On 10th July 2019 Jo McCafferty wrote:

Exploring what makes a great city during MIF19

On Tuesday morning we hosted our Manchester International Festival event in one of Albert Square’s pop-up Glass Houses, with a fantastic panel of speakers and packed out audience exploring what makes a great city.

Christine Cort, Managing Director of MIF, kicked things off by discussing the importance of culture to cities and their people, with particular focus on how Manchester benefits from its biennial festival. Since its inception 16 years ago, it has created hundreds of original productions which have since toured the world and generated millions of pounds for the local economy.

Tom Bloxham, Co-Founder and Director of Urban Splash, gave us a potted recent history of Manchester, from the failed Olympic bid in the 1980s to the renewal of the now buzzing Northern Quarter. He cited a phrase he often hears when starting Urban Splash projects: ‘It’ll never work’ (the title of their 20 year anniversary exhibition launched last year) and challenged us all to disprove our disbelievers.

Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, focused on how Manchester’s illustrious history – pioneering social movements and scientific discoveries – forms the foundation for the city’s success today. Rather than trying to be world class at everything, the best cities know their strengths and play to them.

Finally, I focused on five key principles at the heart of all great cities:

  • intensity of mix – mixing ages and ethnicity, housing with industry, culture with retail, education with commercial uses;
  • importance of flex in buildings and landscapes to adapt over time;
  • recognition and reinvention of existing buildings – both civic and domestic;
  • creation of high quality green space of all scales in dense environments;
  • and the crucial role of invention and the pioneering spirit.

A lively discussion followed the presentations, with lots of ideas as to how we could improve the urban fabric of Manchester. Now it’s over to all of us to try and make them happen!

Thank you to all of our speakers for such interesting insight, the audience for coming along and Trowers & Hamlins for kindly sponsoring the event.