Thursday, 30 July 2009

Experience and buildings

As I moved through Manchester on a train, I noticed the startling juxtaposition of affluence and poverty. I enjoy Manchester. I like to see the mix of the contemporary and the traditional. I appreciate the enormity of the buildings. Cities evolve over time, so architecture is never likely to conform to a pattern. Old and new will be mixed together. I believe that it’s a part of a city’s beauty.

However, as the train slowly transported me across and over the streets of Manchester, my mind connected with something that Friedrich Engels wrote in 1844. Engels, a communist and friend of Karl Marx, was interested in the working class condition. He spent time in Manchester and wrote about the working classes whilst there. He commented that the dwellings of the poor were often a stones throw away from the dwellings of the rich. Yet the two areas were entirely separate, particularly in terms of the life experience for the people that lived in these spaces. Though many changes have occurred in Manchester and elsewhere since the time of Engels, some things remain. Poverty still exists. The working class condition may be seen as improved but the patterning of some building in Manchester remains similar to that of Engels time. We see grey high-rise blocks of flats only streets away from expensive houses with gated car park areas. The stark contrast of these buildings, so close in space yet so far apart in tenure, condition and symbolism, reminds me of poverty. It reminds me that poverty does not just describe the lives of people from far flung places, a plight that is simultaneously hidden and shown by the silver screen. It reminds me that poverty exists here in the UK.

Isn’t it time that poverty ended…..

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