Cities at the frontiers of 21st century Britain: Greater Manchester and the ‘original modern’ creative city

Smith, K. & Perry, B. (2113). Cities at the frontiers of 21st century Britain: Greater Manchester and the ‘original modern’ creative city. Conference paper presented at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013: Urban transformations and city living, Royal Geographical Society. London, U.K., 28 August 2013.

Publication type
Conference paper (peer-reviewed)
Creative Urban Environments
Beth Perry Karen Smith
Published year



Cities are strategic sites in which the dynamics and challenges of modern societies are writ large. Whether examining the role of cities in addressing climate change or as sites for experimentation with public sector reform (for instance through selected City Deals and variable forms of urban governance), cities are increasingly positioned at the frontiers of human growth, development and even survival. In 21st century Britain, austerity brought about by the global financial crisis, coalition politics and the localism agenda have further exacerbated the need to understand how contemporary pressures are being magnified, reflected, refracted and translated into urban settings.

Drawing on in-depth ethnographic work carried out in Greater Manchester, this paper asks what is happening to the urban frontiers of governance, policy, practice and knowledge in 21st century Britain? What are the stories being told – by academics, policy-makers and citizens about cities – as problems or as solutions to the grand challenges we face? In particular, how are the multiple crises of global recession, public sector reform, environmental degradation and social exclusion and inequality reshaping the policies, places and practices in Greater Manchester?

This paper particularly focuses on the development of and current issues facing the creative city. Four lenses are examined: the reshaping of governance relations between the formal and informal which require a rethinking of traditional notions of ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’; the ways in which the policy process is adapting to austerity as well as the challenge of community involvement; the practices that are emerging in opposition to or supported by a reconfiguring public sector; and the implications of new modes of organisation and participation in cities for knowledge production, use and exchange inside and outside the academy.

Running through this grounded case study are two fundamental questions: what does the reshaping of urban frontiers mean for everyday citizens and their everyday negotiations of the urban - who has the right to the city? And what are the implications for reflexive research practice and the role of the university - through its theories, methods and practices – in understanding, affirming or contesting new urban frontiers?

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