urbanisation; the effects of wider conflicts on urban areas and their roles in post-conflict situations; cities’ contribution to national economic development; and the evolving links between investors and property interests at global, national and local levels all make a pressing case for further exploration of these issues. The workshop provided a first step in this direction, and hopefully offered a platform for future collaboration between researchers in this field.

 

References

Azar, E., Jureidini, P. and McLaurin, R. (1978) ‘Protracted Social Conflict: Theory and Practice in the Middle East’ Journal of Palestine Studies 8(1), 41-60.

Beall, J., Goodfellow, T. and Rodgers, D. (2011) Cities, Conflict and State Fragility. Crisis States Working Paper Series No.2. London School of Economics.

Budds, J. and Hinojosa, L. (2012) ‘Restructuring and rescaling water governance in mining contexts: The co-production of waterscapes in Peru’ Water Alternatives 5(1), 119-137.

Development and Change (2013) Special issue: Governing the global land grab: The role of the state in the rush for land. 44(2), 189-471.

Durand-Lasserve, A. and Royston, L. (eds.) (2002) Holding their Ground: Secure Land Tenure for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Huggins, C. (2010) Land, Power and Identity, Roots of violent conflict in Eastern DRC. London: International Alert.

International Development Planning Review (2006) Special Issue on conflict and accommodation in land delivery processes in African cities. 28(2), 127-285.

Moser, C. and Horn, P. (2011) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Conceptual Framework Paper, Manchester: University of Manchester, Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#1.

Moser, C. and Rodgers, D. (2012) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Global Policy Report, Manchester: University of Manchester Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#2.

Payne, G. (ed.) (2002) Land, Rights and Innovation, Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing.

Payne, G., Durand-Lasserve, A. and Rakodi, C. (2009) The limits of land titling and home ownership, Environment and Urbanization, 21(2), 443-62.

Pons-Vignon, N. and Solignac Lecomte, H. (2004) Land, Violent Conflict and Development. Paris: OECD.

Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning’ Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2), 147-158.

USAID (2005) Land and Conflict, A toolkit for intervention. Washington, DC: US Agency for International Development

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Urban Forum – Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 30 April, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

Developing ‘age-friendly’ cities has become a key issue for improving the quality of life of all generations. Population ageing and urbanization have in their different ways become the dominant trends of the 21st century, raising issues for all types of communities. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be residing in cities. By that time many of the major urban areas of the Global North will have 25 per cent or more of their population aged 60 and over. Cities will remain central to economic development, attracting waves of migrants and supporting new industries. However, the extent to which what has been termed the ‘new urban age’ will produce ‘age-friendly communities’ remains uncertain.

Cities have many advantages for older people in respect of easy access to medical services, provision of cultural and leisure facilities, shopping and general necessities for daily living. However, urban life can also create threatening environments, producing insecurity, feelings of exclusion, and vulnerability with changes to neighbourhoods. These issues affect all age groups and not just older people. However, with older people spending 80 per cent of their time in the home and home environment, support from the immediate neighbourhood and beyond becomes crucial. What is the scope for developing age-friendly cities to take account of these issues? Some questions to be considered in the debate will include:

Cities are viewed as key drivers for economic success but can they integrate ageing populations as well? Can the resources of the city be used to improve quality of life in old age – just 1 in 20 households may have the money to take account of what cities such as Manchester have to offer? Can cities be designed in the interests of all age groups? What are the options for responding to different housing needs across the life course? How can older people be central to the regeneration of urban neighbourhoods? Can older and younger age groups work together to identify common needs and secure ‘rights to the city’ which work in the interests of all generations.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Graeme Henderson, Research Fellow, IPPR North

If recovering from the financial crisis is the key fiscal policy challenge of this decade, an ageing population will be the biggest of the next decade, and the one after that. Too often population ageing is seen only as a burden on the economy but this plays down its potential benefits and the opportunities it will bring. Making work work better for older people who want to remain in the workforce for longer can help increase our country’s economic capacity in the same way that the influx of women into the workforce did in the post-war period. Adapting products and services, homes and even cities, to fit with the requirements and preferences of older citizens is opening up potential growth markets which we should be every bit as on focused on as emerging economies on the other side of the world.

Equally, older workers often have built up a vast amount of experience from working in the same or similar fields for many years. There is a justified perception that this expertise is not being properly utilised in workplaces and by society. A cultural shift is necessary to ensure that this accumulated knowledge is better understood and fully made use of.

While there is a moral case for developing age-friendly cities, we must not let take understate the economic case either.

Cities in the North of England already aspire to be at the frontier of embracing the silver economy. However, while they are home to several ground-breaking initiatives, these initiatives are largely isolated from wider economic strategies and have yet to deliver a breakthrough in turning around economic challenges. For example, the northern regions have the lowest levels of economic activity among older age men, while for women the three northern regions account for three of the lowest five performers amongst 50-59 year olds, and the three lowest among over 60s.

In most regions and cities, the response to ageing has been on the perceived costs of population change, its impact on service delivery, a focus on attracting a relatively declining cohort of younger workers and new sources of economic growth rather than considering the potential economic contribution of their growing ‘silver’ cohort. Ageism is sadly rife in our society and is perhaps the main obstacle standing in the way of a flourishing silver economy. There is also a perception that older workers extending their careers prevents young people finding jobs.

IPPR North’s new Silver Economies project will seek to address these challenges and look at how to better harness the economic potential of our maturing society.

Stefan White, Manchester School of Architecture

The role of urban research and design in making cities age-friendly: (con)testing the WHO design guidance in a Manchester Neighbourhood

We have just completed a participatory urban research and design project for of an age-friendly neighbourhood in ‘Old Moat’, Manchester, UK for Southway Housing Trust.

Our reflection on the Old Moat project is focussed on how the WHO age-friendly city programme and policies enable us to both understand (Research) and produce (Design) more inclusive urban environments. The key issues which have arisen in trying to come to know a particular neighbourhood of the city and then attempting to arrive at concrete proposals for making it more ‘Age-friendly’ are  how we decide to define and act in relation to  the three broad categories of ‘City’, ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Age-friendly’.

City

We have taken the view that the City should be understood as a  complex entity where physical and social issues and causes interact and interlock with one another: A multiplicity of networks at different spatial scales constituted through territorialised relations that stretch beyond its limits (Robinson 2005).  Urban research and design for a city of networks involves understanding and changing the relations between places, groups and services as well as the physical environments, organisations and provisions themselves.

Using the example of ‘Old Moat’ we argue that urban design should not be understood as limited to removing ‘unfriendly’ objects or surfaces but include stimulating both formal and informal enabling services, socialities and infrastructure networks.

E.g more benches are a common request heard in age-friendly research and a sensible proposition with regard to the average mobility of older people – however concerns over management and anti-social behaviour often prevent them from being installed or are the reason for their removal. How can we design a neighbourhood with more benches?

Neighbourhood

We have approached the concept of Neighbourhood as comprising both the community and the space in which it is practiced (DeCertau, Petrescu). This means it is not just a space on a map but made what it is by the people who live there. This approach asks that we address the political engagement or involvement of a community in parallel with any environmental ‘improvements’.

In this context we have found that the design of age-friendly cities presents immediate challenges in terms of both negotiating  and understanding territorial relationships between specific neighbourhoods and the general resources of ‘City’.

We argue that age-friendly urban research and design must facilitate community-led negotiation of interventions within both a neighbourhood and the wider city networks to which it relates.  E.g making an area especially suited for Older people may have the effect of reducing the provision elsewhere, how can we design an ‘Age-friendly’ neighbourhood in an ‘Age-friendly’ city?

Age-friendly

Following these relational definitions of city and the neighbours who both ‘inhabit’ and create it, we contest that while ‘Age-friendliness’ (as defined in the eight interlocking World Health Organisation ‘domains’) presents a social model for the understanding  (research) of the impact of the city on older people – and promotes participation as part of this –  it currently limits its definition of the role of design to a medical model (Hanson 2007).  This either assumes that the relations between ‘Citizens’ are not what, in fact, makes ‘the City’ liveable or friendly – or that design can have no role in changing these things.

We argue instead that  making a city more age-friendly is a participatory process of research and design for the development of  urban environmental proposals which should negotiate:  both physical and social  aspects of territory; within each specific neighbourhood;  across a range of scales and time frames of the city.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People Team, Manchester City Council

Ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involves risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Accordingly, the primary focus of age-friendly programmes has been on older people and ageing.

In the age of austerity the argument for all-age improvement social programmes is persuasive and intuitively ‘right’.  However there is evidence that without a specific focus on older people, especially in cities, the policy and delivery drivers that can create ‘good places to grow old’ are often overlooked.

The emerging debates, policy focus and city-based programmes concerned with age-friendly cities reflect a number of key demographic, economic and policy drivers.

The first of these is the compelling demographic driver.  As the Dublin Declaration, signed by 42 municipalities in September 2011, argues,

“In a world in which life expectancy is increasing at the rate of over two years per decade, and the percentage of the population over 65 years is projected to double over the next forty years, the need to prepare for these changes is both urgent and timely.”

So by 2030 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, whilst one-quarter of urban populations in high income countries will be aged sixty and over.  And by 2050 one-quarter of urban populations in less developed countries will be aged sixty and over. (Phillipson 2010)

These are well known and well-worn facts that we often tire of hearing, but they signal profound social and economic changes which will create new types of communities, not just in the relatively rich north, but also across the BRIC countries and beyond.

We know that ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involved risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Health inequalities affecting such areas are well documented and extremely persistent.  And as Gierveld and Scharf (2008) argue,

“There is emerging evidence that urban environments may place older people as heightened risk of isolation and loneliness.”

The position of older people in cities, at least in a UK context, is described by an Audit Commission (2008) report in these terms:

“Some Councils will see an outward migration of affluent people in their 50 and 60s…the remaining older population …tends to be…poorer, isolated and more vulnerable with a lower life expectancy and a need for acute interventions.”

Unfortunately, for most part the dominant narratives of ageing have concerned pension and health and care service reform.  I will leave aside for now the content of these narratives, but insofar as ageing is discussed in political and social discourse it is at this level.  There is also an important subplot developing in this story.  That of generational competition and the notion of the baby boomer generation having accumulated wealth (and power) for itself at the expense of the generations following it.  The impact of these narratives is all too often to prevent public policy moving beyond first base.

 

In response to these challenges the World Health Organisation age-friendly environments programme was launched in the mid 2000s and resulted 33 cities collaborating on the production of a good practice guide.  The WHO guide is based on eight ‘domains’ which include social and civic participation, the built environment, transport, housing and so on.  (WHO 2007)

In 2010 a Global Network of age-friendly cities was declared, bringing together around a dozen partners – including Manchester – signed up to ambitious plans.   138 cities have now signed up to the WHO network.

A criticism of the focus on older people in mainstream age-friendly programmes is that they either represent a missed opportunity to improving cities for all age groups and/or that they exclude young people or potentially create generational fractures.  In my experience this is an imagined risk.  And at a delivery level it is commonplace in age-friendly programmes that intergenerational approaches such as Manchester’s ‘Generations Together’ initiative, figure highly.  More widely, in a UK context there is little to suggest that the ageing agenda crowds out those aimed at younger generations.

The implications of the age-friendly approach that I’ve outlined suggest a broad range of national and local actions.  Partners should:

  • Work within the framework of  the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities and promote the Dublin Declaration on age-friendly cities and environments;
  • Respond to local needs, desires, inequalities and the specific challenges of growing older in each area with a holistic approach to cover the range of services, opportunities and neighbourhood needs important to residents, including healthy ageing in mid-later life;
  • Include cross-generational approaches in age-friendly programmes;
  • Adopt inclusive approaches that are flexible to the strengths of local communities, voluntary organisations and frontline staff;
  • Shift the focus of support services towards earlier interventions, ill-health prevention, whole populations and multi-faceted initiatives;
  • Learn from academic and expert partners and independent scrutiny and evaluation; and
  • Maintain a citizenship perspective on engagement to create communities of interest with older people in the lead.

CONCLUSION

The demographic, economic and policy drivers outlined above demand a linked up, programmatic response at international, national and local levels.  So for now at least, the international movement which aims to create age-friendly cities and communities should be encouraged to flourish.

It is being realistic to acknowledge that, in particular, in the western economies, the cold economic climate presents us with significant policy and delivery challenges in respect of disadvantaged urban populations.   In this context the specific and growing needs (and assets) of the urban old requires a distinctive voice, of which the age-friendly movement is an inspiring example.

References

Audit Commission (2008) Don’t Stop Me Now: preparing for an ageing population” Audit Commission, London

McGarry P and Morris J (2011) A Great Place to Grow Older: A case study of how Manchester is developing an age-friendly city.  Working with Older People Volume 15 issues 1, Pier Press.

Phillipson C (2010) Growing Old in Urban Environments: Development of Age-friendly Communities, in the SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology edited by Dannefer D and

Phillipson C, Sage publications.

Scharf T and Gierveld J (2008) Loneliness in Urban Neighbourhoods: An Anglo-Dutch Comparison, European Journal of Ageing, 5, 103-115.

World Health Organisation (2007) Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide, World Health Organisation Geneva  http://www.who.int/ageing/publications

Flexible, Adaptable, Sustainable: Building for the Future

by Angela Connelly, School of Environment and Development

1 Angel Square: Central Atrium, (c) Matthew G. Steele

1 Angel Square: Central Atrium, (c) Matthew G. Steele

I recently had the opportunity to tour the newly opened (though only partially occupied) 1 Angel Square[1]: the latest addition to The Co-operative Group’s real estate portfolio. Led by the architects 3DReid, the tour began with an insight into the genesis of a building likened to a “sliced egg” or even a “walnut whip” (McLachlan 2013).

The Co-operative Group, we were reminded, has long been a visionary client. Whilst Manchester’s city centre still showed the scars of the 1940 Christmas blitz; rebuilding work being inhibited due to austerity, the Group commissioned what became the tallest structure in the UK: CIS tower. Opened in 1962, and Grade II listed in 1995, CIS Tower looms above a foundational podium: 25 storeys of glass, aluminium and black enamelled steel, a design that owed more in its conception to American skyscrapers than the concrete structures more commonly found throughout Europe (Forty 2012). Indeed, concrete and stone were not chosen because of their tendency to discolour owing to the polluting atmosphere (the Clean Air Act had only been passed in 1956).

CIS Tower fulfilled a wish that the building should add to the prestige of the Co-operative Group; improve Manchester’s appearance; and provide the very best in accommodation for their staff (Hartwell 2001: 241). The lush teak-clad interiors of the executive suites on the upper floors, designed by Mischa Black and the Design Research Unit, are now deemed inappropriate by the client because of the implied prestige and power they represent. More recently, when the mosaic tiles of the service tower needed replacing, the Co-operative Group retrofitted weather proof, photo-voltaic panels that generate electricity for the building in line with company commitments to tackle climate change. However, when it came to appraising the sustainable credentials of a portfolio of buildings that stretches across 150 years, it seemed rational to build afresh given the costs of refurbishing and retrofitting.

Whatever one thinks about the aesthetics of 1 Angel Square, its selling point is the outstanding BREEAM rating – the highest rating of any building in the UK – at 95 per cent (Wilding 2013). Some very old ideas in architecture such as passive ventilation and building orientation are integrated with the new. Building Information Modelling (BIM) aims to ensure that, up until the year 2050, the building will still function as originally intended given projected climate changes. 1 Angel Square’s double skin facade minimises heating and cooling loads by using brise-soleil. Further, the architects have fitted a closed loop energy system: the combined heat and power (CHP) units are fuelled by waste rapeseed oil produced on the Co-operative Groups UK farms. Not only adaptable to the future climate, the flexible (and democratic) office spaces are designed to be easily reconfigured or extended. This also responds to the perceived inflexibility of the CIS Tower’s working space given subsequent developments in technology and the changes wrought by mobile telecommunications.

Seduced by the superb views of Manchester available from the roof terraces on the 14th floor of 1 Angel Square, I nevertheless had a nagging question. It is not about sustainability, however that might be interpreted, instead, it is about “designing” flexibility and adaptability: how much can we anticipate? Here, my mind turns towards the past rather than the future.

Exterior Oldham Street October 2010

Exterior Oldham Street October 2010

The Albert Hall in Manchester

The Albert Hall in Manchester

The research for my thesis concerned a particular type of religious building. Not the traditional sort of church that immediately springs to mind with a Gothic spire, intricate detailing, naves, pews, and glory-unto-God. Rather, the Methodist Central Halls (those that do remain) are very commercial looking buildings. The first of their type is located on Oldham Street in Manchester. An innovative development at that time, the Methodists took the step of including rent producing shops on the ground floor – a necessity in a city with high land values (Connelly 2012). The brief for such churches, as I discovered, was relatively simple: the buildings had to be flexible and adaptable, sufficiently anonymous perhaps, should the Methodists have to sell the building. Alternatively, if a success, the rent-producing shops could be easily converted to religious work. They never were.

I suspect that most people who have had cause to enter the Manchester Central Hall recently may have done so to buy some music, attend a residents meeting, the Girl Guide’s HQ or perhaps a Weight Watchers meeting.  One lesson that I learned from looking at the Methodist Central Halls is that what one generation bequeaths to another is not necessarily a gift readily received. New becomes old, people move away, social practices change, the building becomes perceived as inflexible and constraining. Sometimes, someone new will come along with enough money and vision to turn it into something that has relevance today – as the bar chain Trof are doing with another old Methodist hall on Peter Street.

What such musings should highlight is that the relationship between building design and people is complex and not one-dimensional. Buildings should be regarded as systems that need to work as a whole and nourish the human beings who use it. They change slowly; often imperceptibly. And they need to be studied in their entirety: not only in terms of space but also time. Their meaning will subtly alter and this can be traced through narratives of buildings at work. As the sociologist Thomas Gieryn (2002: 35) points out:  “They [buildings] are forever objects of (re) interpretation, narration and representation – and meanings and stories are sometimes more pliable than the walls and floors they depict.”

When the ecologist Stewart Brand wrote How Buildings Learn (1994), he identified three forces that result in change: technology, money, and fashion. He inverts Louis Sullivan’s classic dictum: “Form ever follows function” to become “function reforms form” (Brand 1994: 3) and in doing so points out that how buildings learn over time is just as important as the question of how they are designed in the first place.   In a similar vein, Richard Sennett lauds the inventiveness and innovativeness that comes through the repair and restoration of old buildings (Sennett 2012).

And so, I come back to 1 Angel Square. The real test will also come through time; there will undoubtedly be a period of social learning whereby the occupants will have to adapt their behaviour. One hopes that it will indeed realise the Co-operative Group’s aims and that it can act as a catalyst to regenerate what has been a problematic area for the city planners. But I suspect that time, and occupancy, will also result in a slow realisation that the initial ideas are not as flexible as presumed: what new technologies are around the corner? Just how far, and what knowledge do we take into account, when planning for the future?

References

Brand, S. 1994. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built (London and New York: Viking)

Connelly, A. 2012. “A pool of Bethesda: Manchester’s first Wesleyan Methodist Central Hall”, The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library  [special edition ‘Architecture and Environment: Manchester in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’], 89:1, 105-12

Forty, A. 2012. Concrete and Culture: A Material History. (London: Reaktion Books).

Gieryn, T. 2002. “What Buildings Do,” Theory and Society, 31:1, 35-75.

Hartwell, C. 2001. Manchester, Pevsner Architectural Series. (Yale: Yale University Press).

Sennett, R. 2012. Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. (Yale: Yale University Press).

Wilding, M. 2013. “3DReid scoops highest ever BREEAM rating”. 17th January, Building Design [online]. http://www.bdonline.co.uk/sustainability/3dreid-scoops-highest-ever-breeam-rating/5048575.article

McLachlan, J. 2013. “Co-op’s vast Manchester HQ by 3DReid” 18 February, OnOffice [online]. http://www.onofficemagazine.com/projects/item/1917-co-ops-vast-manchester-hq-by-3dreid


[1] http://www.co-operative.coop/estates/Developments/1AngelSquare/

 

Angela Connelly is a Research Associate at the University of Manchester. She completed her thesis at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre in 2011, a collaboration with the Methodist Church Property Office and funded under the AHRC/ ESRC Religion and Society Programme.

She is interested in how people, buildings and institutions innovate and adapt over time. She is currently working on the EU-FP7 Project: Smart Resilient Technologies, Tools and Systems and is developing best practice guidance to flood resilience technologies for England and Wales.

Practising urban alternatives

by Jana Wendler, PhD candidate in Geography

There is lots of talk about the need for cities and urban life to become more equitable and sustainable – and there are initiatives and people that already practice alternative ways of living based on such ideas. Often described as some form of experiment, these places currently attract much attention as sites where alternatives are tested, showcased – and ultimately lived. What is interesting here, and what I researched as part of my PhD, is that their ‘alternative-ness’ is not only, and sometimes not even primarily, a direct statement. It emerges from the way the spaces look and feel, and how they are inhabited and performed. They are places that challenge our perceptions and interactions, with subtle invitations to touch, to explore and to think differently about our urban environment.

One of the biggest and best-known alternative areas in Europe is the free town of Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark. A former military area next to the central neighbourhood of Christianshavn, it was occupied by squatters 40 years ago and has carved out an autonomous existence ever since. Christiania maintains its label as a “social-ecological experiment”, a term applied by the Danish government in the early 70s as a way of politically managing this alternative space in the middle of the city.

Although intricately tied up with ideals of alternative politics, anarchism and the right to self-determination, the experience of Christiania as a space of alternatives is primarily embodied. What strikes the visitor-researcher are the sights, sounds and smells. There is no traffic noise (Christiana is a car free zone), and the smells of hash (openly available) and woodfire (the main source of heating) are everywhere. At night, the unmarked gravel roads and paths are pitch-black. This sensory expression of being alternative marks the boundaries of the freetown as clearly as the big entrance gates proclaiming Christiania’s non-EU status.

Leaving Christiania: "You are now entering the EU"

Leaving Christiania: “You are now entering the EU”

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

These differences continue much deeper into the daily lives and the homes of the Christianites. Alternative urban life becomes materialised in the self-built houses that spread along the water. These wooden houses are reminiscent of anything from a playground hut to the masterpiece of a skilled craftsman, and they are intricately linked with the people that live in them. Some houses give a physical shape to their builders’ spiritual ideas (the pyramid house), others show their connection to nature and resources (a hut with an open-air kitchen and a compost toilet). They are part of the family history, and people come to be named after their house or vice versa. Often the effects of these open relationships between people and material are quite playful, with bright colours, strange angles and unusual objects. Beyond a different sense experience, ideas of alternative living are practised here through unusual material constellations.

Another example is the Prinzessinnengarten, an urban garden in Berlin, created in 2009 on a brownfield site in the hip but poor area of Kreuzberg. It offers 6000 m² of green against the roundabout and towerblocks just outside its fence, with a café area and many ways for people to get involved. It is experimental mainly in its approach: of seeing what you can do with a wasteland once you allow people to ‘plant’ their ideas onto it, and of asking questions about food, biodiversity and the sustainable city in an unusual setting.

The garden stands as a counterpoint to its surroundings but it remains fundamentally urban: the vegetables grow in colourful plastic boxes and bags because the soil is not usable, the sound of birds mixes with the police siren outside, the label on the garden-produced honey says it comes from “city bees”. This gives it a unique aesthetic and sensescape, and it makes room for interactions that are lacking elsewhere. There are no signs warning visitors against touching the plants; in fact people are encouraged to feel, to smell, to dig. If you order herbal tea, you can choose and cut your own ingredients. During the gardening days, anyone can help shovelling soil, and then harvest their own produce. The interactions with the space are tactile, embodied, direct.

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

 

These invitations to explore bring the alternative ideas of the garden to life. The suggestions it makes about sustainable urban life are not proclaimed but practised – by the office worker who tends to his bees in his lunch break, by the volunteers who mix soil and plant tomatoes. They are also expressed in the colours, materials and solutions in the garden, which provide new starting points and practical inspiration. The garden as a space for learning and engagement both emerges from and creates the conditions for new relations between people, plants and materials.

The buildings of Christiania and the plant boxes of the Prinzessinnengarten give us a glimpse of different ways of being urban, and of ways in which such alternatives can be tried out. They speak of the connections people form with their immediate surroundings, and introduce alternatives not based on any overarching idea of the sustainable city, but on direct embodied, material interactions. The spaces allow people to give a material expression to their values and visions. They encourage further experimentation by leaving loose ends, by juxtaposing ideas and by asking the visitor to take an active stance. They are also fun, interesting places to be – adding a playful element to the challenge of finding urban alternatives.

The fieldwork in Christiania was kindly supported by the Christiania Researcher in Residence (CRIR) project. More information on the research: http://greenplaylab.co.uk

The Original Modern

Grid image of arches -  Brian Rosa

Grid image of arches – Brian Rosa

by Brian Rosa, PhD candidate in Geography

Manchester is a city of superlatives: it was the prototypical “shock city” of the Industrial Revolution, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx’s model for everything that was abhorrent in the industrial capitalist city, and one of the birthplaces of the labor and women’s suffrage movements.  In its heyday, Manchester was depicted in literature of Engels, Alexis de Toqueville and later the paintings of L.S. Lowry, as an uninterrupted, chaotic anti-landscape of chimneys and smoke, strewn across a featureless topography. Its unprecedented configuration invoked equal parts awe and dread, moral panic, and tempestuous visions of the future. In 1833, Toqueville described the crowded conditions, poorly constructed housing, hulking factories, and environmental degradation of Manchester: “From the foul drain the great stream of human industry flows out to fertilize the whole world.  From this filthy sewer pure gold flows.  Here humanity attains its most complete development and its most brutish; here civilization works its miracles, and civilized man is turned back almost into a savage” (cited in Konvitz 1985).

Like so many formerly industrial cities that followed, the inability to eradicate the industrial history in Manchester was not out of a lack of desire. From the post-World War II period of deindustrialization until the late Seventies, Manchester city planners’ main goal was to not repeat the ‘indiscriminate building of the industrial revolution’ (Nicholas 1945, p.87), and to counteract the ‘image of grime and obsolescence inherited from the industrial revolution’ (City and Council Borough of Manchester 1967, p.39). In his 1978 description of Stockport, just south of Manchester, historic preservationist Randolph Langenbach described the demolition of the mills around Stockport Viaduct: “the destruction is so complete that one can only believe that it must have been the result of an intentional effort to expunge the 19th-century industrial image” (cited in Parkinson-Bailey 2000, p.203).

We can see these phantasmal landscapes in W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants in Max Ferber’s walks through 1950s Manchester: “In Ardwick, Brunswick, All Saints, Hulme and Angel Fields too, districts adjoining the centre to the south, whole square kilometers of working-class homes had been pulled down by the authorities, so that, once the demolition rubble had been removed, all that was left to recall the lives of thousands of people was the grid-like layout of the streets….  On that bare terrain, which was like a glacis around the heart of the city, it was in fact always and only children that one encountered” (2002, pp.157–158).

Despite the wholesale erasure of industrial-era working-class housing, what is left of Manchester city centre still bears considerable evidence to its industrial past: the monumental warehouses of Whitworth Street have been converted to residential lofts and offices, the opulent Cotton Exchange building has been transformed into the Royal Exchange Theatre, and the Manchester Central Railway Station is an exhibition and conference center.  In the areas closest to the employment, entertainment and retail center of Manchester (and accordingly, of the Northwest of England), the “Dark, satanic mills” are now the realms of the yuppie.  Throughout much of the city, the soot has been removed from industrial facades to reveal red bricks, made more vibrant by consistently cloudy skies.

Just as “Cottonopolis” was the first industrial city, and accordingly, for a moment, world’s most futuristic city, it was also one of the first ‘postindustrial’ cities.  Since the 1970s, this city of red brick has become the master of municipal entrepreneurialism based on a sanitized industrial history—a new heritage industry emerged, repackaging the city in the sepia tones of nostalgia. Branding itself as “The Original Modern”, city boosters Marketing Manchester project an outward image as a risk-taking city that shirks convention and always has.   After decades of embarrassment and disavowal of its industrial dowry, the city’s well-branded “urban renaissance” has been predicated on a reinvention that both conceals and reveals its cultural heritage, in an amalgam of selective memory and outright amnesia.

In a visual and material sense, what symbolizes a demystified Mancunian modernity? It’s a more difficult question to answer than one might presume. Domestic scenes of back-to-back tenements are the realm of dusty dioramas in museums—mannequins behind glass, nestled among obsolete machinery. In Ancoats, just east of the city centre, the world’s first industrial suburb has been reworked as an “Urban Village” inviting in the new pioneers, real estate developers have built an ornamental extension to the Rochdale Canal, site of a former housing estate, to increase waterfront real estate.  In Castlefield, the central node of industrial era productive networks, simulacral warehouses provide residential lofts where real warehouses were demolished in the 1960s.

Amidst all of the erasure and reconfiguration, industrial-era transportation infrastructure looms large on the built environment of the city in the form successive layers of canals and elevated railways. Within the sea of brick, the scoliotic railway viaducts stand as the primary beacons of a bygone era that is still central to Manchester’s identity. Accordingly, the arches serve as a backdrop to many a Manchester mise-en-scène:  in the opening credits of every episode of Coronation Street, the everyday environment of Manchester is signified in the railway viaduct that is nestled in the background of a working-class neighborhood.  By the same token, the arches become so familiar in the everyday life of the city that they rarely seem to be in the foreground. From the ground level, they interweave through the urban tapestry, appearing and disappearing, but never far away.

Foregrounding the Backdrop

To identify the “original modern” in Manchester would be to excavate material traces of Manchester’s ascent into industrial modernity- the maelstrom of rapid change, technological discoveries, social upheaval, exponential urban growth, and the fluctuating markets of proto-globalization. The industrialization of Manchester was predicated on the development of a vast, networked transportation system and the colonization of the countryside, with the railway playing a central symbolic and material role in this upheaval.  As political philosopher Marshall Berman explains, if we move forward a hundred years from when Jean-Jacques Rousseau first used the term moderniste in its contemporary form “and try to identify the distinctive rhythms and timbres of nineteenth-century modernity, the first thing we will notice is the highly developed, differentiated and dynamic new landscape in which modern experience takes place.  This is a landscape of steam engines, automatic factories, railroads, vast new industrial zones; of teeming cities that have grown overnight, often with dreadful human consequences” (Berman 1988, p.18).  In this sense, the railway becomes the apotheosis of modernity, and nowhere more so than in Manchester.

We are left with the brick railway viaducts: structures that must have seemed so futuristic at the time, time-space platforms hewn from the same red brick as the temples to industry that they supplied. This infrastructure is not superimposed on the city; its presence continues as an imposition that still affects the reshaping of the city.

References:

Berman, M., 1988. All That is Solid Melts into Air:  The Experience of Modernity, New York: Penguin Books.

City and Council Borough of Manchester, 1967. City Centre Map 1967, Manchester: City and Council Borough of Manchester.

Konvitz, J.A., 1985. The Urban Millenium: The City-Building Process from the Early Middle Ages to the Present, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.

Nicholas, R., 1945. City of Manchester Plan.

Parkinson-Bailey, J.J., 2000. Manchester: An Architectural History, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

Sebald, W.G., 2002. The Emigrants, London: Vintage.