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New East Manchester: urban renaissance or urban opportunism?

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In this paper we ask how a shrinking city responds when faced with a perforated urban fabric. Drawing on Manchester's response to its perforated eastern flank —and informed by a parallel study of Leipzig—we use the city's current approach to critique urban regeneration policy in England. Urban renaissance holds out the promise of delivering more sustainable—that is more compact, more inclusive and more equitable—cities. However, the Manchester study demonstrated that the attempt to stem population loss from the city is at best fragile, despite a raft of policies now in place to support urban renaissance in England. It is argued here that Manchester like Leipzig is likely to face an ongoing battle to attract residents back from their suburban hinterlands. This is especially true of the family market that we identify as being an important element for long-term sustainable population growth in both cities. We use the case of New East Manchester to consider how discourses linked to urban renaissance—particularly those that link urbanism with greater densities—rule out some of the options available to Leipzig, namely, managing the long-term perforation of the city. We demonstrate that while Manchester is inevitably committed to the urban renaissance agenda, in practice New East Manchester demonstrates a far more pragmatic—but equally unavoidable—approach. This we attribute to the gap between renaissance and regeneration described by Amin et al. (Cities for the Many Not for the Few. Bristol: Policy Press, 2000) who define the former as urbanism for the middle class and the latter as urbanism for the working class. While this opportunistic approach may ultimately succeed in producing development on the ground, it will not address the fundamental, and chronic, problem; the combination of push and pull that sees families relocating to suburban areas. Thus, if existing communities in East Manchester are to have their area buoyed up—or sustained—by incomers, and especially families, with greater levels of social capital and higher incomes urban policy in England will have to be challenged.

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