What made Manchester the city it is?
That’s obviously a story you could tell from various perspectives. Its location, the climate, the people, popular culture, politics, football, the industrial revolution… It’s a small, rainy inland city in northern England, but it has two of the world’s top ten big football clubs. It’s the UK’s third most popular destination for overseas tourists – and is about to overtake Edinburgh in that regard. And for some reason, there are more than thirty towns and cities in the USA named after Manchester. There’s obviously something about the place. What is it?
I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive answer. I’m simply going to tell a story of the making of Manchester from a particular perspective.
The word infrastructure isn’t usually one that sets pulses racing. And unlike many professions, civil engineering is seldom glamorised in popular culture. But when you look at Manchester from this perspective – the infrastructure that forms a kind of physical framework in which everyday civilisation functions – there are some fascinating stories to tell.
Britain’s first modern canal led to Manchester. So did the world’s first intercity railway line – and the UK’s only ship canal, which was once the biggest in the world. Britain’s longest aqueduct was built by Victorian civil engineers to bring Manchester its drinking water, and for more than a century Manchester’s pioneering sewerage systems have taken away our waste.
So this series of radio programmes, and the blog that accompanies it, will tell the story of the engineering of Manchester – and how civil engineering made it possible for Manchester to become the world’s first modern city.
But it’s not all about history and heritage. The renewal of Manchester’s infrastructure is playing a huge role in the current development of the city. Today’s civil engineers are grappling with tomorrow’s challenges, such as making sure the city’s transport and water and sewerage systems cope with an expanding population, and working out how to keep the lights on despite massive extra demand for energy in a world of finite resources with a changing climate. We’ll be looking into these things too.
So if you’d like to know a little more about all this, I hope you’ll join me on ALL FM 96.9, Mondays at 0900 GMT from 11 January – or you can listen online at www.allfm.org. There will also be a listen-again facility on Mixcloud, so you’ll be able to hear the programmes at any time. And each programme will have a short tie-in video to accompany it, in case you’d prefer a potted version of the story.