Whistlestop Manchester: New Islington Where? immediately east of central Manchester Population Around 1700 homes (whatever that equates to) How to get there? one tramstop from Piccadilly Why? that's a very good question
When Manchester was Cottonopolis, the mills of Ancoats powered the economy. A network of canals bled off to the south, in an area since cleared to create Manchester's most innovative neighbourhood. Conceived for the Millennium, and named after somewhere old and local rather than a London suburb, New Islington is an architects' playground run rampant. Most striking is Will Alsop's apartment block 'Chips', designed to resemble three fat chips stacked awkwardly on top of each other, then boldly coloured, then labelled with the names of geographical features from the surrounding area. It's nuts, and looks better from afar than right close up, but a lot more interesting than most of the generic stuff that tends to go up elsewhere.
New Islington doesn't believe in generic, tweaking mills into apartments and throwing up luxury stacks. It's by no means complete, hence large areas remain fenced off awaiting development, but the park is done, and sadly so is the Free School. One terrace of super-modern modular homes, called 'House', stands ready to march south and replicate beside the marina. A desolate boulevard with half its decorative metalwork incomplete marks the dividing line between two building sites, frequented by distant residents carrying groceries home, and sweatshirted men with staffies. The path to the tramstop across the lockgates doen't look like somewhere I'd be too keen to linger after dark. One day this millennial district may be buzzing, but it's not there yet.
Ancoats proper, to the north of the Rochdale Canal, is in a more serious state of flux. A densely packed grid of streets contains proper heritage mill buildings from the 1800s in various states of repair, one proudly carved to commemorate the King and Queen's visit in 1942. Juxtaposed with these are blocks of recent residential infill, with whole chunks barriered off for the erection of more. Ancoats is Manchester's hippest district, if the hype is to be believed, and the yoof wandering through in search of Neapolitan pizza, craft beer or a beetroot latte suggest some truth to that proposition. It reminded me of parts of Docklands, or perhaps Hackney Wick, and is being culturally destabilised at much the same rate.