Searching for the spirit of the city

As politicians and developers seek to grow Liverpool and Manchester, how can we avoid a city losing its soul?

It might sound like a discussion better suited to the pub – sometime around the third pint perhaps – but it’s potentially more useful and more important.

Mural young man

It can pay to look up from time to time

The prize is reducing opposition to development. People are far more willing to accept change if they don’t feel that something they care deeply about is being lost.

And the challenge is that people care about many different things. Understanding it isn’t simple, even with widescale consultation. Pleasing everyone is impossible. Even so, there are big prizes to be won if we can understand what the majority of people want to avoid losing, and find ways to protect it.

Geese Heart Of Manchester

In the heart of Manchester, just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Station

So what do people care about? We can probably guess a few things. Historic buildings. Parks and public spaces. Shopping areas.


Those are all important to me, but my own personal “soul” item is simply surprise. I love that my city has the ability to surprise me when I turn a corner or look up.

I can walk through the busy, built-up centre of Manchester, take a turn and be standing by a canal lock with geese pecking around me. Glancing up, I can see some old architecture or a mural that I’d never noticed before. I would hate developments to take away that ability to astonish and amaze.

Longsight Dino Wall

Hidden down an alleyway in Longsight – you could spend your life driving through the area and never know it was there.

If we can better understand not just whether people object to a particular planning application, but also what makes the city feel like theirs, we may be able to better plan for inclusive growth.

At becg can help you understand and shape public perceptions about new developments – get in touch for a chat about how.

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Christopher Alexander puts it best in his book Pattern language:
“The Timeless Way of Building…towns and buildings will not…come alive, unless they are made by all the people in society, and unless these people share a common pattern language…and unless this common pattern language is alive itself.”

By Graham Marshall