Signs of a city in transition

The two maps below show Zoopla’s “Z-Index”1 for the Manchester urban area and central London. The image maps display the house price index as the pointer rolls over each postcode area.

London Manchester

A number of observations can be made: the evident east/west “divide” in London that is absent, or less pronounced, in Manchester; the obvious great affordability of Manchester compared to London.

However, a fundamental aspect that bumps to the eye is the extremely higher density of the London map. Assuming that Zoopla has access to data in equal measure for London and Manchester, the areas to hold a Z-Index – i.e. areas where property transactions have been carried out and recorded in the database – are much more numerous in London than MCR. Particularly significant are the large blank areas in Manchester semi-centre, the equivalent of the extremely transaction-dense London zones 2/3. These images are a powerful depiction of the difference between a post-modern city, with a finance and property based economy, and a city which still holds its modernist core. Manchester appears to be in a transient state between the two conditions. The redevelopment frenzy of the last decade may have changed the face of the city centre, but the overall structure of the city still looks rooted in the past century. The large blank areas that act as barriers standing in the way of property speculation are, in fact, relics of a past age, a world that no longer exists. These are mostly industrial areas, legacy of the manufacturing past, and large social housing estates, straight from the good old days of the welfare state2. As this map shows, in fact, the areas surrounding the centre are those with the highest density of social housing in the city. From the perspective of capital valorisation, these places are barriers, no-go areas. But as the dismissal of social housing proceeds and manufacturing keeps retreating they look more like pristine, blank areas waiting to be colonized. The questions are how long shall it take for Manchester to look like London, and which paths will the colonisation take.

After the doughnut

A possible confirmation of the morphing process that Manchester is undergoing comes from the distribution of wealth in the city. A look at the maps below3 suggest that Manchester may be slowly moving away from the traditional (at least in the Anglo-Saxon world) “doughnut” shape, with wealthy suburbs surrounding a deprived centre, a shape which is still very evident. A “corridor” of wealthy residents seems to be forming, somehow representing quite vividly the recolonization movement from the suburbs towards the centre that many scholars of gentrification describe. A similar pattern, at a more established stage, can be spotted in London.

London Manchester

1 The z_index is an equivalent of the House Price Index computed by the website, based on transaction data from their database, and delivered through a very neat API down to the postcode level.

2 An interesting article discusses the demise of the idea of social housing itself, with the bedroom tax as the stick coming after the carrot of Thatcher era right-to-buy

3 The income maps show the net weekly income at MSOA level. Data are ONS Census (2007)


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