Sunday, 15 June 2008

a project for artranspennine08

the castlefield basin is the original mamucium, largest single contributor to the prosperity and growth of Manchester, its influence spanning 2 millenia – home of the Roman fort, the world’s first passenger railway station, the Museum of Science & Industry, as well as epicentre of our very own Granada TV!

the transpennine railway was the last element in the economic and industrial infrastructure that gave the region its global importance in the 19th century. the castlefield basin connected the Leeds - Liverpool canal to this new ‘superhighway’, making the region one of the most densely populated and urbanised places in the world: its network of warehouses, canals and viaducts a vivid palimpsest of the city, its cobbled streets a rich repository of 2000 years of enigmatic lives, escapades and adventures, unknown heroes of the industrial revolution.

until recently hailed as the Jewel of Manchester on the city’s tourist websites, boasting a dedicated Castlefield Visitor Centre and with teams of specialised urban rangers on hand to guide visitors and tend the upkeep of this precious archaeological heritage park, its future seemed secure and bright. bustling with al fresco restaurants, loft apartments in listed warehouses, its own annual carnival and boat rally and a community of narrowboat owners, it was a mini venice or amsterdam, a model for Manchester’s cosmopolitan aspirations.

now, once again faced with neglect, dereliction and an uncertain future as developers close in and for sale signs proliferate, the shortcomings of similarly acclaimed flagship developments are put under the microscope. the predicament of castlefield is symptomatic of prevailing policies of urban branding and regeneration, effectively taking the cityscape out of the public sphere and into a precarious privatised realm.

my aim for artranspennine this summer is to embark on a series of walks and explorations around castlefield and its surroundings, starting with an intriguing article by phil griffin in manchester confidential called killing castlefield?
in which a number of concerns about the future of this vital and historic section of the city were raised, with a view to rekindling a much needed debate and dialogue about the relentless pace of change both in manchester and increasingly other cities as they rush to compete in an investors free for all...