Fragmentation is the disintegrating process of wasting away. It breaks up the established ‘whole’ into new individual forms. It’s a process visible on many streets in Manchester – as some businesses remain as anchors to the past, others are repeatedly replaced to meet the demands of the present. Burton Road, the dynamic West Didsbury hub, has undergone a series of changes over the past few years. It’s a road I have grown up on and, despite it being a steady constant in my life, the road itself is anything but stable. I wanted to explore the sense of continuity between the past and the present, and whether the road has maintained a coherent narrative over the years. Fragmentation is the process of disintegration, but is a new kind of unity formed through the fragments that unite? Is tradition something we have left in the past or is it something that evolves with us?

The street is like a living organism. It is constantly moulding to the shape of the world in an endless process of change. Businesses are both competitive and interdependent. They rely on each other to satisfy the demands of customers. I spoke to Juliette, who has been working for the past six months in the vintage clothing shop Junk, a shop that has been thriving off the ethical recycling of clothes for the past six years. She maintained that working on Burton Road is like being part of a sisterhood. “We all help each other out if there’s any problems, and we all recommend each other to customers too.”

The sense of community that is ingrained into the road is something that has remained a steady constant over the years. These are not individual companies working separately and against each other – it’s an interdependent web. Damaris, a worker at the cake and tea shop And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon, confirmed the same thing: “We still pop next door to buy the odd thing from the Money Spinner, and we supply cakes to bars like the Violet Hour. We help each other out and rely on each other.”

But survival is threatened by the possibility of extinction. From speaking to various stakeholders on Burton Road, there remains an undercurrent of anxiety about the precarious line between stability and continuous change. Nothing stays the same. Change is an integral part of a city. It keeps us moving forward but it can also leave old traditions behind. I spoke to Catherine, a manager for the past eight years at the handcrafted card shop Belly Button, who said, “I suppose it’s just what fits. It’s always good to have change, but there has to be staples of consistency.”

Finding the balance between the two is a constant concern. The shop next door to Belly Button has changed hands four times in the past eight years. It has been transformed from a vintage shop to a lingerie shop to a hardware store, and is currently the health and beauty shop, Beauty Tonic. The story is the same for many of the shops on Burton Road. As rent prices sky rocket but customer numbers stay the same, many new start-ups struggle to make ends meet and are forced to sell up.

Although change adds to the vibrancy of the street, there remains a danger of fragmentation. As businesses are repeatedly replaced, individual shops that remain are left floating in a state of detachment. Rather than change being a result of gradual adaptations, developments are accelerating the street away from the past into a future of endless possibilities. When asking what changes locals have noticed on the road, the immediate response for most is the sudden influx of bars, making the street much more night-time orientated than ever before. There has been an increase of open-ended and undefined eateries such as Mary and Archie, Folk and Volta that are active throughout the day as restaurants and extend into the night as bars. They also extend well into the street with their busy outdoor seating areas. Noise from these areas has been a source of much contention with residents, a group of people at risk of being overlooked. Complaints from residents have forced Folk and Volta to close their outdoor seating areas after midnight, reminding bar owners that despite the road being an area of commerce, it remains firmly residential too.

Burton Road is one of many areas where the past and present are competing in the same space. TS Eliot, in his essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, marks tradition in a historical sense, “Not only of the pastness of the past, but its presence”. Rather than tradition being old customs that may be handed down or lost, tradition remains a living and breathing thing that makes up our present.

The fragments of Burton Road, despite being independent and separate, evoke a new kind of unity, whereby the individual only has relation to the whole. The road acts as an accumulation of all that has come before it, whilst also expanding to reach the increasing demands of the present.

Sophia Siddiqui