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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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London plc. in 2026: 10 years on from the ashes of Brexit, a City-Corporation flourishes

Having been CEO of London plc. for 5 years now, Stuart Gulliver can step down from the role knowing that he will go into the history books as perhaps the greatest businessman of all time. London wasn’t even a company when he took over, and today in 2026, it is has a bigger turnover than any of the tech giants of the West Coast Division of Trumpland, and employs more people than the recently floated NHS. Reluctantly taking the role in July 2021 after the now infamous ‘Londexit’ vote, Mr. Gulliver was the obvious choice having been the CEO of London’s biggest financial institution HSBC for some 10 years previously. Continue reading


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The Materiality of Die Hard

die-hard-original

Last night I had the privilege of watching Die Hard on the big screen at the Filmopolis Christmas Party. A great night, with an even greater film. Die Hard is one of those films that you can watch repeatedly, and rarely strays from perfection. Despite containing now tired Hollywood clichés, it has aged remarkably well, and is now considered the quintessential Christmas film (on which I noticed last night the falling paper at the end of the film beautifully analogous to snowfall; hence the ‘Let it Snow’ song at the end). In watching the film, particularly the “TV Dinner” bit, I was reminded of a 2010 blog post by Geoff Manaugh (on the brilliant bldgblog) about the relational architecture of the film. The post itself spoke to many of themes I explored when I was working on the geographies of parkour, and is still a wonderful take on the how the film Die Hard espouses the malleability of how we use architecture. But 5 years on from that post, and having now seen the film countless times since, there are many other ways in which the film can be utilised to explore architectural and material geographies (yes, there will be spoliers). Continue reading


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Transforming Cities

Metroplex, the Transformer City

Metroplex, the Transformer City

Cities, on the surface at least, seem stable. The imposing physical materiality of concrete, steel and glass projects an endurance that is ‘built to last‘. Yet decades of urban critique have elucidated the fluidity of cities. From Walter Benjamin’s Arcades, through Cedric Price’s Fun Palace to Nigel Coates’ Ecstacity, people have been envisioning cities that are mobile, mutable and malleable. These concepts of literature, art and architecture articulate cities that are far from static; they are fluid assemblages that wax and wane in response to cultural representations, economic global processes and social practices. And one only has to take a short walk through seemingly any city today before they encounter some construction or development of some kind. This affirms that the urban landscape is constantly changing in response to development pressures, policy tweaks and financial speculation. The ‘stability’ of cities is hence only an illusion; there is far more than meets the eye… Continue reading


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#AAG2015 afterthoughts

IMG_0730

The Annals of American Geographers annual conference this year was in Chicago, and as usual, was a hectic 5 days of sessions, networking, partying and pontificating. The ante seemed particularly high this year, there was a heightened sense of a complex mix of emotional states; excitement (perhaps a symptom of being in such a great city), enjoyment (plenty of people seemed to have beaming smiles), anger (name-calling was heard), insecurity (lots of discussions about academic precarity) and exhaustion (no-one I spoke to seemed well-rested). I targeted a route through the sessions that was focused on my current and future research plans, namely critical urbanism, activism and subversion, and so I found myself gravitating to sessions with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘activism’, ‘urban justice’ and ‘subversion’ in the title. Some were fantastic, others less so, but that is an inevitable consequence of the AAG’s policy of excepting all abstracts. One of the major themes though that I took home was that critical urban theoretical discussions are slightly laboured, a bit tail-chasing, and while important to provide a conceptual framework for activism, still seems not as connected to ‘on the ground’ experience, marginality and radical politics as it could be. 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