“One of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK”: Saskia Sassen on Manchester

Manchester from the north. Image: Getty.

Manchester’s character, achievements and history were woven into Tony Walsh’s The Place, a poem that Walsh – conjuring the city’s pride, passion and defiance, its unity in diversity – recited to thousands of people who had thronged to the city’s Albert Square following the attack on the Manchester Arena.

Manchester is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK and has a long history of migration from different parts of the nation, mainland Europe and the rest of world.

During the Industrial Revolution, large numbers of Irish migrants arrived in Manchester, followed by European Jews fleeing persecution in the 18th and 19th century. Arrivals from the Caribbean and South Asia followed World War II, preceding waves of migrants from former colonies in Africa, such as Asians from Uganda and Kenya.

In the early 2000s, many skilled workers from Europe, India and West Africa were attracted by employment opportunities in Manchester – as IT professionals, for example, helping transform the city into a tech hub for the north of England. Many were also drawn to the health and care sector: many nurses come from countries outside the EU, making a vital contribution to the NHS.

These arrivals have transformed the economy, the culture and the social landscape of the region through their businesses, diverse cultural communities and the mixing of global cultures. This can be seen from Manchester’s “curry mile” in Rusholme, its Chinatown, the vibrant Northern Quarter, the “gay village” along Canal St, and many East European delicatessens.

The contributions of migrants to the region needs to be recognised, not just in terms of their labour but also the wider benefits. For example, one Indian nurse’s efforts through working with hospitals and communities has boosted organ donation among South Asians in the region.

A resilient city, but unequal

The IRA’s 1996 bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester was a turning point, bringing substantial funds to help regenerate areas of the city. The Manchester Arena attack is a reminder that the city holds great promise and opportunity, but also challenges. Throughout that dreadful night, heartwarming news spread quickly of how Manchester’s citizens, from local businesses and Sikh temples, from taxi drivers to homeless men helped provide safety, shelter and transport for those caught up in the bombing. This social solidarity reveals a Mancunian spirit that crosses class, ethnic and religious boundaries.

The Beetham Tower, not everyone’s favourite landmark. Image: Sykerabbit77/creative commons.

Manchester aims to become a top 20 “global city” by 2035, with tremendous investment in transport and infrastructure, transforming the city into a north west hub or “Northern powerhouse”.

Yet we should ask if the vision that Manchester’s leaders have for the city embraces all the groups that make up the city’s inhabitants? Alongside the huge increase in new developments throughout the city region, there have been increases in poverty, crime rates and homelessness that are as stark as the jagged lines of the Beetham Tower, revealing a city of deeply unequal access to housing, education and security.


Flashpoints and the future

An event celebrating the region, Manchester as Cosmopolis, summed up the rich heritage of the city through but also highlighted concerns following Brexit, the rise of homophobic and racist views, and the effects of economic austerity.

Cities have long been flashpoints for war, racial and religious strife, and conflict between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. But major cities’ capacity to handle internal conflict is suffering in the face of the growth of new types of conflict, notably asymmetric war and urban violence.

Current trends of rising economic inequality, the refugee crisis, and conflict cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, but rather through processes of socio-economic and environmental dislocations that displace people and communities across the globe. This process of “expulsion” – of people from their districts and communities through gentrification, or from professional work through de-industrialisation – creates islands of privilege and deprivation, unsettling the social fabric of a city.

For example, the development of vast and visible “luxury zones” in the heart of cities leads to the exclusion of people and families who may have lived there for generations. Such luxury zones may create monoliths or forms of de-urbanisation at the cost of affordable inner-city social housing.

At the same time, densely inhabited city spaces overwhelmed by inequality and injustice can become the breeding grounds for a variety of secondary types of conflicts, from the rise of drug-related crime and violence that Manchester has witnessed, or even the incubation of terrorist sympathies.

The ConversationManchester, like many cities, must forge a future with its communities that will fight off terrorist threats. Government strategies aimed at combating extremism, such as Prevent, have proven ineffective and created more unease and suspicion – even, it has been suggested, leading to more extremism. Cities have long had the capacity to bring together people of different classes, ethnicities and religions through commerce, politics, and civic practices. Contemporary conflicts unsettle and weaken this cultural strength – something Manchester must unite to overcome.

Saskia Sassen is Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Shoba Arun is senior lecturer in sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.