Last week I had popped out for some groceries, at the bottom of my street I overheard a young dad softy saying to the baby in his arms, “This is the Northern Quarter, son, and you can come here if you are young and trendy”. The baby was certainly young, and he had cool sticky up hair. If he had been a nerdy baby it would have been a cruel thing to say but it seemed that baby was happy enough being young and cool enough for the Quarter.
Today, the lovely Morag at the LRM told me the Northern Quarter had won an award for being a great neighbourhood. Tom checked it on his magic phone, The Great Neighbourhood Award was given by ‘The Academy of Urbanism‘
I don’t know how they decided it is a great neighbourhood. They didn’t ask me. They probably didn’t ask the homeless guy who slept on my doorstep last summer either.
But I do like living here. I like that there are little independent shops, places to buy crafts, comfy little cafes to meet my friends, my work, art galleries, gigs, places to buy that perfect little gift – all within a mile of my flat. I grew up in a village in the North East which had none of those things. Yes it had a strong sense of community, a sense of shared history, and churches and schools and whatnot. Stuff that Dave Haslam, DJ and author, thinks makes a neighbourhood:
“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. 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’. “
I don’t know where Dave Haslam goes – maybe to the bar I was in yesterday where I counted nine people working away on their MacBooks – but it raises interesting questions about what makes a neighbourhood.
Old and young: There are old people among my neighbours, and every time I go for coffee in Cup there is a cute baby in there. He is right, no children but how many neighbourhoods is that true of?
Shops: I’m sure the guy in my local shop where I buy milk would be shocked to learn there was no friendly corner shop. He calls me ‘gorgeous’, sometimes he forgets and I pull a face till he remembers and we laugh.
Religion: I’d like an ordinary parish church that wasn’t a cathedral but the Methodists on Oldham street certainly exist, and I like their community arts café. There is the Muslim Youth Foundation too, where regular prayer times are observed. And the absolutely gorgeous Buddhist centre. And I love being able to go to a theological bookstore in my slippers, but maybe that is just me. They make you coffee in there while you browse.
Ethnicity: There isn’t the ethnic mix I became used to in Birmingham but far more than I was used to back home. In one day in the Northern Quarter I probably see more people whose ethnicity is different from mine than I met before I was 16.
Can I add community organizations? Age Concern, a migrant workers employment advice service, Citizens Advice, an adult education centre, youth counseling, the Manchester Carers Forum and the volunteering charity where I work are all in one building. Refugee Action and Church Action on Poverty are a short walk from my front door.
Last month, I taught an Austrian man to embroider in Madlab, he and his wife had moved here from Vienna. He said he liked the city, because it’s creative, not conservative. He is right. I like the city because its creativity makes encounters like that possible. I love my neighbourhood. Not because it is like every other neighbourhood, but because it isn’t. What makes your neighbourhood great?