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The cat that got the cream
Manchester in General
Member Name: Bel Ludovic
Manchester in General
Date: 05/07/02, updated on 05/07/02 (288 review reads)
Advantages: some superb buildings, lively and interesting to walk around, plenty of imagination and verve
Disadvantages: poor climate, Mancunians can be arrogant, chippy and edgy, few real landmarks
Manchester City Centre is great - but don't go round telling Mancunians that, they're big-headed enough as it is! Some might like to sneer that the Commonwealth Games which the city is about to host is a pretty irrelevant sporting competition in the big scheme of things, but does Manchester
care? No, it's too busy having the last laugh. It has a great new stadium plus a plethora of other sporting facilities in the east of the city and the city centre has been treated to cosmetic surgery
amounting to millions of pounds. And that's not mentioning a fresh injection of new tourist attractions, such as the spectacular-looking Urbis museum, the revamped Manchester Art Gallery and the iconic Imperial War Museum North. The city's main shopping street, Market Street, has been tastefully relandscaped
as has the previously shabby Piccadilly Gardens, a key transport hub where seediness has been replaced by a superbly designed new park where the only-slip up is a huge concrete wall on one side - an odd choice.
What makes Manchester city centre a really enjoyable place to walk around is its size and layout. A plan in the 1950s to demolish most of its Victorian buildings and erect a series of tower blocks stretching from
Piccadilly down to Oxford Road never saw the light of day because Manchester was in decline and didn't have the means to carry it out. Meanwhile, Birmingham was booming and carried out similar plans (comprising
a series of ring roads). How Manchester must be grateful for the timing of its decline, and how Birmingham must rue its former good fortune! No ring road means Manchester feels bigger and busier than its Midland competitor; block after block of robust street architecture, with some of the most memorable cityscapes - not necessarily the prettiest - in the country. There's no end of streets and lanes to explore, and it's a pleasure to get lost, except for when it's raining - which is very often,
No ring road also means plenty of room for the city centre to expand outwards and plenty of space for quirky, independent businesses, great pubs and cool bars to call home. Check out Afflecks Palace and the Colloseum, grungy shopping complexes at the gateway to the Northern Quarter, a down-at-heel but still interesting part of the city centre. It is oddly remindful of New York, as is the (tiny) Chinatown area and (increasingly dull) Gay Village. Elsewhere,
the city sports a shiny, scrubbed European feel. This flukey, lucky place was blessed with the best IRA bomb ever, in 1996. How can a bomb be "good", let alone "best"? Don't worry, it's no longer taboo to speak in such a way about the Manchester bomb - it killed no-one and destroyed what was by far the ugliest, most depressing part of the city centre, enabling planners and architects to start afresh. The post-bomb masterplan is nearing completion. Urbis is
part of it; and Cathedral Gardens is lovely, framing the historic buildings around it very well, while successfully
offsetting Urbis. There's lots of so-so new retail architecture, the Royal Exchange Theatre's been refurbed stylishly, but the new Exchange Square doesn't really work for me, and the Triangle is a terribly bland shopping centre compared to what was there before.
The loveliest part of the city centre is King Street, St. Ann's Square, Albert Square and that general vicinity - much of
which is positively genteel. But I prefer the brasher parts of the city centre further south and east - more energy, more inspiration. Even in these areas, the general quality of architecture is very good, some superb mercantile builidings (most of which seem to house lofts and apartments - again more good fortune, as many of these were empty and threatened until the city living boom came along at just the right time and rehabilitated them.)
Further south, Castlefield and Dean
sgate Locks is a canalside area more reminiscent of Birmingham. If arriving by Piccadilly
Station, it's worth getting the tram to the G-Mex Station, exploring this area and then working your way up by foot, perhaps using
Deansgate and then deviating at whichever points interest you.
So, as a Birmingham resident, should I be envious of Manchester? After all, most people now think of it as the Second City,
and not Birmingham. And most people prefer Manchester city centre as an 'experience' to Birmingham city centre. What do I think? Well, at the moment the competition for Second City status is all sewn-up - with Manchester the current winner. Overall, I too prefer Manchester city centre to Birmingham city centre, simply because it's more cohesive and more vibrant. Birmingham is very good at set-pieces: Manchester has nothing quite as impressive as Birmingham's Victoria Square, or the Mailbox or the Custard Factory, nor suburbs quite as plush
as Edgbaston et al. But what Manchester city centre does have is a consistent look and feel; one doesn't have to go scurrying around abysmal areas to get to the good stuff, as the visitor to Birmingham has to. Manchester is less fragmented; it is not a city of bits and pieces, and this will enable Manchester to withstand Birmingham's challenge when the new Bull Ring and other developments are finished. Because, ultimately, "you can't beat real streets".
If there is something about Manchester I'm not keen on, it's the minority of chippy Militant Mancunians who bear a grudge against London and who plug and namedrop their city excessively, as if expecting a round of applause when answering the question "where are you from?". Mancunians
have an almost demented civic pride that leads many Mancs to firmly believe it is the finest city in the world - which is all very well, but too often this results in
an annoying arrogance and insular
ity. Comparing Manchester to London is fairly futile, and the greatest city in the world it almost certainly isn't. Ignore the nasal boasting, and enjoy the buildings and bars instead.
Finally, if you're expecting a mention of football, music, etc... well, that's a whole other story. Read Dave Haslam's book 'Manchester, England' if that's
what you're interested in. It's a fairly thorough account.