Making a Place For Manchester: the Cultural Relocation of a City

ABSTRACT - Competitiveness, inter-urban competition and an awareness of where a city sits in notional 'leagues’ of cities at various spatial scales are dominant themes in the analysis of the new urban politics and in urban marketers’ responses to a constellation of economic restructuring imperatives. Synthesising aspects of Lefebvre’s (1991) pioneering work on the social construction of the spatial and insights from Hall’s (1997) work on what he calls the 'cultural relocation’ of city space. Drawing on insights from original ethnographic research, this paper examines how the re-presentational work of Manchester City Council and its cadre of marketers is directed at re-articulating the city’s relation within both national and international spaces and specifically a European space. This is not to attempt to resolve empirically the question of where Manchester might fit into various regional, national or international hierarchies of cities, rather I examine how the re-spatialisation of the city is being achieved through the re-articulation of fragments of the city’s built-environment which are represented as symbols of the city’s European status and used to connect Manchester into a 'European’ space of cultural and economic flows.


Chris Loxley (2003) ,"Making a Place For Manchester: the Cultural Relocation of a City", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 333-340.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 333-340


Chris Loxley, Unilever Research and Development, UK


Competitiveness, inter-urban competition and an awareness of where a city sits in notional 'leagues’ of cities at various spatial scales are dominant themes in the analysis of the new urban politics and in urban marketers’ responses to a constellation of economic restructuring imperatives. Synthesising aspects of Lefebvre’s (1991) pioneering work on the social construction of the spatial and insights from Hall’s (1997) work on what he calls the 'cultural relocation’ of city space. Drawing on insights from original ethnographic research, this paper examines how the re-presentational work of Manchester City Council and its cadre of marketers is directed at re-articulating the city’s relation within both national and international spaces and specifically a European space. This is not to attempt to resolve empirically the question of where Manchester might fit into various regional, national or international hierarchies of cities, rather I examine how the re-spatialisation of the city is being achieved through the re-articulation of fragments of the city’s built-environment which are represented as symbols of the city’s European status and used to connect Manchester into a 'European’ space of cultural and economic flows.

We are a seriously developing an important part of the European network of cities and unless we start to define and differentiate what goes on in the city we are not going to achieve that (Chief Exec. Man. City CouncilBInterview with Author: 1997)

[T]he physical spaces of the city can be considered as belonging to the same set of cultural forms (brochures, videos, guidebooks, advertisements) which promote a partial and selective view of the essence of the city. The imagineers’ attempt to construct a new city image is thus rarely restricted to the launching of a new advertising campaign, and goes hand in hand with the creation of new urban landscapes’ (Hubbard, 1999:200).


Jessop (1999) has identified the emergence of spaces of competition and entrepreneurialism at various scales and linked their activity to the competitive imperative of a globalising economy:

The distinctive feature of 'competition states’ at national or European level and of 'entrepreneurial cities’ at urban and regional level is their manifest function ofBor, at least their declared self-image as proactively engaged inBpromoting the capacities of their respective economic spaces in the face of intensified competition in the global economy. This is often linked in turn to changes in forms of government and governance’(80).

The professional life-worlds within which local authority personnel and their private sector partners operate are variously suffused with notions of competition. Jessop (Ibid.) maps out the economic conditions which have encouraged city authorities to think competitively:

'The crisis of international economies and the declining capacity of national states to manage national economies as if they were closed has expanded the space for cities and regions to engage in territorial competition’(90).

Similarly Harding et al (1994) point to the impact of trans-national corporations on the European regions and argue that cities are seeking 'new functions and niches’ in a 'European-wide system of economic and political hierarchies’; hierarchies which have emerged from 'an economic logic which encourages cities to compete with each other to attract increasingly scarce, mobile international capital’(3); the author’s claim that:

'This competitive search for economic growth and increased international weight has generated substantial costs as well as benefits, losers as well as winners’(3).

Within this economic context a new generation of urban policy which began with City Challenge (1991) installed the principle of the competitive bidding for regeneration funds within local government in the UK. Cochrane (1992) and Jessop (1990;1994) have both argued that the shift from local welfarism to market welfarism via the 'Schumpterian workfare state’ has made competition absolutely central to the operation of contemporary urban policy. More fundamentally this new generation of urban policy, delivered through processes of competition was accompanied by a more general valorisation of 'competitiveness’:

There has been a renewed emphasis on economic regeneration and the promotion of the competitiveness of both commercial and industrial activity and the localities in which these activities are located=(Oatley, 1998:X).

Few would disagree that cities are now centrally located in a competitive environment in which 'bidding’ for both private and public investment is a professional and political way of life, and in which the city is recognised as a player in competitive inter-urban game for jobs, investment and media attention.


The position of all but the elite players within these competitive spaces is highly uncertain. All serious commentators would agree that late twentieth Manchester is not a global or world city in the sense that has become dominant within the academy. Whilst it may be clear that the city does not possess global status, it is considerably less clear where the city may be said to fit into a notional urban hierarchy which describes what Sassen has called the 'command capability’ of a city, and extends from the recognised global centres, to international, national and lesser known regional centres:

'According to Saskia Sassen (1991), the different command competencies of western cities derive, in part, from the existence and geographical 'reach’ of key producer service firms in these cities. Only in a few select informational cities or world cities is the quantity of these global maps sufficient to furnish multinational headquarters with a global command capability’(Boyle et al, 1996:151).

In their seminal paper 'World city formation’ Friedmann and Wolff (1982) argued that the emergence of world cities is driven by the process of economic globalisation; central to which is a process of de-territorialisation, in which firms have 'learnt’ to overcome their dependence on national spaces. In a thesis which anticipates later developments, especially those of Sassen (1991;1994) Friedmann and Wolff argued that it was the manner in which a city is 'integrated’ within the global economy which determines its position in a global hierarchy of economic influence and control:

'At the apex of this hierarchy are found a small number of massive urban regions that we shall call world cities. Tightly integrated with each other through decision-making and finance, they constitute a worldwide system of control over production and market expansion’(Friedmann & Wolff, 1982:310).

Analyses of the enmeshing of cities into a 'global system’ have not helped to contribute to resolving the question of where regional cities like Manchester might fit into a spatial hierarchy of urban centres. Friedmann and Wolff’s assertion that there is a hierarchy of economic influence and control, what Sassen would later call 'command capability’, presupposes a continuum of this variable and therefore the existence of cities beneath its world or global apex. However, the focus of the academy has remained on the alluring pinnacles of the urban economic hierarchy, New York, Tokyo, London, and more recently, of course, Los Angeles, the 'centre of centres’. Research has been reluctant to consider the 'mode of integration’ of cities further down the hierarchy, what we might call the urban 'poor-relations’, in Britain these could include any of the countries regional centres.

Friedmann and Wolff (1982) argued that the specific role(s) of world cities in a world system could only be determined through empirical research. The same basic argument must apply to the role of the 'lesser’ cities. Their positions can only be understood through substantive research into the specific functions they perform at various spatial scales, whether they are local, regional or national.


However, this paper is not concerned with economic enquiries into command capability. The texts employed by a city authority and their marketers to represent a city as a global city, an international city, a national or regional city, for example, are far more accessible and therefore amenable to analysis than the economic data. Sharon Zukin (1988) has highlighted the importance of representations to the status of cities at the top of a global urban hierarchy. Though no longer centres of garment and furniture production, Zukin argues it is important for New York and Los Angeles to 'claim to be world centres of design’, that role, she argues, 'symbolises and provides material resources for the specialisation in high-level business services to which core cities aspire’(439). I want to direct attention away from judging the validity of the claims made in Manchester City Council’s marketing texts, towards how they work to represent the city as a regional capital and a 'European’ city.

The academic research mobilised in the Council’s marketing texts is no less immune from constructing the categories it pretends to describe than the political-promotional texts of a city authority. As King (1995) has argued the authors of these texts: 'by exercising their power to name, not only construct the category and the criteria used to define it, but also identify the places to which it refers’(216). It is testament to the perceived authorial power and 'objectivity’ of academic research to define and identify cities of a certain status, that Manchester Council chooses to incorporate such discourse into its promotional texts. For example, the Economic Facts text makes much of research conducted by the Manchester Business School:

'A survey, conducted by Manchester Business School, of the strengths of European regional cities, found Manchester 'substantially met the criteria for international regional centres and came close to the two major continental centres surveyed’.


In 1994 the City Council claimed that:

'By 2005 Manchester is expected to have developed into a city that is:

* A European regional capital and investment centre.

* An international city of outstanding commercial, cultural and creative potential.

* An area distinguished by the quality of life and sense of well-being enjoyed by its residents’

The positioning of cities as regional, national, international and/or global cities is a common marketing strategy. Hall & Hubbard (1996) refer to this as the positioning of places on 'stages’. The marketing discourse that works to achieve this symbolic positioning presupposes a particular pattern of spatial relations and identities, that it is meaningful to talk about a 'European city’ or an 'international’ city, and the existence of an urban order or hierarchy. Hall & Hubbard (I996) and Hall’s (1997) work is interesting and important because it intervenes at that point where other research posits the existence of spatial identities and relations without examining the social construction of the spatial categories which the marketing discourses engage. Hall & Hubbard (1996) argue that this silence on the social construction of the spatial:

has led to the fetishization of individual place and promoted a myth of spatial autonomy. It is apparent that cities, within networks of interurban competition, not only operate against the images promoted by their opponents but also within the identities they are ascribed by virtue of their location within external systems of cultural space’(164).


'External systems’ of cultural space are what Henri Lefebvre (1991) refers to as 'representations of space’. Representations of space form one of the cornerstones in Lefebvre’s trialectic of spatiality, the other two being spatial practices and spaces of representation. Representations of space are dominated spaces, spaces which are spoken for, inscribed with meaning and meanings which burden the possible transformation of an ascribed identity:

'For Lefebvre, "this is the dominant space in any society (or mode of production)," a storehouse of epistemological power. This conceived space tends, with certain exceptions "towards a system of verbal signs", again referring to language, discourse, texts, logos: the written and spoken word. In these "dominating" spaces of regulatory and "ruly" discourse, these mental spaces, are thus representations of power and ideology, of control and surveillance’(Soja, 1996:67).

Hall & Hubbard’s work is underpinned by Lefebvre’s pioneering work on the social construction of the spatial. For Lefebvre the spatial is the fundamental, but long hidden, variable for Marxist analysis. In the seminal La Production de l’espace originally published in 1974, Lefebvre begins what Edward Soja (1989) will later term the 'reassertion’ of space in social theory:

Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles. It has of course always been the reservoir of resources, and the medium in which strategies are applied, but it has now become something more than the theatre, the disinterested stage or setting, of action. Space does not eliminate the other materials or resources that play a part in the socio-political arena be they businesses or "culture". Rather it brings them all together (Lefebvre, 1991:410-11).

The power of space to 'bring together’ the 'materials and resources that play a part in the socio-political arena’ is central to Hall’s (1997) notion of the cultural relocation of places within wider social spatialisations.

Lefebvre’s work captures the necessary spatial dimensions of all representational processes and does so in a way which does not hypostatise the dynamics of the processes of spatialisation, but demonstrates how identities and images which are given to spaces are subject to change as they are reinterpreted if not transformed, representations of space are subject to re-presentation. Lefebvre asked 'what exactly is the mode of existence of social relationships? Are they substantial? Natural? Or formally abstract?’ He concluded that 'social relations of production have a social existence to the extent that they have a spatial existence’(1991:129). In his celebration of Lefebvre, Edward Soja reinforces the social-spatial connection:

'There is no unspatialized social reality. There are no aspatial social processes. Even in the realm of pure abstraction, idology, and representation, there is a pervasive and pertinent, if often hidden, spatial dimension’(1996:46.Emphasis in original).

Hall & Hubbard’s (1996) and Hall’s (1997) work instructs us to be attentive to the spatial dimension of marketing discourses how these discourses variously construct the spatial categories into which they seek re-locate the city. Hall’s (1997) applies these ideas in his analysis of the spatialising work of marketing discourse in Birmingham.


Hall’s (1997) study of regeneration in Birmingham city centre is informed by the same desire to unearth the hidden, and not so hidden, spatial dimensions of contemporary practices of urban regeneration. Introducing the notion of 'cultural relocation’, Hall’s work begins with the argument that places and cities are not only competing against the images and discourses marketed by their opponents, but also against images and discourses which have been ascribed to them by virtue of their location in larger 'systems’ of economic and cultural space. These 'external systems of space’ are the overarching representations of Lefebvre’s representations of space, representations that have shaped the identity of a place/city.

Hall (1997) charts what he calls the 'cultural relocation’ of Birmingham city centre, he argues that peripheral regional cities like Birmingham are 'deeply embedded [within] cultural systems of space’ and that these cultural-spatial systems:

'establish the dimensions from within which individual places must extricate themselves if they are to assert their own identities above those they are ascribed by virtue of their position within these systems’(203).

Hall’s description of systems of space as over-determining representations clearly echoes Lefebvre’s notion of representations of space as spaces of domination, order and restriction. Hall’s argument that places are 'ascribed’ identities from which they must 'extricate’ themselves relates directly to my argument that Manchester is embedded in and burdened by a legacy of economic and cultural re-presentations which contemporary re-presentations of the city struggle against.

Hall (1997) draws our attention to the ways in which a city/place can struggle against such re-presentations and be, symbolically, moved into different 'cultural spaces’. Hall understands the 'challenge’ immanent in the process of cultural relocation as part of the wider 'political struggle for position’(267) of regional-provincial centres in the UK which has it origins in this countries historical-geography of centre periphery relations built on the overarching cultural and economic dominance of the nations capital:

The emergence, since the early 1980’s, of narratives of identity from places such as the formerly industrialised regions of the UK can be read as an attempt to extricate them from the legacy of these wider and external discourses of space and to rescript and reorientate the contours of these geographies around themselves’ (Hall, Ibid: 204).

Hall’s concept of cultural relocation highlights the extent to which the process of re-presenting the city is fundamentally spatial. Referring to the geographical and cultural marginalisation of the English 'Midlands’ and of the city of Birmingham in particular, Hall argues that representations of the region’s and the city’s cultural marginality, have provided 'the prevailing structures of expectation against which the city has had to compete to assert an identity of its own making’(211).

In his study Hall examined how three media, 'most closely associated with urban regeneration’, attempted to assert a new and distinctive cultural-spatial identity for the city. He examined stories in the local press and promotional material issued by the city’s International Convention Centre (ICC) during the construction of the ICC between 1986-1991, and a piece of public art called Forward by the sculptor Raymond Mason. Hall argues that all three media can be seen to have worked towards the 'goal of [the] cultural relocation’ of Birmingham. The local media, the promotional material of the ICC and Mason’s piece of public art represented the city (centre) as belonging within a new cultural space, a space of high culture, international culture and spectacle. Hall argues that these cultural spaces 'were oriented explicitly around dominant ideas of European, rather than British, national space’, and that this re-orientation of Birmingham towards 'Europe’ can be read 'as an attempt to challenge the ascriptions of the cultural geography of British national space’(215), to rid Birmingham of aspects of its real and imagined history. Hall argues that there are two implications of the 'challenges’ to Birmingham’s ascribed place in British national space, first, 'the establishment of the city within external cultural space’(215), a European cultural space. Second, the desire to relocate Birmingham within a European space of 'high culture, international culture and spectacle’ engendered judgements regarding the extent to which other spaces in the city complement or disturb the desired location/identity for the city:

This cultural positioning affected a concomitant re-ordering of the cultural spaces of the city into a series of centres and peripheries according to their compatibility with the cultural practices of the wider space. It imagined a geography of visibility and invisibility’(215).

I return to Hall’s observations of the emergence of a geography of visibility and invisibility, what he also refers to as disclosure and enclosure later in my discussion of the use of certain buildings and places in Manchester as symbols of the city’s 'European’ status.


There are many instructive parallels between the experience of cultural relocation that Hall has observed in Birmingham and the ongoing marketing effort to re-present Manchester as a European and international city; even to the extent that Manchester has G-MEX (The Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre) and the Bridgewater Hall, the city’s equivalent to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. These symbolic additions to the built environment contribute a similar effort to attempts to relocate Manchester within those spaces of high culture, international culture and spectacle identified by Hall.

Manchester City Council’s efforts to re-present Manchester as a 'European city’ can be understood as the attempted re-spatialisation of Manchester. The Council’s marketing texts and images seek to redefine Manchester’s relation within a national economic and cultural space by placing the city in a notional European urban economic and cultural space, and in so doing reassert Manchester’s status as a regional capital in national and international space. One of the Council’s most recent marketing texts, Manchester two thousand: the changing face, produced in 1998 announces:

The transformation of this great British city into an even greater European regional capital is underway(No page numbers).

In the next part of this paper I examine textual interventions into the meaning of Manchester and how these texts can be understood as attempting the relocation of the city within 'European’ cultural and economic space.


Whilst much can be learnt from Hall’s spatially sensitive analysis of regeneration discourse in Birmingham, in at least one crucial respect Manchester’s promotional texts employ a rhetorical technique which, rather than seeking to 'challenge’ the 'ascriptions’ of the historical-geography of the nation state, use them to signify Manchester’s dominance outside London. Hall’s analysis shows that the texts he examined sought to relocate Birmingham in cultural and economic space as free as possible from the shadows of London. However, marketing texts produced by Manchester City Council’s seek to establish the city’s spatial dominance in both national and international space. The marketing texts of Manchester City Council symbolically align the city with the nation’s capital and in doing so assert Manchester’s role as the UK’s regional capital. Thus a characteristic trope in the city’s promotional literature, and especially the Economic Facts document, is the comparison of Manchester with London. This is what we might call the 'outside London’ trope and it characteristic of the re-presentations made in the Economic Facts text:

'Manchester is the commercial, financial, educational and cultural capital of the UK’s largest economic region outside London’(3).

'[Manchester is] the most important and fully competitive business services centre outside London’(3).

'Manchester is unquestionably the largest centre of corporate finance activity outside London’(7).

The comparison, only with London, whilst acknowledging the dominance of the capital and the south east region more generally, is used to signal Manchester’s dominance over other regional cities in the UK; hence Manchester is the regional capital, the regional centre of centres.

'Manchester is the regional capital, as such it must compete on a local, national and international scale’(Manchester City Council City Development Guide 1995:11. Emphasis in original).

Unlike Birmingham’s promotional texts Manchester’s materials are less interested in challenging the UK’s historical geography and the dominance of London and more in using the symbolism of London’s dominance to imbue Manchester with a greater spatial status. In referring only to London Manchester’s promotional texts engage in a 'politics of position’ similar to that which has been identified by Giddens (1984). In this struggle for national and international position Manchester is intentionally distanced from other British regional cities. In not talking about them a measure of their inferiority is inferred. Giddens’s account of the behaviour of central places is helpful in explaining the activities of places that seek recognition as centres:

'Those who occupy centres establish themselves as having control over resources which allow them to maintain differentiations between themselves and those in peripheral regions. The established may employ a variety of forms of social closure to sustain distance from others who are effectively treated as inferiors or outsiders’(Giddens,1984:131).

The imperative behind this othering is competition, in aligning the city with the nation’s capital Manchester’s marketers demonstrate the extent to which they recognise other regional centres as potential 'threats’ to the city’s preferred status as the UK’s regional European and international axis. Though in representing Manchester as the UK’s 'regional capital’, the city’s marketers chose an alternative strategy to Birmingham. Like Birmingham, Manchester’s historic spatiality is also being re-constructed in European terms, marketing efforts are directed towards situating the city in European and international space.


In this part of the paper I want to unpack the meaning of the use of the signifiers European and international as they are deployed in the marketing texts of Manchester City Council. I will show that deconstruction of the notion of the 'European’/’international’ at work in these marketing texts must be understood with reference to an analysis of the talk of key decision makers in the City Council and their private partners about Manchester’s second Olympic bid, and how subsequent re-presentations of the city have been crucially informed by what they learnt from their observations of Barcelona.

What is meant when it is said that Manchester is a 'European’ city with 'European credentials’? The invocation of the 'European [city]’, seeks to free Manchester of its historical subjugation to the capital; in re-presenting the city as 'European’ Manchester signifies its independence and ability to bypass London’s control. But the notion of a 'European city’ is more than a way of downplaying the city’s historic subjugation to London and the southeast. It is an appeal to a part real, part imaginary European city model, an idealised urban environment and 'lifestyle’ to which the city’s marketers can aspire.


As an aspirational model the city of Barcelona occupies a singular and mythic position in the accounts of Manchester’s private partners. Barcelona appears to exemplify their idea of the European city. Throughout the bidding for the 1992 Olympic Games Barcelona was Manchester’s closest rival, both geographically and in terms of Barcelona’s economic and social history as a formerly industrial, albeit, port city. In my interviews with the Council’s private partners and key decision makers in the Council accounts were given of their visits as Manchester’s Olympic representatives to Barcelona during the bidding process and their reactions to a city which had been successfully re-positioned as the cultural and economic capital of Catalonian. The Council’s private partners variously commented on how the leadership of the Council became 'jealous’ of Barcelona, a jealously which over-flowed when that city was successful in its bid for the 1992 Games.

It was widely acknowledged that Barcelona’s success reinforced the perception that Manchester must become more like Barcelona, that it must undergo a process that some of my informants referred to as 'Barcelona-isation’. It was not clear whether this term was being used to emphasise the necessary political underpinnings of Barcelona’s transformation, and particularly the figure of the city’s mayor Pasqual Maragall, or aspects of the aesthetics and designs of the city’s built environment. On further questioning Barcelona-isation was typically explained in terms of a transformation achieved both at the political level, the pursuit of an 'entrepreneurial’ governance under the charismatic Maragall, and the aesthetic, the transformation of the city into a desirable cultural destination. What was meant by Barcelon-isation was never formalised, Barcelonisation was never, of course, a specific 'policy’. Rather, the idea of making Manchester more like Barcelona became implicit to their work and understanding of what they wanted to achieve in Manchester. The ongoing significance of Barcelona was made clear in a recent and essentially boosterist article in The Guardian newspaper on the Manchester’s 'urban renaissance’. The paper’s northern editor remarks on how the Leader of the Council and two of his private partners all separately mentioned the Barcelona factor:

Significantly, [Nick Johnson], Ian Simpson and Richard Leese separately mentioned a visit by the city fathers to Barcelona in the early Nineties. Fact-finding for Manchester’s Olympic Games bid, the delegation saw a blinding light in the Spaniard’s sassy profiting from really high quality urban design('The gritty city goes lookie-feely’. The Guardian, April,1999:17)


Despite the vast historical and political differences between Manchester and Barcelona, and the real economic and cultural differences between Manchester and any other European city, the marketing texts of Manchester Council have distilled a two dimensional model of the 'European city’ from their observations of Barcelona. First, the European city is represented as a certain type of urban economy, centered on the 'dynamic’ and 'entrepreneurial’ producer-professional services and especially the financial services industries. Second, the European city displays a distinctive urban aesthetic and cultural life.

The specific content of the notion of the 'European City’ or 'European regional capital’ is less important than the rhetorical function provided by this marketing device. This is why Barcelon-isation would never add up to a strategy, a 'check-list’ which the city’s leaders could tick-off as and when they fulfilled their ambitions for the city. In re-presenting Manchester as a 'European regional capital’ and using Barcelona as a form of bench-mark for the city the Council and its private partners have sought to re-locate Manchester in a European city 'league’ in addition to its place in UK’s national-internal league. For Manchester and Europe’s other regional cities insertion into a notional European league of city’s allows these cities hitherto cast in the shadows of their national capitals to be re-presented as autonomous urban agents in a Europe of cities. In the present historical and economic conjuncture Manchester Council have clearly set their representational limits within this European league. My research shows that key decision makers in the Council and their private partners had a clear idea about which other European cities were the city’s competitors; again problematising their other statements that the Council was not interested in 'competing’ with other cities. The Council’s Economic Initiatives Department have used research by the Manchester Business School (MBS) to inform their understanding of Manchester’s potential competitor cities. The MBS European Regional Services Project (1993)B'considered the relative standing of a number of European cities with regard to their ability to act as European regional financial and professional service centres’(3). The research examined seventeen EuropeanB'secondary financial centres’Bincluding: Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Bilbao, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Lille, Lisbon, Lyon, Oporto, Stuttgart, Turin, Valencia, and Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester. For the staff of the Economic Initiatives Department, the leadership of the Council and their private partners this is the European urban league in which Manchester must compete.


If we are to become a European city it=s important to get contemporary architecture not pastiche, actual statements of quality(ArchitectBprivate partner, March, 1997).

I want to show that the re-aestheticisation of the city centre is central to the attempted re-location of Manchester within this European league of cities and urban space. Quilley (1995) has observed the extent to which the city’s built environment is being used to support the claims that Manchester is [becoming] a European city:

'[E]nvironmental regeneration provides not just sites for specific business operations, but also landscapes which underwrite the claims of the Manchester script. For instance pedestrianisation, the use of stylish street furniture and the provision of public space relates to the notion of Manchester as a European city and its role as a regional capital’(1995:297. My emphasis).

The city’s marketing discourse makes strategic use of particular aspects of the built environment of the city to re-present and highlight the 'European’ character of Manchester. The Council’s Arts and Cultural Strategy (Oct. 1997) announces one its 'aims and objectives’ as:

Sense of Place and Urban Culture: to create an environment which reflects Manchester’s objective to be recognised as a European Regional Capital, through new programmes for improved urban spaces, street life, cultural animation and public art(9).

Urban re-development and re-building can alter, in quite fundamental ways, the way we apprehend and remember a city. In Manchester the Council and its private partners are using particular places, spaces and designs to re-present and symbolise the city’s 'European’ status. This is not to say that they are literally copying or simulating the aesthetics of a mythical Barcelona or any other European city. The work that is being done is to link two features of the built environment, a notion of 'quality’ aesthetics, as developed by the Council’s private partners, and the presence of public space, to a notion of the 'European’. In doing so the marketing texts of the Council and the talk of the private partners define Manchester’s 'European’ qualities as manifest in the city’s built environment, specifically its privileging and possession of public space and 'quality’ architecture and design.

One of the city’s most recent marketing textsBManchester 2000: The Changing Face (1999) makes clear the link between built form, here specifically public space, and the city’s European aspirations:

The power of open space was often ignored in recent decades. Everyone now knows the glory of every great European city lies as much in its public realm as in its architecture.

A measure of 'quality’ made its first appearance in the City Development Guide published in January 1997; here quality is represented as a universal standard, equated with the substantive it is defined as fundamentally atemporal:

'We seek to encourage "quality" development as distinct from promoting a particular style. Style is a matter of taste, and remains highly subjective. Quality is enduring whilst style, taste and fashion change’(8).

The 'enduring’ quality of 'quality’ is set against the transience and ephemerality of 'style, taste and fashion’. Importantly, the author’s of this 'measure’ of quality stressed that it was not anti-modern, they claimed 'quality’ was an attempt to establish a form of judgement with respect to different architectural styles, rather than th privileging on one particular style. As it is written into the City Development Guide quality is employed as a critique of certain forms of architectural modernism, especially the system-built mass produced forms of Hulme. More generally this measure of quality is rooted in an aesthetic attitude to the urban environment which is heavily critical and ultimately rejects a post-war history of what members of the City Development Guide referred to variously as 'corporate’ and 'mediocre’ architecture, in favour of an approach to regulating built development which recognises that aesthetics can be a powerful incentive to private sector investment. The Council’s private partners’ statements on 'quality’ acknowledge the links between architecture, design and investment. 'Quality’ makes implicit appeal to an aesthetics of urban design prior to comprehensive 'master’ planning and the whole apparatus of bureaucratic, technocratic planning, hence:

'High quality environments and quality design can enhance people’s lives in countless ways. Good design cannot be achieved by regulation or prescription’(17.My emphasis).

Quality is understood to be an individual possession, this relates to implicit distancing of 'quality’ and bureaucracy; in my interviews with members of the City Development Guide advisory panel quality was understood to be the possession of 'committed’ individuals. Indeed, my informants used similar ethical judgements to refer to the personal qualities of those 'committed’ individuals interested in 'quality’ and to the features of quality architecture and design. Thus, the six criteria adopted from the Royal Fine Arts Commission to identify quality include reference to an aesthetics of 'integrity’ and 'honesty’.

Whilst quality’s allusion to history should not be read as an attempt to resurrect certain architectural styles, its appeal to the 'human scale’ privileges the public character of a city’s street-scapes. Thus, the first draft of the City Development Guide (May:1995) made very clear the relationship between 'quality space’ and the scale of urban life:

The scale and position of new buildings should, therefore, relate to the geometry of the streetdevelopments should be appropriately scaled to relate to the street large buildings should not distort the scale of streets’(18).

This valorisation of the 'street’ is a privileging of what the Council’s marketing texts also refer to as the 'public realm’ of the city. Public space and the public realm are closely allied to 'quality’:

'A high quality urban environment is created by buildings which suit the space in which they are located’(15).

The significance of the marketing of 'public space’ and 'quality’ is that they have come to symbolise the city’s claim to be 'European’. Places which can be re-presented as places of 'public space’ and 'quality’ are then used to demonstrate the city’s 'continental atmosphere’; for example:

'[The Gay Village] It’s one of the trendiest places in town. European style cafT culture, 'al fresco’ pavement society, continental licensing hours and a cosmopolitan attitude, have all put the Village at the forefront of the new Manchester’(Manchester two thousand: the changing face. Manchester City Council, 1999).

'...the city buzzes at night with bars, restaurants, cafes, live music and night-clubs, all contributing to a booming nightlife economy and giving the city an ever more Continental atmosphere’(Economic Facts. Manchester City Council, 1997).

Quality is given its most substantive form in the City Development Guide. It is given expression in the images selected for inclusion in that text; images, which we must assume, include buildings and spaces the authors considered to be exemplars of their measure of quality design.


Even a cursory examination of the City Development Guide, and any of the Council’s other marketing texts which relate to the built environment, reveals that there are small number of buildings and places in the city which make regular appearances in these texts. The buildings and places that have attained a symbolic status in re-presenting Manchester’s identity as a 'European city’ include: the Castlefield area, the Bridgewater Hall and associated Barbirolli square, Hulme, the Manchester Evening News, formerly Nynex, arena, the Velodrome, the Gay Village, the Airport, and the Greater Manchester Exhibition centre (G-MEX). As few as eight buildings/places are consistently used to symbolise what is called Manchester’s 'current renaissance’, a 'new chapter’ in the city’s history, the chapter of Manchester as a European city.

These fragments of the city are used to re-present a number of different aspects of the 'European city’; thus, Castlefield and the Gay Village feature as re-presentations of spaces of the cities 'continental atmosphere’, of bar and cafT culture and public space. The Nynex/Manchester Evening News Arena and GMEX are used to represent Manchester as a European concert/exhibition centre. The Arena is: 'Europe’s largest multi-purpose indoor entertainment and sports facility’ whilst GMEX is 'rightly regarded as one of the most prestigious exhibition and event centres in Europe’. The Bridgewater ['international concert’] Hall is of particular significance in re-presenting Manchester’s location in European cultural space. The then Leader of the Council spoke of how he regarded an 'international’ concert hall to be essential for any city aspiring to 'European’ status.

Barbirolli square, after Sir John Barbirolli the founder of Manchester’s Halle orchestra, is a 20,000 sq. m office development situated next to the Bridgewater Hall. Its tenants include some of the prominent names in business-servicesBPrice Waterhouse, Ernst & Young and Natwest Commercial Banking Services. The buildingB100 and 101 Barbirolli squareBis used to signify the city’s status 'the most important and fully competitive business services centre outside London’.

The city’s airport its 'jewel in the crown’ according to the Economic Facts document and the building of a second runway:

Manchester Airport is already among the top 20 busiest in the world and the second runway will help to double its capacity to 30 million by 2005(Manchester 2000,1998).

The airport is the key symbolic site that brings together the Council’s desired relocation of Manchester in European and international space.

These buildings and places are of course only fragments of the city’s built environment, its precious enclaves, what Boyer (1995) has called a city’s 'ornaments’, which the Council proudly displays in its marketing texts time and again. The fragmented nature of this imaginary city-scape was made clear by the comments of informants both inside and outside the Council’s network of private partners. Problematising what they saw as the Council’s 'quantitative’ approach to re-development, typically these informants claimed that:

Architectural priorities are secondary because of the need to be seen t be phoenix like(October 1997).

There’s a lot of indifferent work. Outside of Castlefield and Hulme, outside of those the quality of buildings is very ordinary’(October 1997).

In its reduction to combinations of 8 buildings and places Manchester can be considered what Hubbard (1999) calls a 'virtual’ city, in that it is a city 'constituted through a quixotic range of images and representations’. The physical re-development of a city’s built environment comes to stand for transformations in that city’s economic and cultural and 'life’:

[T]he physical spaces of the city can be considered as belonging to the same set of cultural forms (brochures, videos, guidebooks, advertisements) which promote a partial and selective view of the essence of the city. The imagineers’ attempt to construct a new city image is thus rarely restricted to the launching of a new advertising campaign, and goes hand in hand with the creation of new urban landscapes’(200).


In this paper I have identified the emergence of a symbolic economy in Manchester, including especially those eight buildings and spaces which are used by the city’s marketers to speak for the city. These buildings and spaces are productive resources and therefore inexorably linked with the city’s economy, in the sense that they are resources of symbolic images which can be made to work to concretise claims which are advanced in their name, whether those claims relate to the city’s status as a European regional city and/or a cultural capital; and a 24 hour city, or the success of public-private partnership in the city. Indeed the very power of these symbolic resources, buildings and places, is that they can mobilised for a variety of signifying purposes, cultural, economic and political.

Manchester’s symbolic 'quality’ locations are the most obvious means with which it is possible to contribute to the ongoing extrication, or unburdening, of the city from its historical-cultural spatialisation as a place of mass- manufacture and working class culture. In the same way that Hall (1997) understands the construction, both rhetorical and physical, of the International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall in Birmingham as being led by a range of local interests who wanted to assert Birmingham’s status as a centre of 'high culture, international culture and spectacle’(215), so symbolic buildings and places in Manchester, fragments of the city, are joined together and given coherenceBarticulatedB in the city’s marketing texts, and invested with the necessary symbolic capital of quality and public space to work at the re-presentation of Manchester in European cultural and economic space.

Boyer (1992;1995), Crilley (1993) and Hubbard (1996) and have drawn attention to the ways in which city-scapes, or more precisely fragments of city-scapes like those I have identified in Manchester, are being used as productive resources in the re-presentation of formerly industrial cities. In this paper I have argued that as few as eight buildings and places in Manchester’s are being used to relocate the city in a notionally European space. Examining the construction of the 'European’ city I have shown that whilst the understandings of key decision makers in the city about what constitutes a 'European’ city have been significantly shaped by their visits to Barcelona during the Olympic bidding process, the aspiration for Manchester to become a 'European regional capital’ involves the mobilisation of a palimpsest of discourses, images and associations which inform the re-presentations which are made of the city. In linking a particular aesthetic to a notion of the 'European’ city and bringing together fragment of the city-scape which are said to capture this aesthetic on the same page, the re-presentations of Manchester found in the Council’s marketing texts seek to ascribe a unity and identity to the city; they layer meaning on an otherwise disparate and contradictory city-scape, a city-scape of gaps, decay and a myriad references to other [hidden] economies and cultures.


Boyer, M.C. (1995) 'The Great Frame-Up: Fantastic Aearances in Contemporary Spatial Politics’, in Liggett, D. & Perry, D.C. (eds.) Spatial practices: critical explorations in social/spatial theory, California: Sage.

Boyle, M., Findlay, A., Lelievre. E, & Paddison, R. (1996) 'World Cities and the Limits to Global Control: A Case Study of Executive Search Firms in Europe’s Leading Cities’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 20,3,498-517.

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Crilley, D. (1993) 'Architecture as advertising: constructing the image of redevelopment’ in Kearns, G. & Philo, C. (eds.) Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present, Oxford: Pergamon Press: 231-52.

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Jessop, B. (1990) State Theory: Putting Capitalist States in their Place, Cambridge: Polity Press.

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Jessop, B. (1999) 'The Narrative of Enterprise and the Enterprise of Narrative: Place Marketing and the Entrepreneurial City’, in Hall, T. & Hubbard, P. (eds.) (1999).

King, A. (1995) Re-presenting the City: Ethnicity, Culture and Capital in the 21st Century Metropolis, Basingstoke: MacMillan.

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Soja, E.W. (1996) Thirdspace: Journeys to LA and other Real and Imagined Places, Oxford: Blackwell.



Chris Loxley, Unilever Research and Development, UK


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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