Amy Marr, Manchester, England
We experience cities in a complex and multifaceted way. This layered experience of urban space was described succinctly by French theorist Michel de Certeau, who explained that when an individual takes a walk through a city the route taken is shaped not only by the layout and design of the city, and collective and hegemonic conceptions of how that space can or should be used, but also by personal memories, stories and dreams. He described cities as deeply personal spaces, experienced in myriad different ways, with each individual having a unique relationship with the same urban space.
Unless we are up high peering down, we are never able to see the entirety of a city spread out before us; we perceive its entirety in our mind’s eye continually, however, shaping and reshaping it as our individual experience of the space changes and evolves. So while a city like Manchester can in theory appear orderly and rational from a distance, at street level the experience of the city is complex and contested.
Walking through central Manchester is like moving through a disorientating maze of red bricks. Mills, terraced-houses, factories, grand civic buildings, McDonalds – all brick. You’ll marvel at how many shades of red brick there can be, and you’ll wonder why you never considered bricks so beautiful until now. Coming from gridded Christchurch you’ll get lost in its winding streets and lanes. But you aren’t worried, you have friendly Mancunian guides, and Google Maps. As you walk you’ll uncover a city of industry, art and architecture, shaped by Joy Division, Emmeline Pankhurst, Tony Wilson, Johnny Marr, L.S. Lowry, Elizabeth Gaskell, Producer Dave, Emma Unsworth, Dave Haslam, Coronation Street, Marc Riley, Friedrich Engels, Peterloo and Alan Partridge. It’s rich with industrial history, but so alive with music, film, football, art and beer. Lots of beer. It’s active, young, loud, proud and inclusive. You’ll discover wonderful places like Peveril of the Peak, Yes, Common, Gullivers, the John Rylands Library, Pop Boutique, the Whitworth, Home, Piccadilly Records, St Peter’s Square and Heaton Park. You might even find them again when you take a wrong turn and get lost. You’ll stroll through the Northern Quarter, Ancoats, Chorlton, Levenshulme, Salford, New Islington and, unfortunately, the Arndale. You’ll hear Oasis more than you expected to.
You’ll need to be sure to carry an umbrella and a tram pass, and to complain about Northern Rail constantly. People will tell you the weather is rubbish, but remember it’s not, it was warm and the sun was shining when you arrived. Be sure to take note of all the things that make Manchester superior to London so you can discuss it with London friends (friendlier people, cheaper rent, shorter commutes, better music venues, walkable city centre etc). You’ll find out that you can go out on weeknights; that people will happily go to bands on a Monday or a Tuesday or even a Wednesday. You’ll learn that while New Zealanders like things, Mancunians f***ing love things. Sure the canals are dirty, Piccadilly Gardens smells, maybe you got mugged that one time and everyone’s a part-time DJ, but it’s alright because you f***ing love it here and you’re probably about to become a part-time DJ too.