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Manchester stretches 12 miles from Heaton Park in the north to Manchester Airport in the south but is never much more than four miles wide. The quoted population is around 450,000 but the greater Manchester area has a population figure of around two and a half million.
The city has a very walkable centre, squeezed between the rivers Irwell, Medlock and Irk. Albert Square and the Town Hall mark the administrative centre. A short distance east is Chinatown, with its arch, restaurants, supermarkets and other shops, services and banks. East again is the Gay Village, along the Rochdale Canal, a once run down area, which has been revived through the power of the Pink Pound. .
Immediately north of the Town Hall is the Half Square Mile, Manchester’s ‘City’, where the banks, lawyers and top companies have their offices. Manchester’s upmarket shopping area, stretches from King Street, through St Ann’s Square to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and the Triangle. Nearby is the Cathedral, the medieval Chetham’s School and the huge bulk of the 20,500 capacity Manchester Evening News Arena.
Out of St Ann’s Square onto Market Street, and you are into mid-range shopping, with the massive Arndale Centre mall dwarfing all around. Market Street opens out to the revamped Piccadilly Gardens which skirts the Northern Quarter, an area of independent businesses: bars, shops, art galleries, record stores and music venues plus several first class Indian cafes.
Back on the other side of the city centre, Oxford Street and Whitworth Street West are dominated by the arts and night-clubs with, down Lower Mosley Street, the Bridgewater Hall, the principal home for Manchester’s classical music. Across the road is the Convention Quarter with the Exhibition and Conference centres.
South-west again is Castlefield Urban Heritage Park with the Museum of Science and Industry, the Roman Fort, and the canals. The city centre, once home to hundreds of thousands of Mancunians, is slowly being reclaimed as old buildings are converted into apartments, and newly built houses and flats spring up. In a few years the city will have a wealthy central population of 25,000.
Directly south of the city centre is the academic quarter, stretching down Oxford Road, incorporating Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as some of the main hospitals. A major contribution to the city, intellectually and financially, is made by the 84,000 students (including those at Salford University three miles away).
Manchester has an affluent city centre, ring of poverty, more affluent suburbs beyond and then middle class commuter belt beyond that. South of the city, Didsbury and Chorlton attract an influx of young professionals and their families, many of whom are familiar with the areas after studying at university.
Immediately south of the city centre, beyond the academic quarter is Rusholme, half a mile of Asian culture also known as the curry mile (40 restaurants and takeaways, food stores, book, video, jewellers and sari shops), and Moss Side, focus for a five decade old black population. Nearby Hulme has been completely and successfully rebuilt since 1992. In the far south of the city beyond the River Mersey is the garden suburb - in parts gone to seed - of Wythenshawe.
North of the city centre, Cheetham Hill is cosmopolitan, yet poor. North again is the city’s Jewish community in Higher Broughton, Prestwich and Whitefield. East of the river Irk in a broad band from Collyhurst to Gorton are communities in crisis. Formerly great centres of manufacturing, the de-industrialisation of the early 1980s ripped them apart. A symbol of rebirth lies with Sportcity that hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games and home to the City of Manchester Stadium, where Manchester City Football Club are based. The new east Manchester initiative, which includes both economic and social investment, is attempting to alleviate the problems of deprivation.
Salford (216,000) is Manchester’s Siamese twin. It has the Catholic Cathedral for the region, its own University and attractive suburbs at Worsley and Monton. Another suburb town, Eccles is famous of course for its cakes. The town centre of Salford is Manchester City Centre. Salford also contains most of The Quays which is the Mancunian equivalent of London Docklands, but with better cultural attractions in the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum North. This latter, officially, lies in Trafford Metropolitan Borough close to Lancashire Cricket Club and Manchester United.