Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'Post-Rave Urban Growth Coalition'

Very interesting comment on the Manchester post below from Justin O'Connor, which I'm posting up here so it doesn't disappear into the oblivion of comments on old blog posts (as the internet tends to be fickle). Also, due credit to Meades' doc on regeneration and how it pertains to Manchester, where some of the inspiration for that post came from;

I was on some sort of think tank with Tony Wilson in 2004. He had just found Richard Florida's book and thought it said all that needed to be said about cities and that Manchester should pay circa 20k to get him to speak. I'd had a few arguments with Tony where he told me, rightly, that I was showing my ignorance (I remember I was slagging off baseball) and I took it on the chin. I tried the same on Florida, saying what a complete charlatan he was and how a 'cutting edge' 'creative city' should not be 97th in line to invite some tosser from Philadelphia. He completely rejected this and never really spoke to me again. The last time I saw him was in Liverpool at a RIBA do. He was saying that Liverpool was 'fucked' unlike Manchester - and the reason was that Manchester (in the figure of the unelected Howard Bernstein) had an enlightened despot. Which more or less set a seal on the increasing moral and political bankrupcy of the post-rave urban growth coalition which had taken over Manchester post-1996. Simpson, Johnson, Bloxham - now all millionaires - all claimed to have the new political vision for the re-invented city. Despite the fact that Bloxham was given chair of the arts council and now VC of Manchester university - a man of little culture and education, thus confirming the toadying of arts and education to the 'creative entrepreneur'- it is Wilson who represents its saddest failures. He made little money from it all, and really believed in it. Now subject to a nauseating hagiography by the city council they kept him outside for years, until the last 4 or 5, bringing him in when his critical faculties had been worn down by years of punditry. He used to say, of the post-rave coalition, 'the lunatics have taken over the asylum'; pigs and farm were more apposite.


Blogger Matthew said...

And in what sense, exactly, does a failure to make money make someone a sad failure? Tony Wilson was an extraordinary figure, the sort of man that every city outside of London could use in promoting the worth of non-metropolitan culture. He deliberately eschewed money because he was not principally interested in personal gain.

Carping about Tom Bloxham supposed lack of education and culture belies that fact that the developments his company have spearheaded are by a long chalk the most acomplished architectural confections in the regeneration of the city. Others may have piled in with cynical reproductions, but Urban Spalsh is of real worth and should not be criticised lightly.

In what sense are we meant to gain anything at all by this parochial snidery?

2:27 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

keep the faith, bro!

2:35 pm  
Anonymous Juvenile Dwarf said...

Slightly inclined to agree with Matthew, if only because being a hypersensitive northern I do pick up on a little metropolitan sniffiness about Owen's thorts on Manc. I (dimly) remember Manchester city centre from about 20 years ago - a place of dereliction and visible decline, interestingly so, but not in itself particularly pleasant.

The transformation - in the city centre, to stress the point - now is dramatic. There's a very great deal to criticise the regeneration that MCC has pushed through (not least the moronic encouragement of city centre yuppie apartments, to the detriment of, eg, housing families, said yuppie apartments now collapsing in value; the absence of investment in council housing; the short-sighted and modish fixation on culture, etc etc). But it has left behind a legacy of functioning public spaces, a (relatively) well-integrated public transport system and a genuine - if limited and distorted - economic revival. (Plus I actually like some of the architecture, in an unsophisticated and possibly indefensible way, so nyer).

It's been the most sophisticated attempt to implement Blairism locally, anywhere in the country: most places just manage some of the inept new! new! new! "cultural quarter" rhetoric, and have little - in the end - to show for it, beyond the inevitable attempt at aping an alleged Bilbao effect. MCC under Bernstein has been far, far more sophisticated than that (helped not least by Manchester's well-established ability to provide political and economic leadership to the rest of the north-west conurbation). As such I think we have to be a little bit more careful in how we approach the place.

3:20 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

It's been the most sophisticated attempt to implement Blairism locally, anywhere in the country

Well yes, exactly, which is why I think it's a very important and interesting thing to think about and write about critically, as opposed to just hail vacantly, which there is far, far too much of. It might sound like 'provincial snidery' but there still seems to be far too much hailing of the genius of the idea of the creative city while it ramps up its inequalities and contradictions. I'm glad the Mills (or estates) that Bloxham has preserved aren't getting knocked down, but I just don't think yuppie flats are a viable urban strategy, and that's being borne out now pretty amply as the property boom goes violently tits-up. But I don't want to imply any sort of dissing of Wilson (for whom I have an immense amount of respect) other than at the level of his late, and unfortunate boosterism - Richard Florida and his 'creative class' idea really being very pernicious and should be recognised as such - what we have to 'gain' from this sniping is a recognition that basing a city on yuppies, art and a trumpted (but where are the results, eh?) 'creativity' is just not viable, and might just lead to the Parisian situation Meades outlines with some aplomb.

To be honest, any snideness on the issue comes less from being a Southerner (can I point out that as a provincial from a depressed post-industrial city undergoing an ineffectual regeneration myself I'm no fan of metropolitan snobbery either? K thx) but more from having to suffer Mcr's utterly pernicious influence on pop music in the '90s and since, which admittedly can be balanced by its positive influence before 1990. I probably have more of a hostility based on Oasis than on Howard Bernstein (and can I just add I don't have the same hostility to other, less smug cities)

3:50 pm  
Blogger Matthew said...

To clarify, Owen, I feel that your own criticisms of Manchester are well thought through and entirely defensible, and I would generally agree with you up to a point (specifically, the point at which your musical prejudices take over). My comment was inspired by Justin O'Connor's contribution which, I felt, was a form of rather empty-headed 'anti-boosterism', the sort of nudging, knowing, whispering character assasination (of individuals and the city itself) that does nothing to advance the course of debates like this one.

Manchester has seen bode fide improvement in its economy and appearance over the last 20 years. There are multiple failures hidden behind this success, for sure, but can't we at least acknowledge and embrace that which is demonstrably good?

9:27 am  
Anonymous Juvenile Dwarf said...

...what we have to 'gain' from this sniping is a recognition that basing a city on yuppies, art and a trumpted (but where are the results, eh?) 'creativity' is just not viable, and might just lead to the Parisian situation Meades outlines with some aplomb.

Be aware (if you're not already, which you probably are, but anyway) that this appears to be shifting rapidly at the moment, both nationally (talk of an "Action Plan for Business", rehabilitation of Keynesianism, calls for "strategic intervention" etc etc) and locally: there's a creeping realisation that MCR's areas real economic strengths are in traditional manufacturing and science-based industries, not in "creative" clusters and (empty) yuppie apartments.

Partly driven by economic circumstances slapping people about the face, but I think we underestimate the ideological flexibility of the post-Blair Labour Party (nationally and, sometimes, locally) at our peril.

...Incidentally, currently Mandelson appears to be positioning himself as the leading agent for the rehabilitation of Keynes and old-school industrial policy at a national level. Most bizarre.

11:45 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

nudging, knowing, whispering character assassination

TBH, I don't see that Justin was doing much more than filling out my point with actual first-hand information on the machinations (and let's face it, someone is going to be Blairism's John Poulson, and it is minor fun guessing who that might be).

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