It was the celebrated US city philosopher Lewis Mumford who said: “Forget the damned motorcar, build cities for lovers and friends”. It is a mantra that Manchester could do well to take note of, writes Danny Crump.
Manchester is a city in a state of flux – no British city outside the capital can boast such a transformation over the past two decades nor enjoys the current levels of investment that it continues to attract.
The result is a city centre that is pepper-potted with a series of developments that will underpin the city’s aspirations to become one of the 21st century’s genuinely competitive global cities.
But for all the individual high quality developments, there is still some way to go in creating the kind of vibrant and vital street network that knits together the increasingly impressive sum of Manchester’s parts.
Greater Manchester’s decision to adopt the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Global Street Design Guide is a welcome and essential move towards a more thoughtful approach to Manchester’s streets and the untapped opportunities they offer.
As the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has rightly said, it is no coincidence that the cities that regularly top polls for being the most livable have embraced the importance of creating environments that put pedestrians and cyclists first.
It’s now time for the city to reveal the scale of its ambition and grasp the nettle as the opportunities are enormous, once the complex challenges are overcome. Tackling the low hanging fruit of side streets would be progress of sorts but a city of Manchester’s global aspiration should aim higher and confront the city’s main arteries with a strategy that is truly transformational.
Running through the heart of Manchester is one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares – Deansgate. Present in Roman times, today it is 22m wide with a carriageway of more than 17m, more a motorway dissecting the city centre than livable street.
All along its length, tens of millions of pounds are being invested in critical new developments such as Allied London’s St John’s and The Great Northern Warehouse by Trilogy Real Estate – fantastic locations but enveloped in by a traffic dominated environment.
With its narrow footways, pedestrians are marginalized with street frontages not as active as they could be and little or no opportunity, or inclination, to spill out into the heavily traffic street. The route functions as a conveyor belt rather than a gentle flow but a radical intervention could bring radical results.
By removing the on-street parking and reducing the carriageway to 6.5m – enough for two double deckers to pass – Deansgate could become a different kind of space with a human scale, providing a setting and the infrastructure where pedestrian and cyclists come first and people meander rather than march.
According to a study by UCL for Transport for London, the benefits of this kind of intervention are clear and tangible – footfall increases by 40%, there are 17% fewer empty units and there is a 30% uplift in property prices and rents. That is in addition to the health and wellbeing benefits of creating healthier streets.
As daunting as transforming a street like Deansgate may seem, it is not without precedent. In Vienna the famous Mariahilferstrasse has been transformed into a traffic restricted zone along its entire length while the Slovenska Boulevard in Ljubljana in Slovenia has been reimagined as part of 151,000 sq ft of city space that has been reclaimed and rejuvenated on behalf of its residents.
Birmingham’s historic business district is currently undergoing a project that will put pedestrians first with an 80% reduction in traffic built into the strategy and even London’s Oxford Street could soon follow, leading to a projected 40% uplift in footfall.
The time for a radical rethink of Manchester’s city centre is upon us – and it’s those lovers and friends that must be the new priority.
- Danny Crump is director of urbanism at Broadway Malyan