Greater Manchester: Towards a retrofit Garden City?

Greater Manchester: Towards a retrofit Garden City?

Alexandra estate and park

Some parts of Greater Manchester could easily be made more like a Garden City. Alexandra Park and Estate.

We have been critical of recent plans in Greater Manchester1 but what might a better approach look like? At our latest conversation event we considered the idea of making the city region more like a garden city. To stimulate our thinking we watched a film, The Urbal Fix, which covered in a very short period of time the ideas of “Urbalism”2 Garden Cities3 and Continuous Urban Productive Landscapes – CUPLs4. We spent the rest of the evening discussing the ideas and what it would take to move Greater Manchester towards becoming a Garden City in small groups (which changed around so everyone got a chance to talk to everyone else). By the end we had identified priorities for action and the immediate steps steady State Manchester could take towards a Greater Manchester Garden City.

What steps would need to be taken to move further along the path towards a retrofit5 garden city for the Greater Manchester region?

Priorities and things SSM could do:

  1. Create some exemplars (small scale) in different localities,
  2. Making a political proposal to GMCA/new mayor – about retrofit garden city of Grater Manchester
  3. Develop new land ownership models and approaches – pooling land e.g. community land trusts

SSM could:

Ebenezer Howard's idealised Garden City design

Ebenezer Howard’s idealised Garden City design

  1. Highlight the building blocks on which we can build; examples of good practice; opportunities; communities.
  2. Support a better network of existing green projects and facilitating or curating better networking of community projects.
  3. Help to influence alternative vision of the city – (including with new Greater Manchester Mayor, new chief officer of Manchester City Council?).

Other steps to be taken:

Political will


New leadership;

Advocates, activists!;

Gorton South MP – labour candidate influence priorities of new MP;

Andy Burnham most likely mayor of Greater Manchester. Influence his first 100 days in office – manifesto;

Collective vision;

A clever economist (to make it pay);

Tipping point (Joanne Roney new Chief Executive in Manchester Town Hall)?

Vision and strategy

Political agenda in GM;

Produce a coherent vision of this different Greater Manchester;

Prepare and present ideas to councils; interest groups of citizens etc;

Develop vision with buy in at all levels, Garden City?;

Prioritise the outer town centres – Ashton, Hyde etc;

Old council estates with houses and gardens – could be transformed to garden city?;

Enter these ideas into the debate/mobilisation of GMSF, tower blocks etc;

Link to current strategies: climate change (mitigation and adaptation), transport, green infrastructure;

Joined up garden city strategy – bottom up and top down;

Top down becomes equal to bottom up governance;

Do some work on the unsaid elements – industry, money…;

New land ownership models/approach ‘pooling’ land;

Planning permission, land trusts;

Create and distribute pattern ‘recipes’ to follow for food and regenerative gardening in each architectural style;


Capturing political imagination of people;

Spread the word; explore ideal further;

Utilising brown field sites – how to do this? Showcase contaminated sites;

Reframe current mini-exemplars within a garden city/ Urbal story;

City-wide marketing campaign towards this as a unified goal;

Public debate of alternative policies (alternatives to GMSF);

Increase and keep increasing the proportion of citizens with awareness of and the will to increase green infrastructure;

Learning and education

Learning from existing growing projects;

Education for everyone – start young!;

Do a process like this with more people/groups;

Climate change adaptation;

Chats Moss; upland peat;

Ecological – permaculture; easy ecological gardening;

Capacity building – planners; communities; designers; visionaries;

Join up the many smaller initiatives into a cohesive campaign.

Engagement and networking

Network of community projects;

Engagement of local businesses e.g. breweries;

Connecting places – to each other and to nature;

Better networking of existing green projects – issue of competitivity;

Support set up of place-based production – such as baking, food processing;

Organised green civil society/community groups.

Practical actions

Funding for ‘public goods’ eg allotments, parks;

Build with decent sized homes and gardens;

More job sharing- leads to more time, less stress;

Enhance canal infrastructure;

Car free days (impossible perhaps? -[ why not? – see Europe]);

Small ‘demonstration’ projects at street and neighbourhood level to start momentum building;

Gardening information centres – Cuban style ‘kiosks’ with information and seeds.

What Features of Urbal or Garden City do we already have in Greater Manchester?


(Some) political will;

City-wide government;

Collaboration (of sorts across combined authority cities and boroughs;

Peripheral councils beginning to adopt alternative model of governance eg Oldham, Wigan;


Resource hungry City – carbon dependent;

Austerity cuts


The Green Belt;

Exburbs’: North- wind, water, power; south – Cheshire plain, food!;

Canal network;

(some) cycle paths eg Fallowfield loop;

Railway verge;

Linear green spaces (river valleys etc);

Parks – food production, community involvement social focus;

Online purchasing – shopping centres could become communal/leisure/social space;

Dense urban centres (compact is good);

Radial routes (like Ebenezer Howard model);

Low land prices;

Availability of land – brownfield;

Lots of growing space but not all in the right place;

Green infrastructure – corridors into the city;

Blue infrastructure – rivers and canals


Gardens, allotments (culture of gardening emphasis on physical exercise – cycling;

Local initiatives eg Gorton growing local food, also social enterprises;

Have all the tools – do we need a tipping point?;

Potential for green gardens;

Allotments; network of allotment sites;

Empty gardens;

Manchester city of Trees;

Built environment

Urban villages around edges of GM;

Tall building s and lots of rain (good);

Pedestrianised areas – hard spaces but could be greened

Pollution ;

More floods;


Improving public transport network;

Canals, trams, roads (busy)


Cohesive communities;

Parks – social focus;

Changing patterns of shopping – shopping centres could become social spaces;

Existing towns and villages as local centres;

People’s willingness to change and adapt;

Cultural and sports facilities;

Apple Tree Court (Salford) – social capital and experience


Can learn from: Kindling Trust, Veg box projects, Unicorn farm, Green slate farm, Glebelands, Food Wythenshawe etc;

Hulme Community Garden Centre;

Ordsall Hall garden and education centre; seed library;

Unicorn grocers and suppliers

Worsley hall – RHS;

Biospheric Foundation (gone but not forgotten);

Exemplar schemes eg market garden in Mersey Valley; coops; renewables;

Historical partial garden city implementations, garden suburbs, garden villages (Chorltonville, Alkrington, even Wythenshawe with their positives and limitations).

..and there will be many more..

2 From urban-rural, making the city more rural, an inversion of “Rurban”, the urbanisation of the country, see Bliss, T. (2010). Urbalism – the development of resilent “outside-in” cities.

3 See TCPA Garden City Principles: (The Urbal film gives a clear explanation and contextualisation of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept).

4 See the work of Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn,, and an online version of their book: Continuous Urban Productive Landscapes (CUPLs is also explained in the Urbal film).

5 The idea here is to work from the existing layout and add in the features of the garden city. This is the approach taken by Tom Bliss in his Urbal films and also in this working paper from Catherine Barlow at University of Salford:

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