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The loss of an icon? The Crescent Pub in Salford

The Crescent Pub, Salford (image taken from their website, http://www.thecrescentpub.com)

On Sunday after a weekend visiting the old haunts in Manchester for the weekend (and spending a day watching Jimmy Anderson skittle out South Africa’s batting line up), I took a slow drive along Chapel Street as I made my way back to the motorway. I wanted to see my old employer, the University of Salford as well as the changes to the area that I’d heard about from ex-colleagues. I was taken aback by the raft of identikit housing, the beautified (and frankly much better) ‘shared space’ of the new road layout, and the new cladding on the previously tired looking Salford Crescent Station. But the main draw for me was my old watering hole, the Salford Crescent pub. However, after noticing a small white notice on the window of the pub, I stopped the car to take a closer look. “Closed until further notice”. It was a troubling sign, not least as it meant I couldn’t pop in to have another look around.

But it wasn’t until this news article appeared that I now realise that me peering at that sign was probably the last time I’d see that glorious little pub. If the rumours are to be believed, it faces imminent closure and probable development into luxury housing or some other equally stereotypical gentrified usage.

Anytown, UK. The new (identikit) look of Chapel Street

Public houses are shutting across the country, so why is this one any different? Well, the Crescent isn’t just any pub. It has been a tavern since the 1830s, is a focal point of the community (hosting live music, meetings, and social events), a hub of student activism, and most famously, it is supposedly where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met to discuss writing the Communist Manifesto. None of these things class a pub from being exempt from closure of course. But they combine to create a little island of anti-corporate sentiment being besieged by capital flows that are transforming the neighbourhood. Yes, it is a commercial venture that survives by having to sell goods and services, but it’s rich socialist history and its distinct community-orientated present operates within that to offer services that are now, sadly, genuinely unique.

Salford itself is also a city rich in working class history. The squalid conditions that Friedrich Engels encountered within the slums of Manchester and Salford inspired him to write The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Since then, the city has been somewhat of a cauldron of working class struggles. It has a proud industrial history, and its politicians were instrumental in national welfare reform in the nineteenth century. It is also home to the Working Class Movement Library, and just last year, the University of Salford unveiled a statue of Engels on their central campus, a simulacrum to a communist history in the heartland of the commercial university. Over the last few years though, as Manchester has grown, it has begun to engulf Salford. The location of MediaCityUK in Salford Quays was a major coup for the city. But it has catalysed the extension of Manchester’s transport links to permeate Salford, blurring the boundaries of the two politically and in the general zeitgeist (speak to laymen and the BBC’s northern base is in Manchester, not Salford). This inevitably leads to the larger city dominating the smaller one, with Salford now struggling to maintain its identity amidst Manchester’s global city ambitions. The development of Chapel Street only serves to blur these boundaries further, turning it into little more than a commuter community for central Manchester.

The imminent closure of this pub then is somewhat of a symbolic watershed moment. The runaway gentrification of Chapel Street, the erosion of Salford’s rich socialist and communist history into a simulacrum, and the loss of a genuine community space in the midst of all this, all combine to make the loss of the Crescent particularly saddening for me. If it does ever open its doors again, I urge everyone to soak up the atmosphere (as much as the carpet soaks up the split ales) one last time, for it really is one of a kind.

 

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Scrolling Beat ’em ups, urban blight and the neoliberal city

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The best scrolling beat ’em up: The ultimate neoliberal fight against urban decay?

The first computer game I can recall playing was Target Renegade on the Amstrad. Essentially, you would scroll through various urban landscapes, kicking and punching other men (and some women) along the way. You had to walk  through car parks, urban streets and snooker clubs(?!) using nothing but your fists and feet (and the occasional appropriated weapon; a baseball bat, chain, mallet and yes, a snooker cue) to fight your way to the end-of-game boss. A tried and tested format which became one of the most important computer game genres of the 80s and 90s.

Of the many scrolling beat ’em ups that adorned our consoles over those years – Final Fight, Streets of Rage (1 and 2, 3 not so much) and even Two Crude Dudes – there was a similar trope being played out. A violent crime syndicate had taken over the city, and a group of dedicated, tough and very talented mercenaries took it upon themselves to clean up the streets, and perhaps rescue a loved one along the way. Like other cultural artefacts, do these games (and the genre more widely) reflect their contemporaneous social trends and anxieties, in this case, US inner-city decline of the 70s and 80s and the rise of neoliberalism and ‘enterprising self’ as the mode of social progression?  Continue reading


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The Spectacle Strikes Back: Using protests for commercial gain

A morning ritual which I can’t seem to break out of is looking at the BBC’s ‘newspaper front page’ section (you know, just to make sure I start the day with a bit of outrage). Perusing the website this morning, I scrolled down to see the front page of the Metro. Nothing particularly outlandish today, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the banner at the bottom. The red hues, the circular faux-painted logo with a single character, a flag fluttering in the background; the unconscious, half-second response was that there was some anarchist, revolutionary protest group that had found the funds to broadcast in the national media. However, it was very soon apparent that this was far from the truth… Continue reading


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Walking the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ

The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ

One cannot have failed to notice the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend. Coupled with Remembrance Sunday, it has created a milieu of memorialisation over the weekend that has invoked process of grief, global strife, hegemonic power, activism & resistance, personal loss and spirituality. There has been a lot of pontification and media chin-stroking about the geopolitical wrangling and consequences of the fall of the Wall in the lead up to the anniversary, but what has always been present in the urban studies literature is the way in which the Wall acts very much within the urban geography of Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit Berlin last month for a very interesting and enlightening Workshop on Controversies of the Creative City, and given the content of my talk (which was, in a nutshell, a 20-min dash through the themes of my book) the inventible question I always seem to be asked is ‘what is the alternative’? If neoliberal capitalism is unjust, damaging and polarising, just what is the answer?** Given that we were in the city that symbolically saw the collapse of one viable ‘alternative’ it seemed like an apt arena in which to have the debate. With the workshop discussions pinging around my thoughts, I took it upon myself to practice what I so often champion which is the act of drifting à la The Situationists, something which can (can) begin to inculcate a more creative city. But of course, this is neigh-on impossible in the contemporary Creative City, so using the old line of the Wall (which is of course now, a recognised tourist route – Berliner Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall Trail), I walked from the SouthEast of the city centre to the North, keeping as close to the line as I could. This practice has been done elsewhere far more vividly that I ever could by Will Self (the flâneur of our time), and my photography skills have a lot to be desired (to say the least – click on the photos to see a larger version). But what follows is a photographic essay which speaks to the changing urban condition in Berlin from a city divided along geopolitical and revanchist lines, but which now has perhaps lost the former in favour of a more global city-inculcated version of the latter.  Continue reading


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Who Framed Roger Rabbit as urbanist critique

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Doom v Rabbit or Moses v Jacobs?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) is no doubt a classic film. It was technologically innovate, and spliced the detective film-noir genre with the comic, slapstick animation of classic ‘toons of the 1960s and 70s. Truly, a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema, and if you are not familiar with the film, you can read a great review of it here. One aspect though that often goes unnoticed is the urbanist narrative that runs through the film’s plot. It is set in 1947, and essentially, ‘Judge Doom’, the evil protagonist of the film, is plotting to destroy ‘Toontown’ (the suburb of Los Angeles where the animated characters live) and replace with a freeway. The film therefore is very much a critique on the ‘freeway-ization’ of LA, with overt glorification of the city’s transit-orientated past. Such a mantra is signposted early on in the film with the main hero ‘Eddie’ sitting on the back of a trolley car proclaiming, “Who needs a car in L.A.? We got the best public transportation system in the world!”

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The Americana, transit-orientated history depicted in the film

In his famous villain’s speech where he reveals his dastardly plan to the heroes, he claims that the freeways will revolutionise LA, and create a vast automobile-based city that will “be beautiful”. You can see his speech in the video below.

This short segment highlights one the film’s most overt social critiques, namely that of the automobile dominated city that Los Angeles had become in 1988, and still is to this day (relatedly, you can read about my day-long trip around LA by car in search of the film locations of The Terminator films here, and my ode to UK motorways here). With this narrative in mind, it becomes extremely obvious that ‘Judge Doom’ and Toontown are simply comic metaphors for the classic urbanism argument of ‘walkability’, most readily articulated by the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Continue reading


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A city’s obsession: A commentary on the BBC’s ‘London and the Rest’

MInd the Gap: London and the Rest (Source: BBC)

The show currently on BBC2, Mind the Gap, is well worth a watch as it covers many of themes that are important to modern urban geographical studies (you can watch it on the iPlayer, but only till 17th March), notably those being taught at undergradute level, not least by me for GG2053. The first episode ‘London and the Rest’, offered a useful insight into why London is a Global City, and what this means not only for the population of London, but for the rest of the UK and indeed the world. However, despite it’s rather glossy veneer and The Apprentice-style, helicopter, Gods-eye-view aesthetics that is so ubiquitous within mainstream documentaries, the program masked just as many important issues as it did illuminate. It failed to launch the visceral critique that its presenter threatened to do at times (his conservative approach masked an obvious desire to launch a tirade against this gargantuan urban behemoth), and in so doing presented a rather polemic, but no less informative pointer to why London has become the teeming Global City it is today. So I want to map out (using the traditional scalar model for clarity’s sake) a few points of departure from the episode that will help contextualise it in the wider relevant debates about contemporary urban studies.

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