A Barry Parker Utopia

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Wythenshawe is a space ostracized from the rest of Greater Manchester, having only being linked by tram in 2011, some seventy years after its conception, and is accompanied by the classical council estate legacy: youths and misbehaviour, burnt out cars and disrepair despite being originally designed as a utopia: green space destined to replace the slums of Hulme and other areas of central Manchester. An egalitarian move supposed to allow a new standard of living for all; a self sufficient estate contained within its own space: industry and housing, municipality and pleasure.

Designed by Richard Barry Parker, the space was to be a completely new way of living for the lower classes, hexagonal streets interconnected across the land and with parkways running through. Open plan streets defining a place of social cohesion and bright futures. Despite these grand ideals, only one of the hexagonal street designs was ever built, located in Northenden, a small area North of the centre. Over time parkways became segregated motorways, dissecting through the centre of Wythenshawe: a thoroughfare but not part of it, adding to the ostracized solitude unlike other satellite cities.

A design dream slowly forgotten since 1927, lost to standardisation, differing building practices and a gradual, but seismic, change in how we think about social housing, the area is now only half of the original vision, a subtopia. Being built upon rises allows for vistas unlike many suburban spaces creating a strange utopian feel reminiscent of landscape painting, and this alongside some of the original plan that remains in pockets of open space and colourful housing allows for a settled feeling that can’t be found further into the city. There is community here, and discernable calmness, which isn’t replicated in the jarring rush elsewhere.

Wythenshawe is so close to being a working class suburban utopia, though still there are the remnants of the death of this dream: unemployment hangs heavy over the area, and many of the population are destined to never really leave due to a generational lack of higher education; this is twinned with the loss of expecting to be able to do bigger things. The Wythenshawe set of estates is somewhat indicative of how we see council housing, welfare and the working class in English culture now, and is a community that has grown in spite of what it has been given. It is a working class space situated in a society in which all signs of a working class have been all but eradicated.

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