Visions for the city

A view from Floor 15

Simon Buckley, an award-winning photographer, takes a look at the ongoing regeneration of Manchester and argues that developers must begin putting the needs of people before profit.

I live on floor 15 of a high rise in Salford, above the birds. I watch them from my window, twisting in the rushing wind that gusts between the other tower blocks. From my living room, below vast clouds, I can see the adolescent skyline of a growing Manchester and, from my kitchen, the clump of lustrous buildings newly formed to create Media City. At night it can feel as if there are more twinkling red lights atop cranes than there are stars in the night sky.

Below me, hooded lads wheelie their way up and down side roads, past pushchairs and prowling taxis, indifferent to the cars braking to let them safely past. There’s more green space than I’m aware of at ground level, but much of it seems sealed in by fencing and disconnected from the surrounding houses and flats.

Staring out past the other high-rises, built with such hope in the 1960s, towards the new wipe-clean developments being erected in the city centre, I often wonder why my apartment, with its large lounge and separate kitchen, was deemed a failure and scheduled for demolition, whilst the new, pinched 22 storey developments have become labelled as luxury places to live.

When I’ve descended to the ground, and am walking through grey, segregated walkways, I’m reminded that it’s not necessarily living higher than the tree tops that has caused past failure, it’s the combination of how these concrete giants are managed, and the arid, surrounding environment laid out around them. It often feels as if the needs and individual identities of the residents, expected to exist happily in these identikit structures, has been totally misunderstood or disregarded.

At street level, rarely is there anything of interest to engage you. The buildings simply begin their rise upwards with little thought to the experience of the pedestrian. There are no individual shop fronts, or unexpected back streets. There is a lack of colour and creativity, with monochrome panels of metal or glass excluding the passer by. One of the great wonders of a city is to be able to explore, to feel as if you may, at any moment, discover a rabbit hole down which to dive and experience moments of magic, and this is almost entirely absent at the base of these structures.

There also seems to be an almost phobic attitude to true green space or communal areas, which means that anyone in the neighbourhood remains isolated, constantly moving on to other places more comfortable to gather in. And perhaps the issue that most defines the success of skyscraper living, that of security, could be transformed by the simple addition of a concierge in every foyer, and space to gather so that people could to get to know each other and create an actual community.

I like my flat. I like gazing out over my city, watching the restless weather sweep in from the far end of the Ship Canal. But if developers continue to build without imagination, allowing the deciding force to be profit and not the needs of the people who bring life to an area, then, in 30 or 40 years time, someone will be looking down from the 15th floor of what is currently deemed a luxury development, and wondering why it is to be demolished, when the cranes in the distance are building yet more skyscrapers.

Simon Buckley is an artist who recently won a City Life Award for his Not Quite Light project. He’s recently initiated the Floor 15 Group, a forum for discussion which meets monthly in his 15th floor flat.

The City

By Alex Chisholm

To approach the City you climb, then drop down the green hills it sits within. They paused at the brow, their wheels pointing to the descent, looking over the grey, brown, green smudges of human living.

She looked over to the Visitor as he adjusted his sunglasses. It was at least not raining she thought. The Visitor was used to rides in hotter, drier places.

‘Not far’ she said and they freewheeled down.

The pods first appeared ten years ago. In the playgrounds, the car parks, the empty in-between places. She remembered how the cool metal side had felt, the twist in her child belly as the door opened, how she’d been shown a box of broken things. She still had the toy she’d made, spun together with lines of silver solder. Her first Make, her first Mark on the new City.

She’d come back, sometimes to make, sometimes to play, sometimes just for a quiet place to read. The pod was always changing. And it wasn’t just the pod that kept her coming back; it was the people. The pod taught them to look up from the palms of their hands and into the faces of their neighbours. People she’d lived besides but didn’t know. They knew each other now, and with that knowledge, kindness and collaboration passed easily between them. Ideas flared, caught fire and soon around each place small industries were born and bred. Communities found the care for their own fabric, coloured it with the bright paints of their creativity.

‘They gave you all this?’ said the Visitor gazing at the dull grey pod.

‘Hope’ she said, ‘they gave us hope.’

Then the pods had opened up the portals to each other. They had gazed into the other parts of the City. Places they had hardly heard of, never seen. To begin with, transported images and conversations, then the pods showed them they could make the wheels, power their own movement. People flowed pod-to-pod, crossing over borders that had been in their minds so long they no longer even saw them. And the City sighed, shifted and lifted up from the shackles of its clogged motorways.

Now the pods were on the move. Raised on carts, pulled, paraded through streets, on their way to their new home. The empty Mill, which once was all things Work, will be the place where the City reminds itself to Play, to Imagine.

As she and the Visitor arrived, the last pod was being put in place. The hands that lifted to help it home were black and brown and yellow and pink. Hands that signed and arms that did not have hands. And the cheer that went up came from voices in 140 different accents.

The Visitor removed his sunglasses. ‘I didn’t know,’ he said, ‘I didn’t know Manchester could be like this.’

She smiled. ‘That’s because this ‘int Manchester, Bhaisaab.

This is Bradford.’

Alex Chisholm is co-director of Bradford’s Freedom Studios

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