I wanted to see what was happening at Alexandra Park in Manchester regarding council plans to develop the place. If you live in a city parks are a wonderful resource. Trees were being felled, a wild area removed, and protestors had moved in. A senior council employee referred to the protestors as “a noisy minority” which I found rather unkind. The world is run politically – not ethically or ecologically – with the manufacturing of consent (as Chomsky describes it), with military industrial interests, religious myths, and tiresome ideological cant. This party gains power and say they will do this; everyone complains they don’t do it. The other party gets in and says that, and everyone complains again when they fail, forget, or lie about it. Politicians are dishonest tinkerers: they tinker with education, the NHS, social welfare, and crime. The problems never stop but politicians talk and lie as if they will. The problems cannot stop because they are inherent in the systems of modern society. Alongside this nature continues to offer us solace and beauty: asking for nothing more than we respect what this entails.
It’s this kind of framework in which I regard the situation at Alexandra Park. It shows a clash of values between respect for nature on its own terms, and a utilitarian and controlling attitude which in this case traces back to the Victorian era: the council intend to restore the park to how it was around a hundred years ago. This involves renovating a pavilion and having a general tidy up because the park was in some respects run down. Bright flower beds will be planted, which I look forward to seeing. However the plan involves cutting down a large number of beautiful mature trees and clearing a relatively wild area I used to enjoy. It had bluebells, rhododendrons, and high bushes amongst which you felt private and secluded from the streets. You did however find syringes, condoms and spirit bottles in the same place, renowned as a location for problematic behaviour. I walked there once and saw a group of nasty looking youths one of whom shouted at me “oi!” or similar. I distinctly remember my feeling: one of despair and can you ever get away from vile city nonsense? On one side of Alexandra Park you have Whalley Range which used to be notorious for prostitution; on the other side you have Moss Side which has seen gangs, drugs, and guns.
This context is fairly peripheral to Alexandra Park. I’ve walked there many times, occasionally taking photographs, and apart from the oi! encounter never saw evidence of crime or nonsense. I mention these points, rather, to locate the park in terms of the sociology of the area. It does occur to me the council also want to ‘clean up’ the park accordingly. Dark, private, secret places are where dark behaviours take place. From what I’ve seen the new – or rather old Victorian plan – is considerably more open offering large uninterrupted views. You see the effect of this already because many trees have already been felled.
It is then, quite a complex situation with contested ideas and values. There will be improvements which everyone will enjoy. Manchester has a collection of attractive parks but as I recall none of them have a cafe. Whitworth Park has a nice tea room but located in the gallery, not the park. At Platt Fields and Chorlton Water Park you occasionally find burger and coffee vans, but that’s hardly the same. Sale Water Park has a pleasant cafe area but Sale is in Cheshire. The Alexandra Park pavilion has been unused for many years. It’s situated beside the lake and will be a lovely place for tea.
What the protest consists of however is not really the above. It consists of a contrary set of ideas opposing the destruction of mature trees, a wild area, and it’s ecological value. It’s one of the few places I knew in Manchester you could visit to see bluebells. I say ‘knew’, not ‘know’, because it’s already gone. I’d planned to go there to make a video. I also think the protestors represent a significant number of people disgusted with the systems in which we live where we find political arrogance, environmental destruction, inequality and corporate stupidity. If it’s not bankers, it’s Jimmy Saville and where he worked. If not him, then expense politicians. If not them, tax dodging businesses. Little people – and that includes me – get really tired of all this nonsense and it is nature some of us turn to for escape, solace, and beauty: so it follows people get very upset when they see nature damaged.
The council plans will have destructive ecological effects. Trees are the only natural growth which outlives human life. They give us a gentle background beauty we take for granted until they are damaged by storm, infection, or felling. Trees attract birds. Dark decomposing areas attract insects. Birds feed on those insects. Bluebells are quite rare. The rhododendrons in the area were lovely. Alexandra Park is reasonably large and will still be beautiful with a large number of mature trees. But the wild little places were an attractive feature, left wild, and with ecological value. There will be improvements with these plans but there will also be loss.