Monthly Archives: June 2013

Grid, Health and Advertising: A Story of New York City 1811-2011

by Andrew Irving, Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

Weber and Heilborner - Photograph © Frank Jump

Weber and Heilborner – Photograph © Frank Jump

This piece tells two stories, that of New York City and its obsession with money, advertising and rebuilding over the last 200 years; and the story of Frank Jump, a teacher and photographer who has dedicated much of his life to documenting the gigantic, hand-painted, advertisements that line the city’s long straight avenues.

New York City was in large parts founded upon immigration, trade and the distribution of goods and its infrastructure and buildings are the outcome of a complex relationship between the vulnerability of the human body to infection and disease and the forces of money and merchandise. Throughout the 1790s and early 1800s disease was rife throughout the city, including regular outbreaks of yellow-fever caused by mosquitoes thriving in the island’s stagnant swamps and pools, and whose symptoms included skin eruptions, black vomit, incontinence, jaundice, and eventually death. After the terrible epidemics of 1794, 1795, 1798 and 1805, it became apparent that action needed to be taken. Would it be possible—the city’s commissioners thought—to combat disease and facilitate the body’s well-being by building health into the city itself through the physical alteration of its layout?

It was not known to medical science at the time that yellow-fever was caused by mosquito bites and the disease was instead attributed to the foul smelling air and odours of a population living cheek-by-jowl in dirty streets. What if a more orderly city, purposefully designed to encourage the “free and abundant circulation of air” and the regulation of physical space, could prevent disease, contagion and “promote the health of the city,” (Morris, De Witt, Rutherford 1811). Action was imperative because New York’s population was increasing at an incredible rate, having tripled in just twenty years, from the 33,111, sometimes feverish, souls registered in the first census of 1790, to 96,373 in 1810.

The commissioners engaged twenty-two year old surveyor, John Randel to survey the entire island, with the purpose of transforming its woods, swamps and grasslands into a place “composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses” (Morris et al. 1811). Randel spent three years painstakingly measuring and mapping Manhattan’s entire topography, with a resulting 7 feet 8 inch-by-2 feet 1 inch map, which offered unprecedented levels of detail about the island. However, Randel’s does not simply map Manhattan’s topography, streets, and buildings of the time, but also imposes a design for the island’s future, in that a grid-system is laid over the land, determining where future streets would be built. The grid proposes that all roads should be straight and sequentially numbered rather than named. Streets ran horizontally across the island and were numbered 1 to 155, while avenues ran vertically and were numbered 1 to 12, with an additional A, B, C, and D covering the swell of land on the Lower East Side. It was decided that no consideration was to be given to natural variations in the land, existing roads or property divisions.

The map’s official ratification in 1811 marks the point at which the city council confirmed that they would try to build reason, rationality and bodily health into New York by transforming its topography and in doing so they created the city that is known today. The grid is New York’s nervous system upon which the city’s essential operations and street-life are built, and like the human nervous system is never in the exact same state twice but is in a continuous process of renewal and regeneration over time.

Manhattan’s population expanded beyond all expectations of Randel or the city commissioners from a mere 33,111 in 1790 to 2,284,103 in the 1920 census. As such a new sense of industrial scale and materiality emerged, against which individuals, born when farmland still covered the island, could compare their muddy agricultural practices and desires. Construction expanded rapidly northwards and the thousands of buildings constructed along the grid’s long straight lines began to form a set of highly visible canvasses for businesses and advertisers to sell their goods, services and dreams. A new industry emerged that used size, scale, and colour to convey its message to the people below. Huge, hand-painted, advertisements were painted in bold attention-seeking colours on the sides of many buildings, up to fifty feet tall and twenty feet wide, and designed to stir New York’s citizens from their reverie and make them lift their eyes from the grid. The majority of advertisements have now disappeared: they either perished when the building they were painted upon was knocked down or were covered over by the endless procession of bigger, newer buildings being built as part of New York’s restless desire to reinvent and remake itself.  However, the destiny of some advertisements was more gradual and much less dramatic. For regardless of the thickness of their original paint or intensity of their colours, their fate has been to slowly fade out of existence while exposed to the city’s scorching summers and freezing winters: remaining open to the relentless cycles of sun, rain, snow and ice in a dense urban climate of pollution and humidity. What remains are the faded remnants of the these gigantic advertisements.

For the last twenty years, New York teacher and photographer Frank Jump has spent his evenings and weekends roaming the city’s streets capturing and archiving these disappearing giants before they completely fade into oblivion. Jump has photographed and archived, somewhere in the region of 5000 signs across New York’s five boroughs, of which perhaps only 1000 can still be seen today. Mostly they advertise products that can no longer be bought, made by companies that no longer exist, painted on buildings whose original occupants are forgotten, by men long since departed and were often considered eyesores in their day.

Zaccaro Real Estate, Bendix Home Laundry Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets.Photograph © Frank Jump

Zaccaro Real Estate / Bendix Home Laundry, Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets. Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

When Radway’s Ready Relief (1890) and Omega Oil (1910) were first painted, tens of feet high in bright marine blues, they suggested to the aching bones of the commuters walking below, that the solution to their discomfort could be found in the simple purchase of their magic elixir. At the time, the world was a very different kind of place: many people did not travel at more than the speed of horse drawn cart and the average life expectancy at birth was around 43. Medicine, as we know it, had not been developed, women were unable to vote and colonialism was still in the process of subjugating vast swathes of the world’s population. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to claim that the course of a single advertisement’s lifespan, was not just an extraordinary period in New York’s history but also the world’s.  Some of the advertisements Jump has documented were painted in the 1860s and in the time they have stood there proudly advertising their goods and services to successive generations of New Yorkers, the world has undergone unprecedented social, cultural and technological changes. Indeed a single advert may have witnessed the invention of the film camera, the automobile, the first airplanes, two world wars and the great depression, television, the jazz age, the jet engine, the rise and fall of Nazism and the Soviet Union, McCarthyism, JFK, the discovery of DNA, The Beatles, nuclear fusion, the civil rights movement, space travel, Picasso, the first men on the moon, punk and hip-hop, post-modern architecture, portable computers, the Internet, 9/11, the gentrification of Times Square, Obama and much else besides. Who would have thought a simple advertisement would endure the rise and fall of empires and nations as the world changed beyond recognition. Certainly not the men who painted it, whose livelihoods depended upon their ability to make citizens look up and desire the goods and services on show to the extent that they became convinced that their lives would be a better place with that particular soap powder, those particular shoes, these particular garden shears.

In the mid-1980s, some two centuries after the city’s yellow fever outbreaks, New York once more found itself throes of a citywide epidemic. This time it was called, in a terrible and macabre coincidence, GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) later to be renamed HIV/AIDS. By the 1990 census, exactly two hundred years after the city’s first census, people with HIV/AIDS filled 8.5% of all New York hospital beds and there had been 72,207 known deaths from AIDS in the city (including almost 10,000 infants) out of 116,316 people diagnosed: a figure nearly four times the entire population in the city’s first census.

In the summer of 1986, when Frank jump was twenty-six years old, he too found out he was one of the many New Yorkers diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and was told he had “a couple of good years left.” Consequently, the long commerce-lined streets built on the grid, shouting out their assorted messages of pensions, retirement homes, medicines and other aspects of a long healthy life, ceased to have any meaning for Frank and many others.  Ordinarily, the grid enables New Yorkers to look far into the distance and guides the eye toward a vanishing point on the horizon: a destiny distant in time and space that seemingly provides an effective metaphor for the promises of capitalism: look to the future, work hard and save for your pension your retirement awaits.

In New York alone, many thousands of men and women were thrown out of the straight lines of capitalism by HIV/AIDS and instead confronted a destiny of impending death. Frank took himself out of the workforce and filled in all the offers for new credit cards and bank accounts that came through his door, thinking “I’ve never got to pay any of this back.”  But Frank was lucky and did not die and instead lived to see the advent of anti-retroviral medications in the late 1990s that re-opened time and space for thousands and thousands of New York men and women living with HIV/AIDS: triggering a massive shift of mind, body and emotion away from death and back toward life.

Bankrupt Frank re-enrolled in college, became a school-teacher and got back on the straight lines of capitalism. He remained acutely aware of the fragility of the human body in an urban landscape. A body which, like the painted advertisements that surround was fading and not supposed to last long but somehow remained part of the city. Accordingly, Frank sees his reflection not in the mirror but in the fading advertisements that line the vast surfaces produced by New York’s grid. They continually provide him with evidence of his existence and provide us with a visual record of the ongoing effects of time on the city and the body. To date, Frank has been living with the disease for half of his life and still hasn’t documented every fading advertisement in New York.

To see more of Frank Jump’s work and archives see his book

Jump, F 2011. The Fading Ads of New York City. History Press.

While his Fading Ad Campaign can be found here:

http://www.frankjump.com/

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Urban Forum – Manchester: Towards a Just City?

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 18 June at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Full details here.

Manchester like many cities at present suffers from growing divides, poverty and inequality. The Council has cut jobs and reduced services, while the centre of the city and surrounding retail high streets are blighted with a growing number of empty store fronts. With house prices stagnant or falling and unemployment levels across Greater Manchester continuing to rise, it is unclear how housing or labour markets can improve the living conditions of the local area. Some analysts point to possibilities for job growth from the creative industries and financial services sectors, but these opportunities remain as yet unrealised. In this research forum we bring together a number of stakeholders to explore where manchester is now, the challenges it faces and what it needs to do to become more at ease with itself and more socially just.

Panel:

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES); Allison Foreman, Project Development Coordinator, Greater Manchester Pay and Employment Rights Advice Service; John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester; Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Chair: Adam Leaver (Manchester Business School, University of Manchester)

Some of the panel give their viewpoints below:

Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

In the current economic and political climate it can be difficult to get behind the headlines and uncover what the real situation is.

Whilst the ongoing drive to cut spending dominates much of government thinking, it would be incorrect from a business perspective to say that all is lost and that there is no money available.

Since the financial tornado struck in Autumn 2008 the private sector has borne the brunt of the maelstrom caused by a combination of seemingly reckless activity by banks and successive governments’ inability to react adequately to promote growth and help create adequate employment opportunities.  The public sector too has suffered greatly from these tough economic times.

Things are better than they were – this isn’t denying the seriousness of the situation – but let’s be clear this means flat or low growth. Our most recent Quarterly Economic Survey, completed by over 800 businesses, showed that one of the worst hit sectors, construction, showed some signs of growth. This sounds promising, but the reality is that this is from a breath-takingly low starting point.

Some sectors have fared better but set against the broader economic conditions these results are often difficult to see. On the one hand private sector jobs figures remain positive but this is counterbalanced by weaknesses elsewhere, ensuring that the overall situation (for those out of work) is still challenging.

However some of the present issues predate present experience and will need more than an economic upturn to rectify. Ask any employer about skills or rather the lack of them and it’s apparent we have a startling wide range of shortages.  The figures make stark reading: with over 15% of Greater Manchester residents having no skills. The challenge of inadequately trained and work ready employees dates back to issues caused two or even three recessions ago. We feel the brunt now because of the acuteness of circumstances.

Likewise the state of our high streets. Previous recessions dealt severe if not fatal blows to our large manufacturing base. This time around major high street chains – some of which have been around for generations – have gone out of business. However as we sit shopping on Amazon whilst shaking our head at the news of another boarded up shop, should we ask ourselves about the role we have played in this?

One price of a reasonably robust level of employment is the significant rise of part-time working which has benefits as well as some obvious downsides.

Yes, there are increasing numbers of high value, high skills jobs, but there are also plenty of low skill, low value jobs.

We do have a part to play however in putting things right. The Chamber is tackling the skills issue through its Employer Ownership of Skills work, our members want to help reinvigorate our town centres; more businesses are showing an interest in trading abroad – those that do are better placed to develop and grow in the future.

Whilst it can be dangerous to pick winners, it is sometimes more dangerous to ignore them. We have and always have had some world class businesses in Manchester, and many more aspire to be so.  They don’t want special treatment just an environment that encourages enterprise which will allow them to grow and create the opportunities for the future so desperately needed to lead the economic recovery. They generally understand the social role they play and the impact they have on communities.

I see this everyday and I see what can and must be done. It isn’t beyond anyone’s ability to make this happen but everyone has a part to play either as catalysts for change or giving support to those that take action.

John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester

Books have been published, phds written, and raging debates held on what exactly it means to be a Just City. There isn’t scope in these few words to do any of that work justice, so I will take as my starting point a narrow definition that I think most people would broadly agree with: a Just City is one that provides equality of opportunity to all residents, especially the young. The interesting question then becomes: what can local policy makers do to ensure that all residents share the same opportunities in life? The weight of research tells us that the single most significant differentiating factor between those who succeed in life and those that do not is their level of skill. This underscores the need for a single-minded focus on improving education. This needs to start in the very earliest years, certainly before school and ideally from birth onwards, to ensure a radical improvement in life chances. At the same time, while improving educational outcomes across the spectrum is the archetypal easy thing to say but difficult thing to do, do it we must. The need to improve skill levels also holds for those who have left education and find themselves either unemployed or in low paid work.

If that sounds too easy, it’s probably because it is. In the current economic climate there are two factors which mean making Manchester a more Just City is all the more challenging. First, despite the labour market holding up better than expected at the start of the recession, there is still a shortage of job opportunities. Public agencies have to focus on generating economic growth and jobs for our residents to move into. It would be foolish to focus simply on the distribution of wealth without concerning ourselves with where that wealth is to come from. Second, public sector budgets are reducing and the pressures on services that support many of our most deprived residents increasing. It is not enough to identify what more policy makers can do, we need to identify what can be done differently to achieve better outcomes with less money. Through its economic growth objectives and public service reform programme Greater Manchester is ahead of most places in tackling these issues head on and making the city a more just place. If we achieve all we want to, we might yet write the definitive book.

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)

Across the UK, and the world, we are in a moment of significant economic injustice.  Things which have always been there are now in more obvious focus.  Inequality knows no compass points in Britain today.  There is a growing complex patchwork quilt of haves and have-nots.  And yes in London too.

In urban policy terms, neo liberal ideas around urban enrepreneuralism, where we just made it easy for global financial capitalism are being exposed and urban policy with a focus on manufacturing and industry struggles to find and alternative.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it would appear in policy terms that the message of necessity has not yet got through.

So we need to face up to some realities.

Four things we need to do.

1. Recognise.  The so called good times were not that good.

Most historic and present economic development, basically hangs on to the half truth that a growing economy will lift people out of poverty – trickle down.  However, even the good times were not that good for some areas.  We cannot boom-goggle – A chronic condition of vision in which nothing is seen but endless boom just around the corner. We need to do something more progressive with growth, wealth creation, and redistribute in different ways.

2. Reducing poverty is not the outcome of economic growth, it’s part of the solution

Tackling poverty is part of the economic answer and unless we do something about poverty, then it may be difficult to restore the kind of prosperity we would like. Our economy needs the poor to not be poor.

Levels of disposable income are reducing local demand.  Trickle up economics tells us that the poorest have a higher propensity to consume. They will spend a higher proportion of their income, usually locally. They must start earning and spending. Our businesses (especially our SME’s) need this. This relationship means, we have an irrefutable economic rationale for dealing with this shocking situation as regards low wages, underemployment and poverty.

3. We need to advance and accelerate new economic thinking.

Some great organic grass roots based stuff is happening

  • The rise of alternative financial models –such as crowdfunding
  •  appreciation of a social return on investment,
  • new forms of exchange, production and consumption cooperatives,

Local economic policy needs to catch up with this narrative and be bold. This is the future.

4. There is the need for a new economic activism, driving transformation. 

In this, we need the central state to set a better redistributive context.  The poorest areas need more support, this is not jam spreading.  It’s about giving the most in need more sustenance. We need a proper industrial strategy and a coherent set of initiatives.

From there we look at the local state, to work to think about a new economic and social destiny.  This includes things like the development of positive local multiplier outcomes, which means local sourcing, means local jobs, means more local spend.

Just look at this city – Manchester City Council spends over 50% of its commissioned goods and services within the Manchester economy.  With over 50% of that in the most deprived neighbourhoods.  Suppliers re-spent 47p in every pound back in Manchester economy in 10/11.  A good start. (for more details see here)

It’s also about a new local social and economic contract, with business at the front appreciating place, respecting public inputs to its success and working where it can to play more of an activist place role.

Finally the economic sphere is not some opposite to social life.  The aim of the economy, is to improve social life.  This means creating an economy, which is not solely for private gain, but there to support social institutions for social development and a decent standard of living for all.  This has to be the economic future.  This is a just city.

 

From contribution to collaboration: Refugee Week and the value of seeing like a city

by Jonathan Darling, Geography, University of Manchester

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Today sees the start of Refugee Week 2013, an annual celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK that seeks to promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Refugee Week has been held annually since 1998 as a response to negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and hostile media coverage of asylum in particular (Refugee Week 2013). Refugee Week promotes a series of events across the UK, from football tournaments and theatre productions to exhibitions and film screenings, all designed to promote understanding between different communities.

Whilst Refugee Week is a national event it finds expression in local activities organised in a range of cities. In part, this is in response to the dispersal of asylum seekers across the UK, meaning that refugees and asylum seekers have been increasing visible in a range of towns and cities over the last decade. Asylum decision-making and policy take place at a national level, but the implications of such policy and the demands of integration and service provision are experienced at the level of urban authorities and communities. But what is the relationship between asylum seekers and cities, and how might we understand this relationship through the lens of Refugee Week? In this commentary, I want to suggest that by focusing on cities we might destabilise some of the problematic assumptions of national discussions of asylum and refugee politics, through drawing on the resources of cities as sites of social and political creativity, contestation and collaboration. Doing so shifts our view of asylum and refugees from a state-centred account of national hospitality, to a more complex account of the lived realities of urban refuge. 

National celebrations such as Refugee Week are in many ways positive interventions into public discussions over asylum. They have played a central role in challenging stereotypes, contesting myths over benefit claims and bringing to the fore the heritage of sanctuary that has shaped contemporary Britain. Refugee Week has also offered a platform for politically contentious campaigns for rights to work, access to education and anti-deportation campaigns, all of which have benefited from the shifts in public opinion and political will that Refugee Week has produced.  

However, as many of those working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK note, Refugee Week alone is not enough. Rather, there are risks attached to ‘celebrating the contributions of refugees to our history and heritage’. These words, the slogan for Refugee Week 2013, suggest three of the central challenges of refugee politics in contemporary Britain. Firstly, the emphasis placed on ‘our’ history establishes a fixed group defined by distinction from refugees, a ‘we’ whose history refugees may contribute to but always a ‘we’ at a distance from refugees themselves. Secondly, a concern with ‘history and heritage’ positions the contributions of refugees in the past. Refugee issues thus become concerns to look back on through visions of a hospitable past, without necessarily providing a means to address issues of contemporary asylum. Most strikingly though, Refugee Week foregrounds a logic of contribution in celebrating refugees. While a claim about contributions can appear to be a strong argument in the face of those who assert that refugees and asylum seekers ‘abuse’ welfare entitlements, it risks reinforcing perceptions of worth and worthiness that make refugee status into an economic commodity. Whilst we should recognise the skills, knowledge and dynamism that those seeking sanctuary bring, a logic of contribution places asylum into an economic frame of reference similar to the points-based system that determines immigration status.

Taken together, these three concerns suggest that Refugee Week might be taken as a governmental tool for the production of benevolent responses to those deemed to have ‘contributed’ enough to be worthy of refugee status and humanitarian compassion. Akin to forms of celebratory cosmopolitanism that market cities as sites of diversity, whilst tightly regulating the limits of tolerance, the rhetoric of ‘contribution’ recalls a conditional hospitality that may be open to a select few. Often such hospitality is open only to those past groups who have contributed to ‘our’ history, rather than reflecting an ongoing process in which this history is continuing to be made. A concern with contribution thus makes asylum and refugee discussions part of government efforts to ‘manage migration’ for the ‘good of the nation’, rather than in the interests of those seeking sanctuary and fleeing persecution.

How then might we envisage a different view of refugees and asylum seekers, one detached from a concern with their potential contributions to the nation and with representing a benevolent history? It is here that cities come to the fore. If we take seriously Magnusson’s (2012) demand to ‘see like a city’ rather than ‘seeing like a state’, we might find a different view of asylum seekers and refugees, one less concerned with contributions to an already existing entity and its history, be that the nation or the city, and rather more concerned with the collaborations and collective engagements that shape urbanism as a way of life. For Magnusson, cities are complex constellations of ideas, relations, encounters and institutions, never exhausted by their present form and never subject to a single mode of authority. Rather than a common ‘history and heritage’ to which refugees may contribute, seeing like a city implies multiple histories vying for attention, histories which are being made and remade as the city is itself becoming something new through the actions of those who inhabit it and the material relations that form it. What we might take from this view of the city as a site of incomplete political authority and multiple histories, is a vision of how cities are formed through collaborations, through the coming together of diverse interests and opinions to make urban space.

We might see examples of this form of thought in some of the practices and events of Refugee Week, most notably those that seek to undermine assumptions of asylum as an issue of compassion and humanitarianism. For example, as part of Manchester’s Refugee Week celebrations, artists Anna White and Emily Hayes have been working with the Rainbow Haven centre for displaced people in Manchester and Salford, to discuss the journeys individuals took to the UK and their experiences of life in Manchester and Salford.[i] The project involves asylum seekers and refugees embroidering their journeys to the UK onto a map, using disposable cameras to take images of their everyday lives and of things that are important to them, and collectively making banners to express different aspects of their lives in the UK and to display some of the relationships that emerge through the Rainbow Haven group. These resources are to be displayed at a series of events across Manchester during and after Refugee Week, including a celebration of the city’s ‘Shared Future’ with refugees. [ii] 

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

The significance of this work is not simply that it offers a creative means of exploring and expressing the social relations of refugees and asylum seekers. It does this and draws in part on the diversity of people, histories and stories that are brought together in the city. But it is also a project of collaboration. This is not a case of narratives being extracted and displayed by experts or analysts, but a process in which stories are made through working with others, in making banners, sewing journeys onto maps and discussing photographs. The product of such interactions are snapshots of a creative process, owned by all those who played a role in such a process. It is this sense of being part of a creative endeavour and employing this as a means to communicate stories of asylum, that is so valuable as it works to negotiate two sets of barriers. Firstly, those between asylum seekers and other residents of Manchester and Salford – through communicating common concerns, shared spaces and the realities of the asylum process. Secondly, those often unspoken barriers between asylum seekers and those who seek to offer support to them – through a creative engagement that is productive rather than dependent, collaborative rather than charitable. Projects such as this gesture towards the potential that creative approaches have in both communicating multiple understandings of the city and in destabilising assumed notions of how asylum seekers should engage with cities.

More than this however, projects such as this reflect an appreciation of urbanism as a way of life tied to the multiplicity of the city. The banners and maps created in this process are not contributions made by asylum seekers and refugees; rather they reflect collaborations that express the coming together of different journeys, narratives and experiences. They are not individual expressions or timeless versions of events to be placed into an archive of ‘our history and heritage’, but are the products of encounters, relationships and shared collaborations that communicate understandings of the here and now. In this process, the banners and maps of this project become collaborations in shaping, rather than contributions towards, a ‘shared future’. Seeing like a city is to view the politics of asylum in a similar vein, to think of the city as a compositional arrangement of multiple stories and journeys, all in the process of being made, diverted and retraced. As a compositional arrangement, the city is made through such journeys, and whilst such a reading implies a ‘history and heritage’ that is reworked through the presence of diverse stories, this is never a static or fixed narrative, nor is it ever ‘our’ history, the property of any singular group. Rather, the city becomes a banner in the making – a collaboration of those present, always being made yet never finally displayed.

A further resonance for this mode of thought might be found in the ways in which a number of UK cities have made tentative steps to challenge the state over asylum. We might trace a number of examples. Firstly, the manner in which urban authorities can act to support and publicise anti-deportation campaigns for local inhabitants threatened with deportation, such as recent cases in Leicester and Glasgow. Such situations position the authority of the city against the will of the state and seek to oppose deportation on the basis that individuals and families are part of the city, actively engaged in the fabric of local communities. Secondly, city councils in Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford and Sheffield have all recently passed motions that express concern over the destitution of asylum seekers and have begun lobbying national government to allow local authorities to assist destitute and refused asylum seekers. Again such voices stand at a critical distance from the decisions of the Home Office and challenge national policy from the perspective of those living with the consequences of such policies. In Manchester a ‘day of action’ is proposed at the end of June to highlight the situation of destitute asylum seekers in the city and to call upon the city council to both oppose the government’s stance on destitution and to intervene by offering support to destitute asylum seekers. Doing so would challenge a concern with refugees that extended only to those able to ‘contribute’ to the city or the nation, and would instead mark a concern with the needs of all those present in the city, regardless of status, contribution or ‘worthiness’.

These gestures, whilst limited and fractured at present, highlight the importance of viewing asylum from a different lens to that of a state-centred concern with contribution and historical hospitality. The potential of the city, as Derrida (2001) argues, is to take a critical stance relative to the forms of conditional hospitality and welcome offered by the state – to demand more on behalf of all of those who inhabit the city. Seeing like a city implies an awareness of the complex and unfinished nature of urban life, of how cities evolve, change and adapt as newcomers arrive and others leave. This framing of the city is therefore centred on valuing those who inhabit the city, those who make urban space at any given moment and through it perform a claim to a ‘right to the city’ that arises precisely from taking part in the negotiations, tensions and contradictions of urban life (Darling and Squire 2012; Lefebvre 1996). Whilst such a lens is unlikely to ever fully usurp a state-centred account of asylum, its importance may be in proposing a critical alternative, an urban critique of asylum and refugee policy centred on the possibilities that collaboration may bring.

Refugee Week brings with it opportunities, opportunities for dialogue and discussion around asylum seekers and refugees, around current policies and around the histories of sanctuary that have helped to shape many British cities. But such discussions should not be limited to a concern with the contributions that refugees have made or may make to the nation or to the city. This simply expresses a paucity of imagination and a failure to recognise the realities of asylum in contemporary Britain. Refugee Week should be about offering space for the expression of collaborative projects, collaborative politics and collaborative realities. It is in collaboration that contemporary cities are made and remade, as much through the investments, experiences and journeys of those seeking asylum as through any other inhabitants. Taking seriously such collaborations implies a politics of critique towards narratives of refugee contribution, fixed histories of national hospitality and policies that produce the destitution of many asylum seekers. Such a politics starts with the critical potential of seeing like a city.

References

Darling, J. and Squire, V. (2012) Everyday enactments of sanctuary: the UK City of Sanctuary movement in Lippert, R.K. and Rehaag, S. (eds) Sanctuary practices in international perspectives: migration, citizenship and social movements London, Routledge, 191-204

Derrida, J. (2001) On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness translated by Dooley, M. and Hughes, M. London, Routledge

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writing on cities translated by Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. Oxford, Blackwell

Magnusson, W. (2012) The politics of urbanism: seeing like a city London, Routledge

Refugee Week (2013) Refugee week: different pasts, shared future available at:  www.refugeeweek.org.uk (last accessed 10/06/2013)


[i] Rainbow Haven offers a communal space and drop-in centre for new arrivals in Manchester and Salford and seeks to meet the immediate and longer terms needs of asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. Anna and Emily have been working on a series of creative embroidery, painting, drawing and photography exercises at the centre for Manchester Refugee Week as part of a project funded by the Arts Council. Further details of their work can be found here: www.podcollective.co.uk
[ii] The banners produced through the project will be on display throughout Refugee Week (17-21 June) at the Peoples History Museum, Manchester and the Lowry Gallery, Salford, alongside forming part of the Shared Future Refugee Celebration on 22nd June at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. This day of celebrations is organised by The British Red Cross to encourage understanding between and within communities and forms one strand of their work to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Teaching the City, Teaching in the City

San Francisco from  The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

San Francisco from The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

 

Nearly a decade ago, a colleague and I decided to develop a new team-taught Level 3 module on the urban experience in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americas. Drawing upon her expertise in Latin America and mine in the United States, we hoped to complement other staff members’ modules on British and European urban history, and to emphasise the many ways in which, we felt, that the cities of the “New World” differed, in social, cultural, political, economic, geographical, and architectural terms, from those of the “Old.”

Although the course was a success in terms of enrolments and evaluations, and we really enjoyed teaching it, in its initial form it turned out to be a one-off. Her teaching commitments changed and made her unable to continue our collaboration, and I opted to carry on with the module on my own, removing the elements of teaching and learning on Latin America and focussing exclusively on the experience of the U.S. Although my examples ranged from turn-of-the-century St. Louis to contemporary Los Angeles, from the murder of a prostitute in 1830s New York to the challenges faced by Mexican migrants in Depression-era Chicago, I continued to emphasise the seemingly unique nature of the American city, which I attributed variously to the U.S.’s vast physical size, the relative newness of even its longest-established cities, and the immense role played by immigration in the nation’s history in general and that of its urban spaces in particular.

More recently, though, after a decade of teaching this module, I’ve become steadily more interested in bringing the American and the British urban experience into comparison and, ideally, dialogue. This change has stemmed from two sources: firstly, having now lived and worked in Britain, and specifically in the city of Manchester, for over a dozen years, I’m now much more aware of the UK’s urban history, and realise, for example, that the processes of urban regeneration popularly known as “urban renewal” in the US, which played out in many American cities in the 1960s and 1970s, were similarly influential, and were both welcomed and resisted, in locales such as Hulme, a few hundred yards from my University teaching room. Secondly, recent events, such as the anti-G8 protests of 2009 and riots of summer 2011, with which my students are intensely familiar, have turned out to be a great “hook” with which to draw my students into enthusiastic discussion of topics such as the right to protest, the freedom of the streets, the responsibilities of law enforcement personnel, and the sources and meanings of class conflict.

As an historian, I hope to convince students that, in William Faulkner’s often quoted words, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” As a scholar of American Studies, although I hope to avoid the “American exceptionalism” which has been so blinkering for politicians and academics alike, part of my task is to encourage students to believe that American history and culture and not just potentially exciting, but that they offer a sharp contrast with the historical and contemporary experiences of Britain, Europe, and other nations and regions of the world. Negotiating these sometimes contradictory values can be and often has been intensely challenging, but the reason that I have continued to offer this course (now called AMER30772: Cities of Dreadful Delight) year in and year out, while rotating, adding, dropping, or significantly reformulating my other undergraduate and postgraduate courses, is that each year I have moved farther from my original belief in the uniqueness of the American urban experience. To give one example, this spring I gave my usual lecture on the phenomenon of “slumming” in the turn-of-the-century U.S., by which middle- and upper-class American urbanites and suburbanites, bored with their usual leisure activities, organised expeditions to slum neighbourhoods in New York, San Francisco, and other cities in order to see “how the other half lived”—tantalised by the perceived exoticism and danger of the urban poor, particularly those who were non-white and/or recent immigrants, they visited working-class saloons, overcrowded tenement houses, and even opium dens, and returned to regale their less adventurous friends with tales of their daring adventures. I contrasted this bygone fad with the more recent one of the undergraduate “chav party,” using comments from student-oriented websites debating why, and how, one might best imitate the appearance, tastes, and behaviour of the perceived “dangerous class.” My students seemed to gain a much more nuanced understanding of the practice of “slumming,” and to see it not simply as a perplexing or amusing but now irrelevant leisure pursuit, but as something which continues, in both theory and practice, to symbolise some widely accepted attitudes about social hierarchy.

The more I alter my lectures, seminars, readings, and assessments by trying to bring the American historical experience of urban life into dialogue with issues that are “closer” to my students, whether in geographic or temporal terms, the more I feel that I need to do. I’m currently thinking of taking next year’s group of students on an “away day” through the streets of Manchester: by doing so, I hope not only to give them first-hand examples of many of the themes of the course, but to encourage them to make additional connections of their own, and to share them with each other and, through me, with future groups of students. As a scholar of the humanities, the focus of my work has always been on the library and the archive, but I’m starting to feel that I’ve acquired a laboratory of my own, in the city where I live and teach.

Symposium report: The Making of Post-war Manchester, 1945-74: Plans and Projects

Poster

On the 8th May we organised a successful one-day symposium examining urban change in post-war Manchester, focussed upon infrastructural projects and the local implementation of central government initiatives in the three decades following 1945. Over one hundred people attended the event and engaged with a fascinating set of presentations from a range of geographers, historians, planners, architects and archaeologists composed of a mixture of well known professors, established scholars and new researchers. Fittingly for the symposium’s temporal focus it was held in the concrete bunker formerly known as the Kantorowich Building, designed by Professors Roy Kantorowich and Norman Hanson and completed in 1970. The speakers presented in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre, named after Reginald Cordingley (shown in full instructive mode below), Professor of Architecture at the University of Manchester between 1933 and 1962.

Source - Rylands Collection, Image Number - JRL1201094

Source – Rylands Collection, Image Number – JRL1201094

Aim: What changed in Manchester and what drove the changes?

The presentations were intended to reference transformative events and large scale built projects of the era in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate. The intellectual objective of the symposium programme was to reveal a selection of the significant narratives of the shifting social and physical development of the city during the years 1945 – 1974. Whilst we recognise that the two dates are, in many respects, arbitrary bookends for processes of change and urban development that are often long running and cumulative, they do provide a set of sensible marker posts – running from the end of the Second World War in 1945 up to 1974 and the wholesale political reorganisation of the conurbation in the wake of the Local Government Act (1972).

City of Manchester Plan

City of Manchester Plan

As a departure point, 1945 is particularly interesting and equally problematic, as it is all too easy to assume it as a pivotal moment, when, in actuality, it simply marked the end of the wartime hiatus and the resumption of many schemes and strategies devised in the decades before 1939. That said, many of the speakers made explicit reference to Rowland Nicholas’ 1945 City of Manchester Plan as a signature ‘visionary’ document of the era and it is evidently a useful narrative touchstone. It is perhaps unsurprising that the other end of these three decades was less considered. There were markedly fewer references to the formation of Greater Manchester, possibly reflective of its ambiguous status at the time and its limited legacy in the makeup of contemporary Manchester. It is now an apposite time to consider this period, via a public symposium, for several reasons, not least of all because some of the personnel directly involved in the projects are still around and can be ‘brought out of the woodwork’ to tell their stories. Moreover, primary documentary material is newly emerging into archives and becoming publicly available, and more generally it taps into growing scholarly engagement and broader public fascination with these three decades not just in this city, but across Europe.

map

This symposium built directly on our experience of curating a successful public exhibition in spring 2012, entitled Infra_MANC, that considered the role of infrastructure in the making of post-war cities by looking at the planning of the Mancunian Way elevated urban motorway, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian ‘secret’ underground telephone exchange and fanciful notions for a rooftop city centre heliport. The 200 page illustrated catalogue from this exhibition has just been released online as free PDF book. The study of both built and unbuilt projects has the capacity to reveal new histories, particularly political relationships and the interplay of local interests with national policy directives. Unrealised urban schemes, be they for buildings or infrastructure, frequently leave unrefined traces of their gestation, promotion and failure that do not gloss over the fractious and antagonistic relations of policy makers and power players. In this regard the active debates and discourse around the things that did not physically alter, but still had the capacity to change, the city were as relevant to the symposium as the obvious large scale extant developments, which were also considered.

The Symposium

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source - Joe Blakey

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source – Joe Blakey

The event itself was arranged into four sessions. It began with a contextual overview, eloquently chaired by Professor Brian Robson and in the opening talk by Professor Michael Hebbert, a former professor at Manchester, dissected the limits of the assigned time frame and provided passionate prose on the relative shift from the modern industrial metropolis to a something approaching a post-modern service city and its refraction through the lens of Granada Television’s Coronation Street. Subsequent sessions dealt with spatial changes related to housing renewal, the development of key social institutions including higher education and the NHS, and the impact of pollution control on the environmental quality for the city and its citizens. Midway through the day a stimulating presentation was given on population migration in the post-war period contrasting the situation in Moss Side to Cheetham Hill, presented by University of Manchester colleagues Laurence Brown from History and Niall Cunningham based in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) (shown in the photograph above). The day concluded with presentations on the development of aviation facilities for Manchester, the broader culture of the Mancunian Way and a description of the ‘disconnected city’ caused by distinct shadow of unbuilt ring roads in the urban form of the city centre.

Each participant received a 36 page printed booklet containing the full programme and speaker details. The symposium also included a gallery of reproductions of nearly twenty of the key plans and maps from the era and the Manchester Modernist Society were on hand with their ‘pop-up shop’. The full programme and abstract of the presentations are given on the supporting blog, PostwarMcr. With the kind permission of the speakers we have been able to provide copies of the slides for the majority of the talks, which are also available via the blog.

The symposium was made possible with financial support via a Seedcorn grant from the Cities@Manchester initiative and with complementary fund through the Campion Fund of the Manchester Statistical Society. Behind the scenes logistical support was provided by colleagues in SED and several student volunteers from architecture and geography. The Manchester School of Architecture kindly underwrote printing costs.

The Future of Post-war Manchester

Manchester and its Region

 

We plan to develop an edited book following the themes of the symposium and we are pleased that many of the speakers have committed to contributing chapters. In broad terms the volume will be a compendium of new and existing works and organised in the manner of a ‘regional study’ with chapters covering key themes (housing, transport, education, industrial change, etc.). As such, the book will have clear resonances with earlier edited volumes, such as the survey prepared under the editorship of Charles Carter for the meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Manchester, August 29 to September 5, 1962. As currently proposed, our new title, The Making of Post-war Manchester will, hopefully, be much broader in style and with discursive space for commentaries, shorter essays and visual interpretations of how city changed during the thirty or so years after the end of the Second World War. It is likely that it will be published and distributed by bauprint, Richard’s cottage publishing arm, designed and priced to appeal to wide readership interested in the city’s histories. Once the initial print run is sold we will also make the book available free online as a popular and educative resource.

The Making of Post-war Manchester symposium brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and professionals in planning and architecture, along with students studying aspects of Manchester’s development, and some members of the general public, interested in the recent history of their city. It is hoped that the crossing of disciplines will provide new narrative associations previously unexplored that may act as a platform for further research and discourse.

Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture 

Martin Dodge, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester