Manchester Library Walk and public space

So as @SaveLibraryWalk have announced today, the Public Inquiry into the Stopping Up order for Library Walk in Manchester have concluded that the development on the site is here to stay. The city council have erected glass 'gates' or doors at either end, to be closed at night, for the reason of preventing crime (though I expect within a few years the council will propose putting more 'commercial opportunities' in it).

How many times have I walked along that sweeping corridor between the town hall extension and the central library on my way to the archives and local studies?

The decision has so many parallels and ironies with the history of Manchester I don't have room to list them here. Manchester liberal reformers, many of whom were veterans of Peterloo - which happened on the very site of the library walk - set up one of the first ever associations against the stopping up of footpaths in the mid 1820s. The freedom to move and to meet was an integral right defended by campaigners for the vote.

The language then and now is the same - the 'stopping up' of footpaths and public rights of way was opposed as part of wider concern about the effects of enclosure on the freedom to move and meet in public spaces. Enclosure wasn't just about landlords privatising common agricultural land; it also involved councils and other authorities stopping up rights of way as urbanisation proceded apace.

I've deliberately referenced the Library Walk campaign in the preface to my new book, in relation to the parallels with the privatisation of public space in early nineteenth-century Britain, and do so alongside references to Anna Minton's study of 'malls without walls' and similar examples of the prevailing tendency for planners and commercial developments to exclude any 'undesirables' from previously public spaces. The proposed 'garden bridge' across the Thames (which I've blogged about earlier) is another case in point.


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