A view from Floor 15
Simon Buckley, an award-winning photographer, takes a look at the ongoing regeneration of Manchester and argues that developers must begin putting the needs of people before profit.
I live on floor 15 of a high rise in Salford, above the birds. I watch them from my window, twisting in the rushing wind that gusts between the other tower blocks. From my living room, below vast clouds, I can see the adolescent skyline of a growing Manchester and, from my kitchen, the clump of lustrous buildings newly formed to create Media City. At night it can feel as if there are more twinkling red lights atop cranes than there are stars in the night sky.
Below me, hooded lads wheelie their way up and down side roads, past pushchairs and prowling taxis, indifferent to the cars braking to let them safely past. There’s more green space than I’m aware of at ground level, but much of it seems sealed in by fencing and disconnected from the surrounding houses and flats.
Staring out past the other high-rises, built with such hope in the 1960s, towards the new wipe-clean developments being erected in the city centre, I often wonder why my apartment, with its large lounge and separate kitchen, was deemed a failure and scheduled for demolition, whilst the new, pinched 22 storey developments have become labelled as luxury places to live.
When I’ve descended to the ground, and am walking through grey, segregated walkways, I’m reminded that it’s not necessarily living higher than the tree tops that has caused past failure, it’s the combination of how these concrete giants are managed, and the arid, surrounding environment laid out around them. It often feels as if the needs and individual identities of the residents, expected to exist happily in these identikit structures, has been totally misunderstood or disregarded.
At street level, rarely is there anything of interest to engage you. The buildings simply begin their rise upwards with little thought to the experience of the pedestrian. There are no individual shop fronts, or unexpected back streets. There is a lack of colour and creativity, with monochrome panels of metal or glass excluding the passer by. One of the great wonders of a city is to be able to explore, to feel as if you may, at any moment, discover a rabbit hole down which to dive and experience moments of magic, and this is almost entirely absent at the base of these structures.
There also seems to be an almost phobic attitude to true green space or communal areas, which means that anyone in the neighbourhood remains isolated, constantly moving on to other places more comfortable to gather in. And perhaps the issue that most defines the success of skyscraper living, that of security, could be transformed by the simple addition of a concierge in every foyer, and space to gather so that people could to get to know each other and create an actual community.
I like my flat. I like gazing out over my city, watching the restless weather sweep in from the far end of the Ship Canal. But if developers continue to build without imagination, allowing the deciding force to be profit and not the needs of the people who bring life to an area, then, in 30 or 40 years time, someone will be looking down from the 15th floor of what is currently deemed a luxury development, and wondering why it is to be demolished, when the cranes in the distance are building yet more skyscrapers.
Simon Buckley is an artist who recently won a City Life Award for his Not Quite Light project. He’s recently initiated the Floor 15 Group, a forum for discussion which meets monthly in his 15th floor flat.