I know what you’re thinking, not another street art post! Travel blogs seems to be littered with them, but there’s a reason for that. In the last decade or so, most cities around the world have seen a dramatic shift in their downtown cores. People have moved back in, businesses and restaurants have opened and life has returned to neighborhoods long thought lost to crime and fatigue. Manchester is certainly one of those cities, and you can see this urban rebirth throughout the city but especially in its vibrant street art scene.
Skyliner is an award-winning online magazine that was created to promote and preserve Manchester’s heritage by focusing on those details no one else seemed to notice. Unseen sights, quirky history and urban renewal are all part of the magazine so it makes sense really that Skyliner also offers the most unique walking tours in town. I joined their Northern Quarter tour that shares the story of this eclectic neighborhood through its art, but also through the movements that made it so unusual.
Once called the Detroit of Manchester, like the Rust Belt city the Northern Quarter also saw a mass evacuation of businesses and an increase in largely ruined buildings. What brought it back seems somewhat unlikely, street art. Not only was Manchester at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, but the Northern Quarter was very much at the center of those massive economic changes. The world capital of the textile industry, Manchester exploded in size within just a few years, and that former wealth and prosperity is still on full display in this historic part of town today. As the textile industry faded, so did the Northern Quarter and by the 1980s and 90s, it was home to cheap apartments, sex shops and record stores.
Public street art in the Northern Quarter started in the late 1990s, and it has evolved over time to include both graffiti and more eloquent uses of public spaces. The movement has been punctuated by the Cities of Hope Project, launched in the Northern Quarter in 2016. Cities of Hope has a singular focus, to use street art to raise awareness of social issues, challenge injustice and champion the voice of the powerless. The project provides opportunities for artists to raise awareness of issues important to them and to introduce the general public to this unique artistic style. Developed in Manchester, the goal is to deliver these activities around the world and, in so doing, use the arts to raise awareness and inspire action. It’s a noble mission for sure, and based on its success in Manchester one that is certainly important in this day and age.
Still a little rough around the edges, that’s actually what draws people to this neighborhood and is what made it ideal for the incredible street art on full display almost everywhere you look. Skyliner started out as a blog to document and preserve the creative side of Manchester, but its tours are just as important to this mission. Spending a couple of hours touring the Northern Quarter, I didn’t just enjoy the artwork, but I especially loved learning about the city and its more recent history through a very unique lens. I’ve been on many street art tours around the world, but this may just be one of the best.
Manchester is not what I expected. Whether it was luxurious living at the King Street Townhouse Hotel, the incredible food scene or its art, I discovered a fun, dynamic city that is definitely on the rise. It’s also full of fun and unexpected moments, like an adult version of putt-putt at Junk Yard Golf or nightcaps at quiet, out of the way pubs. I freely admit that Manchester was not at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit in England, but now I realize what an oversight that was. Not only is it a destination I loved spending time in, it’s also a place I know I’ll return to just for the opportunity to delve even deeper into this onion of a city.