Manchester’s 10-minute village will be the first of many in the city

The green light for the latest co-living developments in St. John’s and Manchester city centre will close the loop on our plans for the 10-minute village.

A sustainable city is one made up of a series of villages that cleverly integrate; this is the underlying ambition for our new St. John’s Neighbourhood. It must be part of the surrounding Deansgate, Castlefield and Spinningfields areas and needs to work on the principle of a 10-minute village.

In the UK we must look closely at this trend of using United States and Far East sized sky scraper precedents to provide our city centre housing, especially if on the ground we leave undefined urban spaces, or worse still, adjacencies only to highways. Major parts of East and South London have fallen victim to this model and it prevents the formation of any form of sense of community. My view is that if we are to create sustainable cities and liveable communities, we need instead to look towards European models, and maybe not that much further than some good examples in Fulham, Wandsworth and Putney, in London.

Land value should not be the driver of our developments, creating sustainable communities must be the driver. By creating a hyper-local economy and neighbourhood, with work, enterprise, retail, education, healthcare, leisure and cultural facilities within a short walk or cycle, a genuinely self-sufficient ecosystem will develop with little need to leave or take a car journey anywhere.

I am concerned as to how we provide all these elements, in particular the education element, but not every city village needs to offer the same amenities. My philosophy for St. John’s is that we serve the community we are building for, which is a young working community who, more often than not, is going to be both dynamic and transient, and therefore our residential development needs to be relevant to the larger piece. Building skyscrapers sold to Far Eastern investors would simply have not been relevant to St. John’s, and I would question whether that would even be relevant to Manchester, but that’s for others to decide.

The new co-living developments will enhance and allow communities to develop, with people able to collaborate and socialise together, at work and home, and everywhere in between. Those that live in the co-living developments will also possess a new outlook, one which will turbocharge this sense of community, as living is already geared towards being collaborative and coexisting with like-minded people, accepting that this section of our society is so dynamic.

The pandemic has brought a feeling of isolation to those that are not in close proximity of everything they enjoy, while the concept of a 10-minute village means that all these things are in walking distance. Imagine 2023, when we are closer to a new socially integrated normality, and remember that cities are actually for living in. It’s important to remember that many of Manchester’s new requirements are because, for several decades, people forgot that people do still live in cities – we must make them exciting and human.

The concept of our 10-minute village has and is being adopted to varying degrees across the globe. Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Helsinki all continue to develop to this model, several with firm plans in place to remove cars in an anti-pollution and congestion drive. They are setting up programmes as individual villages, much like the philosophy of Medellin, Columbia, which won the title of world’s most innovative city in a competition organised by the non-profit Urban Land Institute. It created a series of interlinked and defined new villages formed around a series of public libraries and cultural facilities.

We have a similar simple mantra at St. John’s – enterprise, living and culture – and we are sticking to that. The Factory, Media Studios, The Science and Industry Museum, all provide much needed culture, but also play into our second strand, enterprise. With this we aim to encourage, attract and evolve new and modern industries, especially around media and tech. Thirdly, the living aspect of the mantra involves ensuring we coexist with other surrounding residential developments and provide amenities within a 10-minute walk to these developments that have been built as single uses. Without St. John’s on their doorstep their sustainability will be severely tested.

The 10-minute village concept is important and can be adopted throughout a city. It can and will be the future route to a sustainable and thriving Manchester, that can be built on the underlying objective of building communities. New districts like Piccadilly East and Mayfield joining Ancoats and New Islington, can achieve a similar philosophy. Think about it, do you want to live in a building or a neighbourhood of communities? It’s a no-brainer really!