The Manchester bomb in 1996 provided an opportunity for revolutionary urban renewal that was ultimately wasted. New York should learn from our mistakes
We had a bomb in Manchester. Five years ago, the centre of the city was devastated by an IRA terrorist attack. Thank God, no one was killed. So of course, Manchester's suffering was not on the scale of the World Trade Centre atrocity, with its appalling loss of life. All the same, Mancunians will have a special sense of solidarity with their American counterparts. And we have a valuable lesson to teach New Yorkers, who are already picking themselves up, dusting themselves down, and thinking what to do about the smoke-filled heap of rubble that used to be one of the Big Apple's icons.

Our lesson from Manchester is to take a good look at what we did, and not do the same. The Manchester bomb was an outrage, but it was also an opportunity. Rebuilding had to take place, because the commercial centre of one of the country's largest conurbations had been put out of action.

There were two choices. The first was to sit down carefully, take all the time needed, and use this chance to turn Manchester – already a world leader in sport, culture and popular music – into Britain's first 21st-century city, an object lesson in town planning and urban renewal. This required patience; but patience was not what the city fathers possessed.

They were impelled by a spirit of urgency. A shopping mall in the suburbs, now known as the Trafford Centre, was in the pipeline. There were fears that, if Manchester city centre's shops did not reopen quickly, trade would be lost, possibly for ever.

There was insufficient understanding that a vibrant city centre offers a different kind of attraction, and a superior one, compared with a collection of chain store branches out in the sticks. The decision to rebuild was made far too quickly to allow Manchester to become the Oz of the North-west. Just three years after the bomb, the first phase of rebuilding had been completed.

I have just received a glossy brochure from Manchester City Centre Management Company. It claims that "a programme of major project completions have changed the character of Manchester for ever". What a daft boast! The character of Manchester is great – a historic city inhabited by sturdy, independent, generous-minded citizens. What was needed was a reconstruction programme that would express that historic character in a new, exciting way. As it turns out, the brochure is a great deal more glossy than the reality.

Our lesson from Manchester is to take a good look at what we did, and not do the same

I am not saying that there have been no improvements. Of course there have. Manchester city centre is tidier and better planned than before. There are some attractive new buildings, though the much-admired Bridgewater concert hall had nothing to do with the rebuilding after the bomb.

And, honestly, the presence of DKNY, Armani, Boss, Calvin Klein and Bang & Olufsen (and the arrival of a multiplex cinema together with an IMAX screen, several years after Bradford's) are not exactly groundbreaking evidence of new ideas in urban planning. Go to Bilbao in northern Spain and see how a city far grubbier than Manchester has turned itself into a world-class destination.

No more than days after the bomb exploded, I advised patience, planning, and new – even revolutionary – thinking for Manchester. I offer similar advice to bruised, bereaved New York.

The World Trade Centre site is a valuable piece of real estate. It is also, after 11 September, a part of the world that, for all the wrong reasons, is world famous.

The planners should make no effort to do what the Manchester brochure claims, namely to "change the character" of the city.