What does Manchester’s statue boom tell us about the city?

Votes for women! Emmiline Pankhurst in statue form. Image: Chris Wetherell.

Any visitor to Manchester in recent months will have noticed a rapidly changing city. The growing skyline is the most obvious feature, with empty car parks giving way to skyscrapers that wouldn't look out of place in London.

But turn your eyes down and you'll witness another construction boom spreading through the streets. Statues.

Manchester, like most cities, is no stranger to these: you can't move in Britain without bumping into an imposing visage of some modestly influential Victorian. But what's interesting about these new statues and sculptures is how they compare to their predecessors, and what they say about the modern city. Let's have a look at a few of the newcomers.

Victory Over Blindness

At the entrance of Piccadilly station, visitors are greeted by the first of the new generation of memorials: Victory Over Blindness. Influenced by the iconic painting “Gassed” by John Singer Sargent, it depicts a line of blinded soldiers leading their fellow comrades in procession.

Built at human scale and eye level, it uniquely shows wounded veterans forever changed by the horrors of war.

Emmeline Pankhurst Memorial

Down the road in St Peter's Square is the recently unveiled statue of Mancunian suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. It's wonderful to see such an important local figure receive due attention 88 years after a statue was erected to her in London.

What's great about this piece is how the chair she stands on acts as a pedestal, maintaining a natural feeling as crowds gather round her, as they did all those years ago.

Peterloo Massacre Memorial

Near the old Manchester Central Station, yet another memorial is under construction. Built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, the memorial hopes to be more than something to simply observe.

Image: Jeremy Deller/Caruso St John Architects.

Designed in the shape of a hill with purpose built holes for flagpoles, it's intended that the spot will become a gathering point for future protests. A positive civic space borne from the sorrow of a terrible event.

Bee in the City

Lastly, we have the much loved Bee in the City event that appeared last summer. Colourful and diverse, they've not only promoted the exploration of the city centre like a giant Easter egg hunt, but also emphasised a growing piece of the Mancunian identity: the worker bee.

Sadly many of the Bees were only temporary visitors, but some can still be found if you hunt around enough. 

So what do all these statues say about modern Manchester?

First of all, there's a sense that Manchester is waking up to the local history and culture that surrounds it. As lovely and influential as Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington are, their statues don't really say anything about the city or its people. There's nothing to differentiate them from the million identical statues in every other British city.

Such Victorian era statues are often associated with royalty and southern political figures, far removed from the gritty north. In this way, modern 21st century statues are helping to fill a vital cultural gap that has been missing from the street-scape.

The statues and memorials being built today are also far more personal than those that came before. Long gone are the days when towering pedestals and stone-faced gazes were the norm. Instead they have been replaced by more intimate, creative pieces that interact with the public, rather than domineer over them. They shout modernity; tailor made for a selfie sharing, social media loving generation.

With this then comes a growing feeling of civic pride. As Manchester develops, its streets are slowly becoming places to stop and appreciate, rather than corridors to hurry through, as more unique displays take root. It's a legitimately odd feeling to now see tourists stop and take photos outside of Piccadilly station. Perhaps not the next St Pancras or Lime Street, but a worthy improvement nonetheless.

So hats off to Manchester. No doubt the place is still getting back on its feet following the dark years of de-industrialisation, but the ongoing push to promote local identity and history in such a simple way is acting as a sure-fire method to rejuvenate one of the major cities of the north.

All photos courtesy of the author unless otherwise specified.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.