“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.

 
 
 
 

To boost the high street, cities should invest in offices

Offices in Northampton. Image: Getty.

Access to cheap borrowing has encouraged local authorities to proactively invest in commercial property. These assets can be a valuable tool for cities looking to improve the built environment they offer businesses and residents.

Councils are estimated to have spent £3.8bn on property between 2013 and 2017, funded through the government’s Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) at very low interest rates. Offices accounted for half of this investment, and roughly a third (£1.2bn) has been spent on retail properties. And local authorities were the biggest investor group for UK shopping centres in the first quarter of 2018.

Why are cities investing? There are two major motivations.

First, at a time when cuts are squeezing council revenue budgets, property investments can provide a long-term revenue stream to keep quality public services up and running. Second, ownership of buildings in areas marked for redevelopment allows councils to assemble land more easily and gives them more influence over the changes taking place, allowing them to make sure the space evolves to meet their objectives.

But how exactly can cities turn property ownership into successful place-making? How should they adapt the buildings they invest in to improve the performance of the economies?

Cities need workers

When developing the city’s property offer, the aim should be to get jobs back into the city centre while reducing the dominance of retail space. For councils who have invested in existing retail space and shopping centres, in particular, the temptation may be to try and retain their existing use, with new retail strategies designed to reduce vacancies.

But as the Centre for Cities’ recent Building Blocks report illustrates, the evidence points to this being a dead-end. Instead, cities may need to convert the properties they own so they house a more diverse group of businesses.

Many city centres already have a lot of retail – and this has not offered significant economic benefit. Almost half (43 per cent) of city centre space in the weakest city economies is taken up by shops, while retail only accounts for 18 per cent of space in strong city centre economies. And many of these shops lie empty: in weaker city centres vacancy rates of high-street services (retail, food and leisure) are on average 16 per cent, compared with 9 per cent in stronger city economies. In Newport, nearly a quarter of these premises are empty, as the map below shows.

The big issue in these city centres is the lack of office jobs – which are an important contributor to footfall for retailers. This means that, in order to improve the fortunes of the high street, policy will need to tackle the barriers that deter those businesses from moving to their city centres.

One of these barriers is the quality of office space. In a number of struggling city centres, the quality of office space on offer is poor. But the low returns available for private investors mean that some form of public sector involvement will be required.


Ownership of buildings gives cities the opportunity to reshape the type of commercial space on offer. Some of this will involve improving the existing office stock available, some will involve converting retail to office, and some of will require demolishing part of the space without replacing it, in the short term at least. Without ownership of the land and buildings on it, this task becomes very difficult to do but will be a fundamental part of turning the fortunes of a city centre around.

Cheap borrowing has provided a way not only for local authorities to generate an income stream through property investment. but also opens up the opportunity to have greater control over the development of their city centres. For those choosing to invest, the focus must be on using ownership to make the city centre a more attractive place for all businesses to invest, rather than hoping to revive retail alone.

Rebecca McDonald is an analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.