Posted 26 June, 2014 After Work
I remember watching Test cricket as a kid, and me and my mates being greatly amused whenever some hulking fast bowler, panting as he made his way back to the top of his mark, rubbed the ball up and down his groin area, leaving a big comedy red mark. Once you know a bit about cricket, you understand why they do this – it’s all about the bowling side doing its utmost to aid swing and befuddle the batsman. When it comes to the dark art of reverse swing, as any cricket nerd will tell you, it’s important that one side of the ball is kept shiny and polished, and the other rough and scuffed, creating a weight imbalance that can make a ball misbehave and ultimately find you success.
The shiny side and the scuffed side. Both equally important. See where I’m heading with this? When it comes to cities, the knackered, worn bit is every bit as important as its highly polished counterpart. This isn’t how property people have conventionally seen things, as prices and returns in “rougher” locations obviously aren’t great. But if businesses are engaged in the War for Talent, as we’re constantly told they are, the cities hoping to secure them need to give the talented people what they want, and all the evidence suggests they like a bit of grime. A bit of rough to fool around with in their 20s before they settle down.
Only to some extent, of course – an edgy district to tart up and gentrify before everyone declares it dead and the next semi-derelict fringe wasteland is seized upon. No one wants to be Detroit, with wild dogs roaming through tens of square miles of vacant lots. Could put you right off your flat white.
But neither do you want to be staid and middle of the road. How many people have you met who came to Manchester as students or 20-somethings because of the music and the 24 hour party people reputation for hedonism? Tons, I suspect. A city needs the hard to find, grotty bars playing music most of us won’t understand for years every bit as much as it does the Michelin-ambitious restaurants. It’s what makes places interesting, why Berlin has always appealed more than Frankfurt, why Nice trumps Cannes.
The city fathers’ bless ‘em, know this and Manchester’s marketing agencies set themselves higher standards than most to look that bit edgier but not too try-hard. Very wise – there’s only so far a city can develop in a top-down fashion and the best thing to do can be to not force things. The path has to be clear for start-ups and the non-conformists to start things in offbeat locations, not by over-promoting trendy districts as “quirky” and “bohemian” but by letting things take their course. People can organise their own fun.
That’s not to say the shiny and the grimy exist in isolation, far from it. Those who get it realise that far from rigid zoning, the blending of the two sides is what the users of property want to see – suits at Sevendale House, skinny jeans in Spinningfields. Life’s rich pageant.
Manchester understands pretty well where the commercial and creative can meet and has places at most points of the spectrum. The next scuffed bit to see a bit of spit and polish? Well, that’s the big question.