Thursday, 1 April 2010

How property development became the new punk....

owen hatherley’s ideas have long found favour on these pages and i often return to his writings for inspiration and intimidation. in yesterday's guardian podcast he turns his unflinching gaze onto our own fair city and as usual hits the nail on the head.

its a brilliant piece. exploring the impact of architecture on manchester’s cultural scene, he elucidates what some of us have been trying to suggest for the last decade to a largely disinterested citizenry, in thrall with the all pervading orthodoxy of the reigning post bomb narrative; that of the great entrepreneurial victorian city reborn triumphantly to the present day. this mythology of the ‘original modern’ city, brashly beguiling with its relentless self aggrandising swagger, has successfully airbrushed out a whole century and the experiences of the people in it.

to many of us still living outside the shiny glass and steel bubble of the regenerated centre, in the ordinary fragmented spaces not yet given the urban splash treatment, hatherley’s thesis is nothing new, but to hear it boldly enunciated is still something of a novelty. inevitably hatherleys reading will go down like a lead balloon to those wedded to the hollow sham that is spinningfields and new islington, vulgar neo-ruins in waiting to the false idols of the free market economy.

but just what did become of the 20th century city, the urban topography of postwar manchester in particular? the idea that prior to ’96, the entire city was a dismal shithole - and by extension, the lives and experiences of all who inhabited it - has held sway, unchallenged, for far too long. the grand civic aspirations and modernist landscape envisaged as a new utopia replacing squalid unsanitary slum dwellings, seen so clearly in recent excavations over on dantzic street, were sold off, obliterated and missed by no-one. as hatherley explains,

this is the narrative about modernist architecture that exists in numerous reminiscences and histories – we loved it at first, in the ’60s, then we realised how appalling it was, so we knocked them down and rebuilt simulations of the old streets instead.

in manchester, after the ira bomb of 1996 and before the 2008 financial crash, property development became the new punk rock...a post-rave urban growth coalition of old punks, ravers, developers and new labour mandarins took control of the city, transformed it into Britain’s regeneration flagship, done in the name of a city that created joy division, factory records and the hacienda, wiping out as much of the 60’s city they took inspiration from as they possibly could, in an orgy of demolition and rebuilding.

nowadays, when manchester is profiled and reminisced over, its most often than not from a narrative which leaps from the victorian city of manchester liberalism, the unrestrained capitalism much loved by thatcherites, to the city recreated and regenerated after the bomb. its old entrepreneurs built the mills where workers toiled 12 hour days and died before they were 40, and the new entrepreneurs sell the same mills to young urban professionals as luxury housing, with rooms half the size of the old council flats. the poverty of 19th century manchester and the inequalities of today are effaced whilst in between is a no man’s land – except that now, after the recession, these empty spaces are back and the estates of ancoats left in ruins after failed regeneration schemes.

is the post bomb deal with the devil finally beginning to crack? as the fissures begin to appear in first of the great glass shards of 'new' manchester, collective amnesia is no longer the order of the day...

launched in july 2009, Loops is a new journal of music writing; a promising urbanist marriage between publishers Faber and Faber and Domino Records. its second edition is fresh nipping out to buy an issue immediately. it sounds right up my high rise....