|Afflecks Palace. Image from the Manchester Evening News.|
The Academy of Urbanism, a think-tank that aims to "extend urban discourse beyond built environment professionals", has awarded Manchester's Northern Quarter the Great Neighbourhood Award in the 2011 Urbanism Awards. At a ceremony in London the Academy, whose members include architects, planners, engineers, developers and designers, announced the Northern Quarter as the winner from an initial short-list that included Belfast's Cathedral Quarter and Glasgow's Pollokshields. The 450 Academicians who make up the organisation were asked to pick a winner from each category based on the results on an assessment visit to each location last summer. Key to the nomination and assessment method was how improved and enduring that urban environment is.
Speaking about the Awards John Thompson, Chairman of The Academy of Urbanism, said: "The Academy of Urbanism created these awards precisely to recognise places ... which have helped transform local quality of life through good design and planning ... the high standard and broad spread of nominees ... inspires confidence in the widespread community-led regeneration that continues to take place across the UK and Ireland." (The Press Release available here). Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, Mr Thompson added that the Northern Quarter is "one of the most interesting places in the country."
The award has sparked a debate in the city and the country as a whole as to what exactly constitutes a great neighbourhood. Some critics have cited that the Academy, by its very nature of dealing with Urbanism' excludes certain communities however the response from Mr Thompson to this has been to define Urbanism as the "footprint we collectively leave on the planet." Comments on the Manchester Evening News article responding to the award were mixed but on the whole reaction from Mancunians has been positive
Manchester City Council's Pat Karney, speaking to the BBC, said he was "pleased as there's a real community feel to the place [and] the warmth of the people that live and work [there] and the cluster of small business has created a very desirable neighbourhood."
Vaughn allen, chief executive of Cityco, Manchester's city centre, also speaking to the BBC was keen to point out how the Northern Quarter "has transformed itself and diversified, creating an eclectic mix of fashion designers, independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, creative agencies and private galleries."
However, Dave Haslam, author and DJ (he DJ'd over 450 times at the legendary Hacienda club) was quick to disagree as to him "a neighbourhood' should be a fertile, intriguing, comfortable mix." He went on to add that "it's increasingly become a spill-over from the Printworks in the evening and some of that arty bohemian thing was part of what made the area special is draining away ... the fact is you never see children in the Northern Quarter - or old people. I imagine a perfect neighbourhood to have a school of a nursery, a park, somewhere for old people to sit and watch the world go by, and so on."
What is clear here is that the term neighbourhood is a loaded one, with different meanings to different people depending upon their own personal experiences of the urban space that makes up their own past, present and visionary (future) neighbourhoods. Something which can not be denied has been the ability of the Northern Quarter to regenerate, re brand and reinvent itself without little private capital investment which has come to symbolise city-centre regeneration projects of the last 20 years.