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A Postcard From ... Manchester Property's Secret Twin Cities

A successful city is the right blend of people, places and possibilities. So does Manchester get it right? What other ingredients could Manchester real estate benefit from?

Ahead of the Manchester State of the Market event on 15 May, Bisnow asked three Manchester property-watchers from a range of backgrounds which global cities inspire their vision of Manchester. Could these unofficial twin cities, each with their special ingredients, help the city's businesses, residents and visitors to live, work and play better?

A Postcard From Austin: City Of Risk-Takers

The famous postcard mural outside Austin, Texas

Manchester, England, and Austin, Texas, are not normally seen as twins-beneath-the-skin. One is dry as a bone, the other is not. Austin has about one-third Manchester's population, but its economy is about 50% bigger (gross domestic product in Austin is £86B, compared to £56B in Greater Manchester). But according to Trilogy Real Estate founder Robert Wolstenholme they have a lot in common.

“Manchester has a natural partner in Austin," he said. "Home of the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) and a city of 1 million people, it’s a progressive Texan city with a strong, diverse culture and a tech scene which is now a serious rival for Silicon Valley in terms of startup culture and population growth."

According to Wolstenholme, Manchester and Austin share two key ingredients: music and risk-taking disruptors.

“There’s a the strong tradition of music in the city of Austin who’s cultural scene was built on a bedrock of live music — on any given night there are more than 100 places to see a band," he said. "Deep cultural roots like this create a desirable place for young talent to move to, but for modern tech businesses it goes deeper. Where there is a music scene there are rule breakers.”

Look at Manchester’s Tony Wilson, Wolstenholme said. Wilson “pushed the idea of Manchester as a place where things happen; a place to move to rather than from”.

“That’s what tech is chasing — disruptors, risk takers and people who think independently. Austin has evolved into a very modern mix of music, startups, food, diversity and tolerance, and a sense of progression, as well as the bedrock of a world class university. No wonder it’s the start-up capital of the U.S."

Trilogy and JV partner Peterson Group’s £300M redevelopment of Manchester’s Great Northern site, Deansgate, were approved by planners last week.

A Postcard From Milan: Pure Luxury


Milan is an economic giant: GDP in 2017 was £355B — making it roughly seven times larger than Greater Manchester and many times wealthier. With a population of 1.3 million, GDP per head is the second highest in Europe (just a shade behind super-rich Zurich). Surely Manchester and Milan have as much in common as Lancashire and Lombary? In other words, nothing much?

Think again says Cheetham & Mortimer partner Warwick Smither. Both Lancashire and Lombardy have strong industrial backgrounds and both love football and fashion.

"Stone Roses singer Ian Brown once said the city had everything except a beach, so I’m tempted to say Sydney," Smither said. "But if you want a more realistic view then it’s Milan: two of the best football teams in Europe, a huge industrial heritage, an obsessive sense of independence from the rest of the country, especially the south, and an uber-chic music and fashion scene — they’ve got Versace, we’ve got Vivienne [Westwood]. We just need an International Fashion Week."

Perhaps the lesson from Milan is that it is time for Manchester to lose its fear of the seriously luxurious, in property as in everything else? Posh could be the city's new best friend.

Like Wolstenholme, Smith quotes Tony Wilson, citing his claim that Wilson loved Manchester for "the crumbling warehouses, the railway arches, the cheap abundant drugs."

“What would he think now; the crumbling warehouses are home to some of the most exciting new shops and eateries whilst the upper floors are the place to live, and the railway arches are full of independent clubs and bars,” Smither said.

But can we compare the super-lavish retail offer of Milan with the earthy charms of Market Street? “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II or the Arndale? Not sure we should go there,” Smither said, politely declining to choose.

A Postcard From Copenhagen: You're Going To Love The Details


With a GDP of around £78B, the economy of the Danish capital of Copenhagen is about 50% larger than Greater Manchester. Its population of around 2 million is about 40% smaller. A quick calculation shows GDP per head is vastly higher than in Greater Manchester. So with its abundant housing and excellent infrastructure, it must be a good model to follow?

Yes and no said UTH Studio creative director Oliver Collinge. What appeals to Collinge about the Nordic cities is their attention to detail: like well-made flatpack furniture, everything fits together.

"Manchester is not a Scandinavian city nor are we suggesting that it should become one," Collinge said. "Our comparison derives from the ideas that within Nordic design the smallest element is considered within the greater context of its environment and inhabitants."

"Manchester was never and is never going to be the ‘perfect’ city, its quirks and imperfections makes it the exciting city we all love. However, at a time of rapid growth, we now have the opportunity to define that element that unifies Manchester even further, whether it be how a building looks or how it contributes to the city."

Manchester has a formidable list of real twin citiesAmsterdam, Los Angeles and St Petersburg are all on the city council's list. But maybe it can also learn from its secret twins Copenhagen, Austin and Milan? A little luxury, some detail and some more risk-takers could all help if Manchester wants its property market to thrive and grow.