Category Archives: Planning

Vaccination walk – Or A Beginning Typology of Ways in which Manchester Pedestrians are Screwed

About 6 weeks ago I got a text from my GP saying I could make THE appointment and I was surprised knowing it was early but so happy, not least because my GPs were administering the vaccine themselves ten minutes walk away. Brilliant. Within hours a number of other texts arrived from another number saying cancel that appointment immediately, there is no vaccine for you.

I’d just seen the news about vaccine shortages, the hold put on the roll out.

A real fall after something of a high. Of course I knew full well the vaccine roll out hadn’t even (hasn’t even) started in some other countries. Even disappointment carries its privilege. So many here means so few there. Things beyond my control but that I hold in my heart.

I finally did get to go get my vaccination last Thursday — freedom day. Of a limited kind still I know, but still. Sadly, the closest available location was Etihad stadium, home of Man City. I cannot afford to get there to see football of course, very sad indeed. Knowing it was a stadium I also knew the whole experience would be a little bit of a fuck you to pedestrians. My theory was the newer the stadium, the more of a fuck you. I was not wrong.

This is Type 1: the screwing of pedestrians by planners and architects of all such large sprawling complexes (Universities, stadiums, business parks and etc, but stadiums are the worst), with a secondary screwing by their management who could signpost a way through for people if they chose, as well as let you know which routes were generally left open so you could be reassured you wouldn’t wander in through an opening and 15-20 minutes later find the exit you needed blocked. A niche type of screwing, but one that exists in every major city.

As a planner myself I despise this — it is a massive area to completely or partially, but always arbitrarily, close off.

I also despise the giant roads that cut through neighbourhoods and made the surest walking route to reach Gate 2 absolutely the most awful (and most polluted) to walk down, even if it is named Alan Turing way. This is Type 2: the carving of such massive thoroughfares through a city’s fabric without thought to parallel routes for pedestrians or bicyclists.

I knew I was taking a chance taking an alternative route despite google maps swearing up and down I could cut through. So wrong. I had given myself plenty of extra time and needed all of it as I ended up walking around half the giant stadium and down the major thoroughfare breathing in exhaust the whole way.

I thus encountered the third fuck you to pedestrians, or Type 3: pavements closed off for massive construction works at Gate 2. No clear advance warning or signage that allow you to avoid or navigate it, so you’re in a maze of orange barriers (in this case too narrow for social distancing and full of construction workers, none of whom were wearing facemasks) facing the attempt to somehow cross the steady stream of cars pouring in full of people to be vaccinated, the construction having made it absurdly complicated for them as well.

This is the screwing over of pedestrians (and drivers) by development (as if that weren’t already screwing people over enough in this city), the poor practice of construction companies and the complete lack of caring/regulation from the city’s planning department. This is currently ubiquitous and everywhere, even where the hoardings loudly proclaim courtesy.

And of course, I’d already encountered the fourth, possibly most overwhelming kind of fuck you to pedestrians experienced by all residents of South Manchester during the whole of this lockdown–a combination of austerity impacting local authority abilities to pay people to clean parks or pick up bins every week or maintain public pathways combined with controls, fees and temporary closures of landfills leading to the rise of fly tipping. I walked through a landscape of rubbish, empty paths down the backs of houses strewn with bin bags, abandoned household goods and the wind-blown detritus of everyday life. On one of them someone appears to be drinking themselves to death (but on Malbec, not a bad way to go I guess).

These footpaths and little pieces of wild ground all feel hidden away, uncared for, and to be honest, as a woman unsafe. But how different this could be as a place to escape traffic and enjoy some limited experience of nature. These footpaths along the railway lines could be really beautiful, full of bees and birds. Instead Type 4: walks through the urban landfill.

The vaccination process itself was pretty easy, though involved an awful lot of walking/standing once on site (I passed several older people really struggling on canes, couldn’t they have been pulled out of the queue and helped first? I don’t think anyone would have minded). The two women who gave me my jab were funny and awesome and I love the NHS more than I can say.

I walked back home heading back into the centre and then out again, along the canal. That was beautiful, though sadly yet again hitting the Type 3 fuck you from developers. With no warning I twice encountered massive scaffolding with boards to shut down the canal path–no information, quite a long way to walk back to some alternate, much more unpleasant route. A few of the boards had been removed, still leaving a scramble. It was unclear who had removed the boards or if I was heading into danger. Turns out they were at some point renovating an old building further along the path, signs warned of things falling. There was no work taking place.

Did the older couple who passed me get their bikes through this ‘opening’? I doubt it. Which meant at least a mile of backtracking for them.

But I saw goslings! And I passed one place where public spaces are cared for — a lovely sign signalling Blakemore Walk and a row of blossoming trees. The canal is beautiful and calm and the sun was shining, the development of overpriced investment boxes hasn’t yet destroyed the character of the place and the entangled histories of labour, working class life and exploitation that these old bricks evoke. This final section of walk may have made up a little for being SO SICK, I even had chills. Hurt all over. Exhausted. But still, I am now team Astra Zeneca and it was so worth it and I look forward to my second jab immensely. But maybe not the walk.

Planning with light (or the Neonisation of the soviets)

We should be in Poland now. Katowice, spending some time with beloved friends after Mark keynoted the literary philosophical conference they were putting together (which I had promised to submit a paper to but failed, being broken by work. So broken. But resting now). Still, we are on holiday, a holiday slipping through fingers stuck here at home. A holiday of writing. I thought perhaps I could return to some old blogs started and not finished, but it is not helping.

When in Warsaw — we were in Warsaw, another conference just before Christmas, a fascinating city I’ve still to write — we walked to the Neon Museum. When in Warsaw, in a time when travel was still possible, when movement beyond South Manchester a privilege but not an impossibility. The Neon Museum’s driving force has been the neon collector Ilona Karwinska along with David Hill, and it is marvelous. You can find English news coverage on CNN. We brought home this documentary Neon (2014) Eric Bednarski.

Mark watched it with me with good grace, I am fascinated by this idea of planning with light, of a unique time and a language that made to neonise a verb. I am a little in love with this way of designing a city, transforming this city completely rebuilt after Nazi destruction in WWII on massive Stalinist lines in grey concrete. A collective effort of collaborative design between architects, graphic designers, painters, engineers. The celebration of it in the pages of the magazine Stolica.

The time of neon was the time of the thaw after Stalin’s death in 1953, and a new emphasis on lightness, brightness, colour. Neon became both about bringing glamour to the city, but also provided a kind of a map, allowing the orientation of self in the city through light — you see the cow you know what street you are on. It reminds me of the saints that guard and guide you through the streets of Valletta. Warsaw’s idiom was full of modernity’s promise, associated with the bright lights of Times Square or Vegas. But in many ways it has more in common with the saints, expressively noncommercial, artisanal. It is a way to know and navigate a city, imagine the maps that Kevin Lynch might have uncovered here.

The process of creating neon itself is fascinating. Blow torches are used to shape the tubes, they rely on chemistry and the composition of gasses that somehow relate more to the mysteries of alchemy than modernity to me. And in Warsaw they were all unique, made for one specific place and time without standardisation.

My favourite thing about the film was the neon designer Piotr Perepłyś, without the smallest doubt. He embodied for me the joy of neon, the beauty of it, the way it felt (I paraphrase) to see something new shining there on any street ‘we could feel we were part of the world, part of Europe’. Neon imparted a new, a different kind of vitality to architecture, it gave it movement, light, energy. It transformed the grey (but oh, there is such a sense of the drab greyness of this twisted facade of communism). Perepłyś says something like ‘in that sad grey reality of ours, neon became a brooch, a jewel, gleaming down‘.

He designed with a pen and nib, a flowing hand, the best way to create the smooth lines and joined letters needed.

But the addition of gases to create shifting lights means that it is not (necessarily) a static art, but one that allows you to add a storyline, a narrative a joke.

Most wonderful. Because they did.

I love that the city designers of Warsaw’s different areas competed in neon. Yet even so it could be up to 3 years from design to building and putting it in place. A tortuous approval process ate up this time, which included the city council — the documentary contains an awesome document montage that gives a sense of the process.

And of course there are some great stories. Like the enormous flower bouquet that disturbed the sleep of the mistress of the minister, but complain as she might, it had gone through all the stages of approval and therefore it could not be removed.

This would all change. The mid 70s would bring economic crisis and (as everywhere) issues with energy. Many companies started leaving their neon unlit even before martial law was declared in 1981 in response to the solidarity movement. A new era began of military blockade, curfews and blackout with neons forbidden.

I can’t remember who says it but it is definitely true that ‘unlit neons are very depressing‘.

As letters fell, meanings became transformed in humorous ways. Yet this signaled the beginning of the end, and by 1991 the neons started to disappear, often actively destroyed as communist remnants.

Many remain scattered through the city — though nothing like their heyday which I would have loved to have seen. There are some amazing photographs here. I am glad this many have been saved, glad they are having something of a come back. The museum is wonderful, and well worth a visit, as is wandering the surrounding area.