Saturday, 19 June 2010

Bike Week 2010

Today sees the start of the Team Green Britain Bike Week 2010.

The simplest way to get involved is to cycle to and from your workplace at some point during the next nine days – a feat that won’t require any second thoughts to those who already do so. For those who don't, Cycle GM Commute Challenge has devised a little added incentive for those who might not usually consider it. But will the novelty last for the fair weather cyclists? And will there even be enough fair weather for the fair weather cyclists?

So far, the answer to the latter question, as I glance out of my window, is yes. The former poser is one with as much uncertainty as ever.

Manchester Friends of the Earth associates Love Your Bike are involved with Manchester City Council and the aforementioned Cycle GM for this year’s festivities, who’ve planned a schedule befitting some of the likely reactions to any suggestion of ditching the gas guzzler in favour of the cyclepaths.

On top of Cycle GM’s week-long challenge, the first brakes should be applied on arrival at Maintenance Monday; a worthwhile visit to those of you put off by the speed of your tyre’s deflation.

Now roadworthy, cycling to work should be a given. Bike to Work Day on Albert Square will find related activities, relevant for two-wheelers both new and experienced.

By the time the working week ends, and when cycling to work has whet your appetite for a pedal through the city, Bike Friday is offering (as is the case with every last Friday of the month) some ideas for where to go via their ‘led rides’ from Bury, Manchester, Salford and Trafford.

Finally, if after all that you don’t think you have the right helmet, high-vis jacket or ankle clips for your cycle chic, there’ll be some tips at the Bike Fabulous biking fashion showcase, on Saturday in the Arndale, where various catwalks (or catcycles?) will be punctuated by more on how to maintain your bike.

Words & Pictures: Ian Pennington

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Natural Marketplace

The parks and green spaces of Manchester seem to be gaining an increasingly prominent status within the city as a place where community and environmental action mingles with open space and good old fashioned peace and bloody quiet. But is it that easy? What pressures are put on them by their location and their function? And what is one park, Platt Fields Park in Fallowfield and Rusholme (now halfway through its centenary year), doing to try and thrive in this 21st Century where the twitter on your i-phone is more anticipated than the twitter of a sparrow (LOL)?

There has been a new project launched by the UK Government to try and place a monetary value on the Natural World, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. Its aim, and I quote, is to be “the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity” ( Basically, they decide how much the Natural World is worth to us in pounds and pence. A piece of woodland? That'll be a fiver to you sir. A marshland with a peat underlayer that might act as a potential store for excess carbon? Fifty quid and a wink. Easy.

But the real issue here is the commodification of the Natural World around us. This comes in two ways – first, there is the placing of monetary value onto ecosystems and green spaces. This, according to some, will allow us to appreciate the true value of such things, and, actually, remove them from the marketplace by ascribing value designed to protect it. However, there is the reverse argument that it simply draws the Natural World into the marketplace, opening it up to be used as a 'thing' to be traded or exchanged based on its current value.

Second, is the idea that green spaces must compete with other resources for funding, preservation and a right to exist. They must prove their value for money by making repeated funding requests and proving what they do for the community, or be damned. There is no longer an idea of inherent usefulness in having green spaces.

Also, this has the effect of making us 'consumers' of green spaces to the extent that we expect things from them, as they are paid for by our money. We therefore expect value for that money. “This is our park, I paid for it with my ruddy council tax," etc, much the same argument we would use to justify bin collections every week or roads with no potholes.

So how does Platt Fields Park in particular survive and adapt to this paradigm shift in the thinking about green spaces?

In an interview with Anne Tucker from the Friends of Platt Fields Park, she explained that the park has many different interests to accommodate and to fend off. “Juggling different people’s needs from the park is the trickiest thing,” she says. “Problems are noise levels vs peace and quiet; dog lovers vs dog haters; fireworks (popular vs effects on wildlife); lake uses (fishing vs boating vs leave it alone); duck feeding vs excess of Canada geese; pathways v grass...” It seems that so many groups use these spaces that it is hard to get the balance right, as everyone has an expectation of what their local park should offer them. This expectation increases with the increased function and use value that parks must have to compete for limited Council resources.

Other interests want simply to change the use of the park altogether, or at least parts of it. “Over the years, there have been some attempts to encroach on the park by developers – most notably the gradual taking over of more of the park by Manchester City FC Sports Complex. There was a big fuss over this so another attempt in 2004 to make a temporary car park for hospital employees to park in and be bussed to the hospital while the MRI/St Mary’s were being rebuilt – it got cancelled with a huge campaign.”

On the up side though, Anne comments that, “nowadays if anyone wants anything like that, Manchester Leisure says ‘no’ immediately!”

When you go to Platt Fields Park, as I was lucky enough to do during the Easter Holidays, there certainly is a lot going on, and a lot of different communities using the park. Joggers, young families, groups of young people on the skate park, old men and their dogs, cyclists, people just going from A to B, and students, all seem to get something out of the park. There are cycling workshops, art days, guerilla gardening, community festivals and loads more stuff to try and get people involved in a productive, local way. And yet, all around, there are signs of the city still present, leaning over as if waiting for Nature to let its guard down. Student Accommodation looms up on one side, the MCFC Sports Complex on the other. The noise of traffic on Wilmslow Road is never far away.

All in all, despite the new pressures Platt Fields Park finds itself under, it tries its best to compete (yes, ‘compete’) for attention in our busy city where space is at a premium. I would have to say that its value lies not in its monetary worth, or its usefulness to various interested parties, but simply as an antidote to the dusty, glum routines we find ourselves swept along by if we don't keep our wits about us.

Words: Andy Rees
Pictures: Ian Pennington

Friday, 4 June 2010

Now Then Readership Survey

Hi all, we'd be very grateful if you could take a couple of minutes (really, it doesn't take long) to complete our readership survey:

Basically, we're trying to find out a bit more about you, what you're interested in and whether there's anything else you'd like us to be doing or featuring in the magazine and on the blogs that fall under the expansive 'Now Then' umbrella.

Manchester people: there are a couple of questions that are Sheffield-specific, but we'd still really appreciate your input.

Completing the survey will also enter you into a competition; five lucky people will be picked out at random to receive one of a range of exciting prizes (details on the top of the survey form).

Closing date for entry into the competition is 12.00pm, Monday 5 July, but we will still accept completed surveys after that date. Thanks in advance!