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Is Manchester's Northern Quarter a great neighbourhood?
Manchester's Northern Quarter
Just off Piccadilly: is the Northern Quarter a great neighbourhood?

The Northern Quarter has been named Britain's best neighbourhood, a title which has been given a mixed response from the people of Manchester.

Manchester City Council's Pat Karney said he was "pleased" as "there's a real community feel to the place."

However, author and DJ Dave Haslam said it lacked essential aspects and that, to him, "a 'neighbourhood' should be a fertile, intriguing, comfortable mix".

The Great Neighbourhood Award was given in London on Friday 19 November.

The award was given by The Academy of Urbanism, a national organisation described on its website as 'a group of thinkers and practitioners... formed to extend urban discourse beyond built environment professionals' which aims to 'advance the understanding and practice of urbanism'.

Dave Haslam
In the Northern Quarter, there's no mix of generations and not much ethnic mix either
Dave Haslam

In the naming of the Northern Quarter as the 'Great Neighbourhood' winner, the chairman of the Academy, John Thompson, pointed to the renewal of the area in recent years and the standard of living for residents.

"Thanks to a long-term programme of development and regeneration, the Northern Quarter has become a vibrant contemporary extension to Manchester City Centre, while retaining its own unique character and charm."

"The Academy of Urbanism created these awards to recognise places which had helped enhance the quality of life - the Northern Quarter is a wonderful example of this."

There's no doubt that these are fair claims to make on the area, but do such things make it a 'great neighbourhood'?

'A balance that feels right'

Web designer, inventor of the Manchester Egg and mainstay of the Northern Quarter, Ben Holden, welcomed the award, pointing to the regeneration as the main reason for the "honour."

"It's been great to see a steady growth in creative enterprise, independent retailers and original food and drink outlets [in the last decade], as well as the enthusiasm and dedication by which people apply themselves to their various projects in the area.

Eagulls at Soup Kitchen in In The City
The Northern Quarter hosts a number of festivals, including In The City

"It's cool but it's not Shoreditch, it's gritty but it's not Glasgow.

"There's a balance that feels right."

Ben also said that it is precisely because it is part of Manchester that makes it so great.

"There's something about northern England that has made the Northern Quarter what it is today.

"A spirit that is somehow less prevalent in London - maybe it's to do with the industrial past of the area, its musical heritages or even the persistent rain."

'No mix of generations'

Dave Haslam agreed about "how lively it can be and how far the area has developed in the last 15 years", but argued that "it's increasingly become a spill-over from the Printworks in the evening and some of that arty bohemian thing which was part of what made the area special is draining away."

He said his problem with the award was mostly because of what the Northern Quarter still lacks.

Street art in the Northern Quarter
The area has a myriad of public and street art

"For me, a 'neighbourhood' should be a fertile, intriguing, comfortable mix.

"The fact is you never see children in the Northern Quarter - or old people.

"I imagine a perfect neighbourhood to have a school or a nursery, a park, somewhere for old people to sit and watch the world go by, and so on.

"[It should have] some sense not just of community, but of 'family' and 'society'.

"In the Northern Quarter, there's no mix of generations and not much ethnic mix either.

"There's no friendly corner shop, no youth club, no church, no mosque, no synagogue.

"The Northern Quarter ain't a 'neighbourhood'. "

'A village-like vibe'

For Cllr Karney, though, the lack of such amenities doesn't mean the area should be criticised for its receipt of the award.

He argued that "there's a real community feel to the place" and that "the warmth of the people that live and work [there] and the cluster of small business has created a very desirable neighbourhood."

Vaughan Allen, chief executive of Cityco, Manchester's city centre management company agreed with Cllr Karney, pointing to the fact that the Northern Quarter "has transformed itself and diversified, creating an eclectic mix of fashion designers, independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, creative agencies and private galleries."

The Captain America set on Dale Street
The Northern Quarter doubled for 1930s New York for Captain America

Adding: "There is a village-like vibe which makes it truly unique and a great place to live, work and play.

"It's fantastic that this really special part of the city centre has been recognised in this way."

For Mark Kennedy, artist and owner of Den Interiors and Gullivers in the area, it's not that the Northern Quarter itself is special, but that "the rest of the city is very unspecial and that's what makes it so special."

He said he wasn't sure why it's won an award, but thought that "if there is anything special about it, it's that people live in very close proximity and they strike up very strong bonds and friendships."

Such things aren't enough for Dave Haslam and in fact, the award makes him "wonder what kind of a world this Academy of Urbanism wants - no families, no old people, no mix, nothing happening on a Sunday [and] no schools."

So is the Northern Quarter really a worthy winner of the Great Neighbourhood Award?

It seems it depends on how you personally define a neighbourhood and the community that lives within it.

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