Greater Ohio visits Manchester, England

By Lavea Brachman. Learning from Manchester's strategies.

As part of a series on continuing observations from Greater Ohio's visit to two European cities, Greater Ohio is blogging about a visit to Manchester, England as part of leading a study tour to learn about European urban/regional revitalization strategies.

A symbol found etched into the tiles of the Manchester Town Hall and on other buildings sprinkled throughout the city is that of the “worker bee,” which in its elegant simplicity tells the story of Manchester.  As the true cradle of the industrial age, Manchester’s reputation was as a working class city where hard work and activity were and still are valued.  Building on this historic work ethic, we observed that Manchester has “re-founded” itself, pulling itself up by its bootstraps with an entrepreneurial spirit; a “can do” attitude that features pragmatic strategies linking the city core’s fate with its suburbs; as well as extremely engaged and capable public leadership that values and actively spawns partnerships with the private sector.

While the national government in England plays a significantly different and primarily central role than in the United States, Manchester can be viewed as a model for our cities’ recoveries in several ways. First, like Leipzig, it has linked neighborhood revitalization with an economic development strategy that is starting to bear fruit.  This linkage includes a version of cluster development or a sector strategy, such as targeting the media sector.  Second, also like Leipzig, it has actively pursued massive demolition of low quality housing stock (called “terraced housing”) built in the early 1900’s for workers in the mines, the mills and other old industries.  And Manchester has taken these proactive revitalization efforts a step further with its “if you build it, they will come” attitude that includes positioning itself as England’s “second city” after London.  It burnished its image as a sports center by going after the 2000 Olympics (which they did not actually hope to win but merely leveraged to put itself on the map with its hubris of trying) and then actually hosting the 2002 Commonwealth Games and building a sports center where massive amounts of vacant buildings once stood in the heart of one of the poorest and devastated neighborhoods in the city.  And I thought that Americans had the corner of the market on image-making!  This is a city that is proud of its industrial past and chooses to feature it as an asset rather than cast it aside.

As with Leipzig, we observed some contextual differences and distinctions in governance structure from ours in the states. Additionally, some redeveloped areas in Manchester that are touted as successes appeared to be lacking in key qualities, such as open and green space, mixed uses, and/or walkable retail.  However, the leadership, overall vision-driven and opportunistic approach to revitalization was extremely impressive.

Future blogs will cover “drill downs” on such topics as the central role of Manchester’s private sector in the region’s redevelopment; more details on the “leadership factor” that played such a crucial part in both Manchester and Leipzig’s efforts; fleshing out strategies used commonly in both places to link the cities and their respective regions in physical restructuring and economic development planning; “integrated planning” strategies that are also common to both cities; identifying strategies and projects that were less than successful or produced undesirable results; detailing apparent distinctions between Europe and the States; and observations about the role of state and federal policy in framing these redevelopment efforts, among others.