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Manchester Day 2016: a celebration of one of Europe’s most progressive and innovative cities

Nay Gonzalez By Nay Gonzalez Published on June 23, 2016
This article was updated on July 11, 2017

June 19th was the Manchester celebration day, choosing the Archimedes famous old exclamation Eureka as a slogan and parade theme for the festivities, which were closely related with the city’s penchant for discovery, technology and science, in an environment of fun for both children and adults.

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The parade stopped at the city’s main points of reference, such as Albert Square, St Ann’s Square, Exchange Square and the Great Northern Square. In each of them there were activities such as circus acts, bands and artists playing jazz, folk, swing and opera, photography competitions, as well as science-based activities sponsored by the Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Manchester and the University of Salford-Manchester.

As the Multicultural city it is, a band of locals dove into the tropical rhythms of Brazilian samba to the delight of an audience that didn’t mind the incessant rain. Arabian sounds were present too at the Great Northern Square, for the recognition and the delight of the vast Arabic population living in the city. Carousels full of children and the elderly taken care of by their grandchildren, joined together for the festivities that included various culinary dishes, as well as barrels of delicious ales.

Recently named “European City of Science for 2016”, Manchester is a somewhat small but incredibly significant city with plenty of reasons to feel proud of and celebrate. One of the centres of the Industrial Revolution, it’s known worldwide for its contributions in the foundation of various industries that changed the world since the 19th century: engineering, textiles, communications… you name it.

The establishment of Manchester as a nucleus for industrial production turned it into one of the most polluted and toxic cities of the 19th century. A few years later, when Britain was at war and most of its cities were destroyed by the German offensive, there was not another option but to reconstruct. Manchester in the 1960s saw a surge of utopian visions of a futuristic city that never came to be, such as the plans for a subway network and the few family complexes that were built with disastrous results, like the Hulme Crescents development that was demolished in the 1990s.

The crisis of the mid 1970s until the last years of the Thatcher era turned the city into a grim place to live, polluted, with no jobs and plenty of violence, conditions that ironically were the fuel for a resurgence of a cultural resistance in the fields of art and specifically, music, because an undisputable source of Mancunian pride is its history of seminal rock bands that redefined the genre in one of the darkest political periods of the country. The Buzzcocks, Joy Division and the whole roster of Factory Records, New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and later Oasis, are all expressions of a disenchanted youth that reclaimed their city from hopelessness.

Aware of its place in modernity, the city promotes its history in various museums that are free for visitors, such as the Museum of Science and Industry, which displays in two redesigned buildings some of the first machines built for mass production, or the early vapour locomotive machines that changed forever the mercantile relationships in the modern world.

The People’s History Museum celebrates another type of progressive agenda: the conquer of rights since the 19th century, such as the female vote, the workers unions and other types of organizations that at the time were considered so clandestine and dangerous, that protesters were massacred simply for gathering and demanding rights that we take for granted nowadays.

More recently, the museum shows the conquest of human rights by the LGBT collective, one that has a large and significant presence in the city, with its own officially recognised Gay Village area of museums, bars, cafés and night clubs that promote the inclusion of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. The city is so tolerant and diversity-affirming that it officially promotes the adoption of children by same-sex couples:

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Moss Lane East, Manchester. Caption reads: "Complete your family. Adopt with Manchester. manchester.gov.uk/adoption". Billboard sponsored by the city. Photo: N. González.

Proud of its history in the field of innovation, Manchester, through its two main universities, is leading some of the most important scientific research taking place in the world, such as the treatment of graphene as the material of the future (it’s been called “the wonder material”), for its amazing properties that have the potential to revolutionize, again, most of the industries of our time.

Take for example the ultra-modern The National Graphene Institute, a building at the University of Manchester, advertised as “Manchester’s Revolutionary 2D Material”, and built after many years of research led by physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who won the 2010 Nobel prize for isolating this material. The building cost 61 million pounds, funded by the UK government and the European Union via the European Regional Development Fund, which is also funding the revitalisation of the central avenue of the universities zone, Oxford Road.

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Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47757711

Local investment can be found in other massive projects: The Media City in Salford (approximate cost: 1 billion pounds), only 30 minutes from the centre of Manchester, and now home to the country’s most important media corporations, such as the BBC and ITV. 

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MediaCityUK. Photo: N. González.

The already completed Birley Fields campus of the Manchester Metropolitan University in the Hulme area of the city. This ultra-modern and sustainable building cost around 150 million pound and was designed by Sheppard Robson, an UK architecture firm that was influential in the 1950s and 1960s, and now champions sustainable architecture:

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A work in progress is the University of Manchester Engineering campus, a 350 million pound large complex that will open in 2020 and is being built by Dutch firm Mecanoo. In front of the Graphene Institute and next to the Manchester Aquatics Centre, the Engineering campus will be a five stories building, with an extension of about 78,000m2 that will connect the universities zones with the centre of Manchester. If the renders are completed, this building will probably have one the largest horizontal roof gardens in any ultra-modern building.

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More photos of the Birley campus:


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