Richmond’s Manchester Canal is a forgotten, decaying relic. With a little TLC, it could become a real asset to the neighborhood. But the question remains, what type of Manchester Canal do we want? The tale of two Manchesters goes something along the following lines…
The Shiny, Happy Argument
We want a clean, safe place to walk that invites people down to experience the river. Canals are artificial by definition. They were made by humans for industrial transportation and trade. So there isn’t really a need to make the canal an environmentally friendly place that is teaming with wildlife, the River already serves that purpose. We want the Manchester Canal to be repurposed with granite, brick, lighting, benches, historical markers, and some artwork sprinkled in along the way. And while we are at it, can you add a barista stand so we can grab a cup of coffee to go while we walk the canal in our activewear? Oh yeah, and don’t forget to install dog poop stations in 50 foot intervals.
The Urban Graffitist Argument
Conversely, some will inevitably argue: Leave it alone! We like the industrial grittiness of Manchester in all its glorious spray painted graffiti and urban decay. Nature has already reclaimed the canal! Manchester is where we hop trains, tag walls, and thrash. We need these places. How else are we going to make our Brooklyn and Oakland Instagram followers salivate with envy? Manchester has the best urban decay around. Go home yuppies-get your Starbucks and Chipotle somewhere else! And can we please close the T-Pot bridge while we are at it? We don’t like all these lost suburbanites walking around aimlessly and invading our side of the River!
Can We Have our Cake and Eat it Too?
Like all things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. Yes, Manchester has incredible industrial and urban grittiness. That raw edge, along with cheaper rent, is what attracted the artists and creative types to the neighborhood in the first place. It’s what makes Manchester, well…Manchester. But remember, Manchester started to fail in the 60s and it subsequently collapsed into a blighted, war zone by the eighties. Just drive Hull Street with its sea of boarded up buildings if you want a reminder. The resulting poverty, lack of tax dollars, crime, litter, drugs, hunger, and homelessness are nothing to glorify. People died, and continue to suffer because of this. No matter how cool that might look, no Instagram pic is worth human life.
We need safe walkways that provide access to the Canal and the River so people can enjoy it. But we don’t want to turn the area into an artificial McSuburb devoid of character. The urban grit, trains, warehouses, wildlife, and flood wall overlooking the river are what make the area unique. Let’s not destroy that. The developers and the City need to be mindful with any new projects that we retain both a natural and artistic edge. Let’s not bleach out the diversity of Manchester and make it look like everywhere else. Let’s respect where Manchester has been, but make it more inviting to those who can bring some badly needed tax dollars and investment to the neighborhood.
I am absolutely convinced we can have both.