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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, August 31, 2006
    More than just a dead tree
     
    Coincidentally, the publication of my blog on The Birley Tree in August's Coracle [download pdf] comes at the same time as the delivery of Shrinking Cities with its deeper analysis of the seismic changes to the urban structures of Manchester and Liverpool over recent years:

    "During the last decade, [Manchester] has tried to renew its derelict sites with a whole series of cultural institutions and events. Among these are: the Lowry Centre, opened in 2000; the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind; the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2000 and the holding of the Commonwealth Games in 2002. 'But the economic success of the city centre,' as it says on Manchester City Council's web site, 'stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding districts, whose inhabitants suffer from one of the highest concentrations of criminality, as well as bad health and poor housing.'

    Particularly hard-hit by change is the district of Hulme, near to the centre, which has been razed to the ground twice in thirty years. Its slums, built in the age of Queen Victoria, were demolished during the nineteen-sixties. The terraced houses were replaced by high-rise flats and a crescent 'la Bath'. Not long after the last of the new accommodation was occupied, however, in 1972, it began to fall into disrepair. In the empty blocks, a vigorous sub-culture soon grew up. Notwithstanding this, in 1992 the area was visited by a second wave of demolitions, in the shape of the 'Hulme City Challenge' programme."


    Reading Shrinking Cities' pages on Hulme made me realise how simple-minded my own article is; but the underlying reality remains true: generations of people ripped and torn apart by changing waves of fashion in urban design. But some of these people have reacted creatively: Hulme in the seventies and eighties was Manchester's new wave laboratory. Today the place is blessed by the presence of the Homes for Change housing cooperative, operating from a radically-designed building which holds the best of the area's modernist past and a communal present together. The story really is more interesting and more complex than merely one about a dead tree.