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Puppies! Manchester Learns The Most Important Property Lesson, Ever

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Manchester State of the Market event 27 March 2019
Bisnow Manchester State of the Market guests enjoy the comfort of puppies

There were puppies, lots of them, at the Bisnow Manchester State of the Market event last week. At a time of peak Brexit anxiety, puppies made the pain go away.

Yet there is a wider lesson, as panelists were quick to pick up: a city or a development that fails to contribute to wellness and happiness does not deserve to survive, and probably won't.

How to achieve that worthy end? U+I Deputy Chief Executive Richard Upton, Historic England North West Director Catherine Dewar, Trilogy Head of Asset Management Laurence Jones and Gowling partner Sue Ryan, pointed the way.

Be Happy

'Keep off the grass' used to be the ubiquitous instruction in most public places in Britain. Whilst it kept the grass nice, it was scarcely inclusive (and wasn't meant to be). Today property and places are meant to do more than look neat: we expect to be included and we expect places to make us feel good.

"The motto should be keep on the grass, not keep off the grass," Upton said. "We've an incredible responsibility and opportunity at Mayfield, it is 24 acres and we want to give a sense of freedom. I want people to wander, not to be privatised and excluded. A sense of inclusivity is the essential ingredient, for everyone."

Along with a civic park, 13 acres will be set aside for public use at Mayfield.

Mental health and wellness, particularly in children, is a big issue. "These places will create an environment where wellness is in the forefront, with things like clean air being significant in public places," Ryan said, pressing panelists to link placemaking to health.

"It is a simple as good urban design," Dewar said. "My emotional reaction to somewhere with bland architecture is a negative one, but one with great architecture makes me feel happy. Most people feel that way when they see historic buildings, it's a sense of being from that place.

"Wellbeing comes from a good urban environment. We've done research showing historic buildings contribute to identity. There's also been work on healthy high streets which is about appearance and vibrancy and relates to mental health and wellbeing, and the fact that we want to be with other human beings most of the time. So we need to create places people want to come to, and are excited about, with diversity of all sorts, that are comfortable and safe and fun. Places for people."

But which people?

Be Inclusive

"You have to be able to accommodate the needs of all the community," Ryan asserted, and panelists agreed. "There's a clue in words like 'public park'. You don't take the public out of it," Upton said.

"You have to let children run everywhere, dogs run everywhere, we have to learn to get on. The public realm is about embracing that, you need management systems that allow children to play on the grass, and dogs to come in the park. Extrapolate that to a big site like Mayfield. It has to have a vision that embraces that."

Property must also listen to the people. "Not to take those opinions on board is remiss," Trilogy's Jones said. "I don't think anyone can claim to know it all." Upton added that "developers are not good at listening, generally".

The concluding thought was from Jones, who drew out a socially conscious theme prominent throughout the conversation.

"If Manchester can stay true its values, its fiercely independent spirit, aggressive and creative, and invest in its talent and its people, then the future for Manchester is very bright. But there has to be genuine real wage growth, it's absolutely crucial if the many are to benefit from all this change, not just a few," Jones said.