Like a Bomb Hit it! The Urban Regeneration of Manchester since 1996

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Eamonn Canniffe, Manchester School of Architecture


    The closure of a prolonged period of economic stagnation has brought an opportunity to make a critical assessment of recent urban developments in Manchester since the city was bombed by the I.R.A. in 1996. Praised in the popular and professional press as innovative examples of urban regeneration they have introduced often dramatic change into the Mancunian cityscape, but the incompleteness of their resolution, and the fragmentary discontinuity their thwarted plans have produced is firmly rooted in an urban tradition identified by Rowland Nicholas well over sixty years ago. In the 1945 City of Manchester Plan he commented that `the spirit of materialism and indifference to beauty … has been mainly responsible for the undistinguished appearance of the present city centre.´ The contention of this paper is that, despite massive and expensive reconstruction, his observation still holds true. Manchester’s status as a problematic example of British urban regeneration presents difficulties in assessing the impact and significance of urban design. On a broad scale the city has successfully repositioned itself during these two decades, and the speed with which the city centre was reconfigured after the 1996 bomb stoked an appetite for rebuilding which barely paused during the recession. Yet the quality of designed urban environment that has been created is generally poor, with little consistent relationship between the new elements and the existing fabric or even between the new buildings and spaces. The centre has been developed in a way that has detached it further from the significant areas of deprivation which surround it. As a demonstration of urban rebranding which has exacerbated the problems it is ostensibly intended to address it is a unique example of the disjunction between content and form. The initial growth of Manchester led to it being characterised by Asa Briggs as a ‘shock city’. That sense of shock continues to be an emotion which many visitors and residents share.