Thursday, 3 November 2016

“I have seen the future and it works”* ....... The 1945 plan for Manchester

Now we are all used to those grand plans which are aimed at transforming where we live and in doing so how we live.

I arrived in the city just as the area which was to become the Arndale was being cleared of all its old 19th properties and I watched as many finer buildings were also brought down in the name of progress and commerce.

The unplanned city
And so with this in mind I want to look at Manchester Corporation’s plan for the city which was published in 1945.

It was a bold if not monumental vision of the future, aiming to wipe away the ramshackle collection of streets and buildings some of which were no longer fit for purpose and replace them with wide roads encircling the centre and bold modernist architecture all worked out to a logical plan.

Along with this would be new social housing to replace the slums.

Today we might feel a little uneasy at a lot of what was on offer, but planners are not idiots and the vision was based on a detailed analysis of where things weren’t working.

In particular the degree to which the rapid growth of the city combined with profit seeking entrepreneurs had created great swathes of housing which had been unsuitable when put up and now seventy to a hundred years later were unfit.  “To sum up, the first half of the nineteenth century was an era of unprecedented change, of ruthless and uncontrolled energy and conflict, of crude materialism and blind, unreasoning confidence in the beneficence of the new industrial forces.”  And much of that legacy still existed despite attempts to introduce better planning regulations and new housing estates.

Of course the destruction of some parts of the city during the war helped the planners, as did the growing sense that as the plans were being drawn up victory over Germany was at hand and having won the war it was “time to win the peace.”

Looking up to the new Town Hall
But despite the grand vision I have to say that I am glad much of it never happened.

The creation of a massive processional way from a new railway and bus complex called Trinity Station up into Albert Square and the destruction of the Waterhouse Town Hall would have been an act of vandalism.

Nor does the creation of a massive Peoples' Place at All Saints on Oxford Road  housings a Civic Hall, Concert Hall and Civic Assembly Hall with the “the records of the history and achievements of Manchester and its leading citizens” strike me as any better.

The Peoples' Place
The charm of the city, of any city is the small interesting streets and buildings which let out onto something bigger and more impressive, but always with the scale of the passerby.

Location; Manchester

*Lincoln Steffens in a letter dated April 3 1919 to Marie Howe after his visit to the Soviet Union

Pictures; from the 1945 Plan for Manchester, published by Manchester Corporation, 1945, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

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