Category Archives: Research Projects

Progress on a cities@manchester seedcorn project to investigate the consequences of the 2011 riots in Greater Manchester

Jon Shute, Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice, School of Law

Image via flickr from NightFall404

Memories, like attention-spans, can be short, and it already seems a long time since the community of Pendleton in Salford, and Manchester City centre erupted into full-scale public disorder in August 2011. It is also difficult to recall the radically different nature of those riot sites only a few kilometres apart; the former associated with strong and longstanding anti-police sentiments; the latter being much more consumer goods focussed. Nearly 400 people were arrested, and 300 charged with riot-related offences; and the bill for policing, property damage and loss ran into millions of pounds. A disproportionate number of poor and (in the City centre) minority ethnic youth were arrested and given an unusually high proportion of unusually long prison sentences. A significant number of first time offenders were also dealt with harshly. The riots therefore raised a serious set of issues relating to legal and material inequality, and on the urban landscape in austerity-era Britain.

In this context, a proposal was submitted and accepted by cities@manchester to develop a major research proposal to investigate the consequences of the Greater Manchester (GM) riots. Bringing together colleagues from criminology, politics, psychology and environment, the project funded the employment of a Research Associate to research and develop innovative methodologies for the bid, and to liaise with research partners in GM Probation Trust and Manchester City Council. Over the course of 2012, we contributed to the literature on the riots (see Lightowlers & Shute in issue 106 of Radical Statistics), and made a range of local contacts including Dan Silver of the Social Action & Research Foundation (SARF), in Salford. In order to produce a richer, deeper level of qualitative data than available in the very limited published work on the GM disturbances  we carried out several narrative interviews with convicted rioters, and worked with the Council to develop strategies for accessing this hard to reach population. The data arising from this work, together with more in-depth quantitative statistics is being written up as a major mixed methods piece for the British Journal of Criminology. An ESRC Research Grant proposal is also close to submission and will investigate the individual, community and systemic level consequences of the riots, hopefully starting in late 2013. This will explore, among other things, the possibly counterproductive effects of harsh sentencing, and will attempt to construct a comparison ‘snowball’ sample of people involved in the riots but not arrested and sentenced. In this way, we hope to move on from a media-driven agenda of quick-response research and simplistic causal reasoning to a fuller understanding of the lived experience and long-term trajectories of those involved in – and affected by – the disturbances.

Who runs cities in the twenty first century?

Who owns your city?  The buildings in which you work, the apartments in which your friends live, the bars to which you flock after work on a Friday evening, the gym at which your partner works out on Monday and Wednesday: these are elements of the built environment, and while establishing who owns them might once have been straightforward, it is not now.  The inflow into English cities of significant amounts of capital investment during the 1990s and 2000s has produced a complex patchwork quilt of owners. From local and regional developers to international pension fund investors, the ownership of your city involves people making decisions around the world on practical issues that matter, from the mixed use of land to the accessing of buildings, from their external design to their environmental sustainability.  Less obviously, but as importantly, who owns the city shapes the way a city looks and feels.  It matters to those who call the city home.

If establishing who owns your city is not straightforward, neither is identifying who governs it. A range of government programmes such as urban regeneration companies, local strategic partnerships, business led initiatives, and city mayors have complicated matters. It is now hard to identify exactly who it is that is making decisions over the future of your city and where these decisions are being made. While local government continues to be centrally involved in the governance of cities, a range of other stakeholders with varying geographical remits, also have a part to play. Under the coalition government the last year has seen a return to the language of the 1980s, when local government and other public sector bodies were talked about as ‘enablers’ and ‘facilitators’. Bound up with the notion of ‘Big Society’ is a devolving of power down to local communities. Not without precedent, this most recent shift in policy only serves to make answering who governs your city a less straightforward question to answer.  Yet, who governs the city shapes the way a city looks and feels. It matters to those who call the city home.

Taken in tandem, who owns and governs the city should matter to all of us who live and work in cities. Together they lie behind the very profound question over who runs cities.  Answering this question is what this proposed project will do, if funded.  Using the cities of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, this project’s over-arching aim is to use a comparative analysis to explore who owns and governs English cities, and in what ways. It will be specifically interested in governance and ownership issues in relation to economic development, broadly defined. Using a combination of existing data sets and semi-structured interviews, this project will ask and answer the following four questions. First, how and why have ownership patterns changed in the three cities in the last 30 years? Second, how and why have governance structures changed in the three cities in the last 30 years? Third, what are the connections between ownership and governance patterns in the three cities? Fourth, and finally, in what ways do these changes make the three cities better placed to face current and future challenges?

Of course, in the current funding climate, with success rates low, this project may never be carried out, which would be a great shame!

The Urban Environment: Mirror and Mediator of Radicalisation

The Crumlin Courthouse

This research project, by Ralf Brand at Manchester Architecture Research Centre, is inspired by the assumption that societal polarisation (incl. political radicalisation) is not an a-spatial or a-material phenomenon. Polarisation takes place in streets, apartments, shops or parks and it is materially reflected in fences, buildings, territorial markers etc. But walls, bridges, buildings etc. also exert a gravitational pull on people’s perception and behaviour, for example the decision which playground to prefer, where to hide in the event of trouble and the likeliness of meeting ‘others’. In short, social conditions and urban environments shape each other. Belfast, Beirut, Berlin and Amsterdam are explored as sites of contestation and radicalisation. Ralf gives an overview of the project in this clip