The sun sits behind a thick layer of clouds in this immensely-concrete city. Manchester is the first, and the prototypical industrial metropolis and everything about it reveals it’s history of mass production and efficiency. But this is only one layer, an important one, in an intensely layered place.

Like most European cities, I’m sure, the thing about it is the buildings and spaces that make make Manchester’s shape are very, very old. When walking around you are aware that the pathways and roads have been traversed in this manner for ages, and the juxtaposition of new and old is extremely intricate, unlike in Toronto where there is new, and there is old. Fantastic modern glass structures pierce the city’s history, emerging everywhere from the brick and concrete background: preservation of heritage through lines-of-site-through glass.

Manchester is a city of red and grey. Most of it’s buildings are stand proud red-brick, with lovely adornments at each level. The greyness of the sky combines with the concrete — a light mist obscuring the otherwise hard edges between sky and city. And the moisture adds a layer of eternal life the the cultural layers. Moss and lush forests, puddles and canals soften the industrial. quality of this place. And the industrial patterns are intricate and beautiful too – crisscrosses of steel, glass-factory-roof atriums here and there, all converted to pleasant shops and museums now.

The city is surrounded by “suburbs” — in fact quite dense neighbourhoods outside of the rather small core. There are many streets that feature the obvious heavy hand of developers-past: entire streets that have the same house, monotonously repeating itself to a quite fantastic rhythmic optical effect. These are the suburbs, one hundred years ago, one hundred years later. And the English seem to have not done anything to distinguish their houses from the others. They are left monotonous. Imagine if the triplexes in Montreal were never personally stylized: looking up a street where the staircases constantly repeat would probably hurt the eyes.

This was a city experienced with no expectation. A second-order city. A place with the ordinary urban-problems of wastecrimeandpublictransport but with its own historo-politico-socio-geography a unique approach to its version of these issues.

The Manchester trams are great. Running along former industrial railways that follow spectacular bridges elevated above canals and into the heart of the city they are elegant and efficient. Raised stations and pre-paid fairs make things easy and fast. Their unique whistle-horn is an instant aural-icon.

Dedicated Tramways line the central Piccadilly Gardens, a bustling square. The effect is lovely. No prive automobiles obstruct the walls of this urban room and their central space. The square’s surface covers the entire area, with only slight demarcation of where the trams run, other than their tracks. The flow of this place is lovely — as pedestrians cross the square without stress, and avoid the trams when they come every-so-often. And when they do they blow their gentle whistle and all the senses have their outlet.