by Jonathan Brown
If the urban planners had had their way in the 1960s motorway traffic would have thundered along elevated highways above the streets of Liverpool on its way to the Mersey docks. Luckily it never happened.
Today all that is left of that brutal concrete vision are two inner city flyovers – widely regarded as white elephant reminders of the post-war love affair with the speeding car.
Now local people have an extraordinary plan to transform the unloved structures into a cycle and pedestrian-friendly parkway-cum-venue which will return a key area of the city to the people.
More than £40,000 has been raised by public donation through civic crowdfunding site Spacehive to begin a feasibility study on whether the Churchill flyover might become a promenade in the sky complete with arts spaces, landscape gardens and coffee shops.
The project has been compared to New York’s High Line – a hugely popular 1.5-mile linear park built on the site of an old railway, which has revitalised an area of Manhattan’s West Side.
Designer and independent retailer Kate Stewart of Friends Of The Flyover – one of a group of local professionals and their supporters campaigning on behalf of the project – said the scheme could bring spread the benefits of city centre regeneration.
“What has become really important to the campaign is how strongly people feel about it. That is the benefit of the crowd funding process. The city has really taken this to heart and seized the ambition,” she said.
At present the Churchill Way soars above the public realm hastening traffic past the municipal magnificence of the Walker Art Gallery, World Museum and the new Central Library acting as a forbidding barrier to the north and south Liverpool.
“It is emotionally grim. It is grey, dank and wet. It is also structurally grim in terms of light and water,” Ms Stewart said.
The plan was hatched in response to a strategic investment document published by Liverpool City Council, which proposed the removal of the flyover, the only surviving part of a wider plan to give Liverpool an urban motorway network in the 1970s which would have seen the M62 brought right down to the banks of the Mersey.
It is estimated the cost of knocking it down would have been up to £4 million – nearly twice as much as it would cost to turn it into a park, it is claimed.
Under the plan the walkways would be rejuvenated and used for staging events followed by the traffic carriageways themselves. Supporters say that in the past the flyovers have been closed without bringing traffic chaos to the city.
Andrew Teacher, policy director of Spacehive, said the funding model had already delivered citizen-led new projects elsewhere in the UK such as a free wi-fi area in Mansfield town centre, a London sculpture walk and transforming a Welsh phone box into an art gallery.
“This represents a growing trend for people taking the public realm into their own hands and using civic crowd funding as a way to enhance the environment. Anyone with a great idea can get it out there,” he said.
This article first appeared on The Independent website.