“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.

 
 
 
 

Eritrea’s Modernist architecture: a striking reminder of years of oppression

Asmara’s futuristic Fiat Tagliero Building (1938) was built to resemble an aircraft. Image: David Stanley/Creative Commons.

Those with an eye for architecture will notice something peculiar when visiting Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Dotted around the city are exceptional examples of Modernist architecture, a style that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. Rejecting gratuitous ornateness in favour of minimalism, function and rationalism, the style grew to dominate 20th century design. But it didn’t arrive in an east African country in a remotely benevolent way.

The huge continent was carved up in the span of just a few decades, in an era of history known as the “Scramble for Africa”. Described in German as torschlusspanik, meaning “panic of a closing gate”, European powers grabbed as much as they could to prevent their rivals gaining the upper hand.

Having consolidated his power in Italy, fascist dictator Mussoulini looked to Africa to expand what he saw as the new Roman Empire. It was in this context that the country seized this stretch of coast along the Red Sea that became Eritrea. And it was Asmara that was going to be the new African capital, La Piccola Roma – Little Rome.

Standing at 2,000m above sea level, the capital’s location was chosen in part because it was cooler than the brutally hot coastal regions. As was commonplace across European colonies, the colonisers wanted to avoid the extremes of the lands they conquered and find places more comparable to the climates they had left behind.

Where the colonial money arrived, the locals followed and Asmara became a city of contrasts. Intermingled with the Tukul’s, round huts of stone or mud topped with conical roofs that are indigenous to East Africa, are hundreds of buildings in the modernist style that were erected by the Italian colonisers from 1935. Many such buildings, including the Fiat Tagliero petrol station, the Town Hall and the Cinema Roma, came to represent East African Modernism. But why was there this push towards the style?


Peter Volgger, an academic who studied the impact of the modernist architecture in post-colonial Eritrea, has a theory. “Colonial cities were often projection screens for modernist fantasies and were built as futuristic visions for European cities.” So what couldn’t be done back home could be done in the colonial setting. Fantasies could be fulfilled.

The fall of fascism in Europe after WWII didn’t mark the end of colonialism in Africa, as the losers’ colonies were transferred over to the winners. Britain governed the colony for a while before power at a federal level was handed over Ethiopia. It was only in 1993 that Eritrea finally gained independence from its larger neighbour; a hundred years after the Italians first conquered the region.

Yet the Modernist buildings continued to be built long after the Italians had left. The IRGA garage, for instance, which is often held up as a key example of Eritrean modernism was built in 1961.

It’s in part due to such constructions that in 2017, Asmara was recognised as by Unesco as a site of particular cultural importance and included in their world heritage list. This not only brings in money from Unesco directly, but also induces international interest and tourism. The inclusion of Asmara in the organisation’s heritage list marked a shift towards inclusivity, having often been criticised for its lack of sites in Africa. Of the 845 cultural sites worldwide, Asmara is one of only 52 that are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In Germany alone there are 41 sites and Italy 49.

Long overdue, the significance of Asmara and its modernist buildings has been recognised. Despite their architectural interest they cannot and should not be divorced from the grim historical reality of their existence. For the millions who call the city home they stand monument to the arrogant dreams of empire that consumed the country for over a hundred years.