Friday, May 28, 2010

New Blogs: The May 2010 edition

In a town so small there's no escape from view is a blog about city centres, and often, Manchester's city centre, by Dan of PYT fame. "it is inspired by backstreets, lost architecture, broken windows and forgotten buildings." Some good photos on there.

Lazy Noggin is a new Manchester arts and culture blog. A nice post about Jesca Hoop, of whom I am also a fan, and the photography workshop that CityCo ran last weekend.

A new music blog: Come see the duck, written by Jonathan Hopkins.

Manchester filmmakers L'Institute Zoom have a very entertaining blog, Transmissive Episodes.

Ziggy Kinsella is a horror writer who maintains a blog about writing and other stuff called The Feckless Goblin. Writer Lydia Unworth blogs at getting over the moon.

Some new personal blogs: One husband, two kids (and lots of books), Joe the Dough and The Mobius Loop.

A new (mostly) political blog is Three Legged Cat, billed as the "embittered cynical mutterings of a politically marginal Manchester hack." Also, one new photo blog: Dark Adjusted Eye.

May have to invent a new category for Manchester Massages, which features "reviews, news and information on therapeutic massage, spa experiences and eco-spas in Manchester (and beyond...)" Another new sort of blog for Manchester: Makeup Savvy, which reviews beauty products.

The hyperlocal train just keeps on chugging along, and the latest Manchester nabe to get its own community happenings blog is Macclesfield: The Loop is narrowly focused on what's on there. There's also a paper edition which you can sign up to receive.

And yes, the photo above has nothing to do with any of these blogs. I usually try to use pictures from the blogs I'm writing about, but the photoblogs I have on today don't seem set up to share their photos easily. So I am using this random image of graffiti in Hulme that I have had in my computer for ages and have no idea where it came from. Both funny and appropriate given the debate about social housing on here recently...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The City Debate and the future of Manchester

Hoo boy, is this a long post. But I had so much to say about FutureEverything’s City Debate last Friday, I just couldn’t restrain myself. For another perspective, I’ll point you in the direction of Inside The M60's coverage and blogger Sarah Hartley, who has a very interesting analysis. As a snotty aside, I also find it surprising that a serious debate about the future of Manchester with some pretty big bigshots held at Manchester Business School didn’t rate either coverage by the local press or participation from the city council (though Sir Howard Bernstein did record a video statement.) But what do I know?

Big props to FutureEverything for organising what was a very ambitious and largely successful event. The format was interesting, but I think there were simply too many people taking part. I'm sure this came out of a well-meaning desire to offer a really broad slate of views. And it was great that such a range of people were there. Unfortunately, having so many panelists made the event longer and slower to get down to brass tacks, as everyone read through their statements and responded to questions from a couple of specially-selected lead questioners. For me, it wasn’t until the questions were opened to the floor that things really got interesting.

Two big things I took away from the event: One is a growing sense of frustration from many of the people in the audience and even a few of us on the panel. For all the horn-tooting about the meteoric rise of the original modern city, the reality is that we’ve just seen a period of tremendous growth which seems to have completely passed by most of the people who live here, especially those in poorer outlying neighbourhoods. It was clear that that many of us would specifically like the people in charge to focus their innovating on making sure this doesn’t keep happening. Patsy Hodson of the Manchester Communication Academy currently being built in Harpurhey spoke especially well on this point, and she should know.

And the second is a sense that the wind is, at long last, shifting in the city. For years Manchester has been in thrall to property developers. But the boom is busted, and what we do in the future will be less about building and more about retrofitting. As a wise audience member pointed out, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Now that the cranes have stopped their seemingly-endless march across the city, let’s turn our attention to what we already have: acres of solid old industrial buildings and solid old housing that no-one’s using. And some of the housing isn’t even that old – I’d love to know how many of those new build “city living” flats are empty?

But many people are discovering that highly-marketed dream of city living ain’t all it's cracked up to be. As one CC resident pointed out at the debate: “I can get as many cappucinos as I want but I can’t find an NHS dentist.” Ever noticed a playground in the city centre? I haven’t. (But don’t get me started on park and green space provision in Manchester; we compare shamefully with every other major city I’ve ever lived in or visited. When is this going to become a priority?)

If you want to depress yourself, consider the number of long-term vacant housing units in the city (recently at more than 6,000 according to the MEN) alongside the waiting list for social housing in Manchester (this article in The Mule puts it at 23,000 a year ago). Then factor in all the houses and flats on the market people can’t afford to buy. Something isn’t working.

Meanwhile, commercial rents in the city centre are skyrocketing, and you know who can’t afford to pay them? The artists, inventors, writers, thinkers and makers who give this city its reputation for being a hub of innovation. We can’t all go and work in the Sharp Project. If the city really wants to encourage a culture of innovation and experimentation, how about fitting out some of these abandoned or derelict buildings as artist live/work spaces (see Islington Mill), community cultural/voluntary centres (Zion Arts), or technology workshops, places like MadLab which provide resources and networks as well as much-needed physical space in which digital/creative folks to do their thing.

I’m hopeful that good things will start to happen in this area. We are lucky in Manchester to have a progressive city council that has supported many innovative programmes in the past; bold ideas that often don’t get as much recognition as they should. What we need is for the city leaders to make this a priority, to devote money (even a little bit) and time and energy to these projects, to develop incentives for people to re-use. Wrangling in court with landlords to take possession of a derelict building for the common good, for example, isn’t glamorous work, but its becoming increasingly important work.

While they’re at it, they should have a think about some of the ideas that were bandied about during and after the debate: Green rooftops and vertical gardens growing food – reducing CO2 and hunger at the same time. Citywide free wifi (though I get the impression MDDA have already established that dog won’t hunt.) Developing the unloved canal network for a range of uses. Making Manchester really bike and pedestrian-friendly. And if something’s working well in another city – the free bikes or city-sanctioned artist squats of Paris, say – let’s not be shy about stealing those ideas.

And yes, I know it’s not that simple. I sure as hell don’t have all the answers to all the tough questions like where is the money going to come from and what if people don’t want to live/work in these old buildings and how much can the council actually do? I guess I’m just hoping we can start to talk about these things in a new way. And that this is a conversation we can all participate in.

(Photograph: E.O. Hoppe, Manchester 1925)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


A few interesting odds and ends:

Some Manchester writers have cooked up a tasty new web-based venture over at 'other' magazine. You can read new writing from various people, admire Nicholas Royle's 20-year-old collection of bread tags, and an annotated diagram of Socrates Adams-Florou's fridge (above). Plus, they're on Twitter. And this post about the absence of a UK independent lit scene has attracted 86 comments!

Not Manchester-based, but interesting all the same. The Literary Platform is a new website showcasing projects involving literature and technology. So if you like what we do over at Rainy City Stories, you might enjoy a browse.

TBA Magazine looks to be a new art webzine based in Manchester. Lovely website and some good lookin' content on there. No word on when issue 1 will be launching - will update this post when I have more info.

And I enjoyed the maiden issue of Things Happen, a fanzine about our fair city from the Manchester Municipal Design Corporation, a subsidiary group of MMU's DesignLab. Website coming soon and a second issue planned for this summer, if they can find a way to pick up the tab. You can find it at FutureEverything events.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Speculative fiction writing group

I have helped organise a speculative fiction writing group tonight at MadLab on Edge Street. No, this doesn't mean the existence of the group itself is speculative (though it is, as this is our first meeting and I have no idea how the group will work. All I know is one person proposed the Turkey City workshop method on Twitter, which sounds scary, doesn't it?)

The group is for people who want to write and talk about writing speculative fiction, a broad category that includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream and stories that are just kind of weird. To my knowledge, there's never been a writing group specifically dealing with this kind of genre writing in town before. Though Manchester has a long and noble SF tradition.

Just to be clear, yes, this means I read science fiction. I've also been known to enjoy stories about cornershops with a pesky door into another dimension, and books which have werewolves as main characters or feature a chick in a lace-up bodice clutching a glowing blue sword on the cover.

You don't think I'm cool anymore, do you? I guess I'll just have to live with that.

Everyone welcome. MadLab tonight at 7pm.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FutureEverything and The City Debate

I was delighted to be asked to take part in The City Debate. It's an interesting idea: assemble a big group of people who think about Manchester a lot and start an open conversation about what the future of the city should look like and the best way to get there. The festival describes it as "An ideas event for evangelists, cynics, digital artesans, policy makers, property magnates, media vultures, urban planners, you, and me."

Who else is going to be taking part? Sir Howard Bernstein (Manchester City Council) by video, Susan Woodward (Sharp Project), Roger Milburn (Arup), Mike Ryan (Manchester Digital), Dave Carter (Manchester Digital Development Agency), Lyn Barbour (Manchester City Council), Walt Crowson (Learning Skills Employment Network), Patsy Hodson (Manchester Communication Academy), Alice Morrison (NWVM), Nick Johnson (Urban Splash), Professor Alan Harding (Institute for Political & Economic Governance), Martin Carr (True North), Mike Emmerich (Commission for the New Economy), Colette Williams (Moss Side independent candidate), and Tim News (MIDAS). The BBC's Jenni Murray is going to be moderating.

Each of us had to write a statement summarising our views about where the city should be headed, and given the nature of my work I chose to focus on culture and creative industries. I'll post a link to it here when its online.

In the meantime I had to boil that statement down into a 140-character summary (that was fun) and I came up with this: "supporting small orgs, artists, writers + thinkers will ensure MCR's creative renaissance reaches beyond Salford Quays." Now I'm thinking going with revival instead of renaissance could've saved me a few characters. Ah well. You can check out what some of the other participants wrote on twitter by searching for #citydebate.

It's Friday, May 14 at Manchester Business School on Booth Street West from 3-5:30pm. Entry is free, but you have to book and tickets are limited. Come on down.

FutureEverything's full programme is online here. There's plenty going on all over the city, and the art strand has some especially interesting stuff planned this year.

(Photo by Mike Colvin via Wikimedia Commons)