Louise Wyman, strategic director, growth and development for Manchester City, agreed that it was very important for cities to come together and share their experiences and learning. Manchester is often heralded as the entrepreneurial capital of the UK and was proud, said Wyman, that 4,000 new businesses were launched in early lockdown, proof of the city’s resilience, along with how it has dealt with adversity over the recent past.
The crisis has shone a light on the ‘central’ importance of relationships, partnerships and collaboration, said Wyman. The council has accelerated its public realm improvements, with road closures of 20 streets in the centre (‘Our Highways department has never worked harder’) and relaxed licencing laws to encourage people back into the centre beyond the 50%-60% of pre-Covid footfall being enjoyed currently. ‘Street life is fundamental’, said Wyman. Manchester is also pushing its cycling infrastructure via its ‘czar’, Chris Boardman, producing schemes like a new Cyclops Junction. It is also aiming to be net zero by 2038 so is emphasising green growth, but a key move in recovery would be to get people to feel comfortable on public transport. ‘There is a buzz’, said Wyman. ‘It’s probably not what we would have seen a year ago, but there is a feeling that that’s coming back and that business confidence will be built through partnerships, through collaboration, through investment’. One other innovation it is developing is a Manchester ‘city app’ to help not just with food and beverage but also potentially housing issues or events, said Wyman.
Birmingham, said the City University’s associate professor Beverley Nielsen, is also concentrating on public realm and moving away from the image of Spaghetti Junction, and towards health and wellbeing, via a green recovery. The city has more trees than Paris, 600 parks and green spaces, more miles of canals than Venice and a populace that reported that the outdoors has benefited their mental health during the crisis. Like Manchester, it has concentrated on creating new cycle routes and low traffic neighbourhoods, partially through an emergency active travel fund, plus moves to embrace ultra-light rail. The next step will be to implement bike hire in Birmingham. ‘We would see this as a very significant development for our city’, said Nielsen. ‘It’s been a game changer in London and Paris’. But a more collaborative model, said Nielsen, between councils and combined authorities is key to tackle problems now and into the future.