What shape will our city be in the next ten, twenty years – and how can we best position ourselves to be the ‘world class city’ we hear so much about? SevenStreets asked a handful of key urban thinkers, dreamers and schemers to share their thoughts.
1. Be Distinctive
A friend of mine returned from San Francisco to report; “It’s a lot like Liverpool, but with the smart people in charge.” Whilst recognising the achievements of those who have directed Liverpool’s recent renaissance, I kind of know what he means. San Francisco is a small city with a comparable population to Liverpool, but it’s also one of the world’s most visited and recognisable places. It doesn’t imitate, it harbours no bombastic ambitions to be Shanghai or New York. It simply has an unerring capacity to be itself, and like a cluster of other interesting or emerging global cities, it cherishes difference.
For a long time we lacked the functional infrastructure of a modern city, and so it’s natural that we are proud of and fascinated by our new acquisitions, but a retail centre, an entertainment arena and a cluster of tall buildings really don’t make us extraordinary.
We have to be remarkable or we are not being true to who we are. I’m depressed by Peel’s soulless cut and paste waterfront and disturbed too by those advocating an investor-led mega-plan to transform Ropewalks into our very own Covent Garden. Institutional investors demand long leases and strong covenants. If we really want a city with more LEAF and less Costa we need more subtle and creative levers.
Ropewalks and Baltic need more, not less, space for independent and start-up businesses. If there is a big bang proposition with the potential to stimulate footfall and organic investment here, it’s low-cost, low-tech and local. Great cities have great markets. They are vivid expressions of locality that give independent producers and traders space to show and sell what we grow and make here. The City desperately needs to rethink its baleful relationship with Geraud Markets and make space for new independent operators. As anyone who ever shopped in the Soviet Union will testify, state monopolies may work well for railways but not for retail.
We need to start thinking about our city as a place, not a never-ending regeneration project. We are a city of frameworks, strategies and master-plans. At a meeting organised by Bido Lito to engage the city’s creative community it became apparent that many of our most inventive and entrepreneurial players simply don’t connect with the policy makers. They operate in the gaps.
Those at the centre need to be connected and open to ideas from the edge. How do we make a city of quarters into a single place? How can we bring The Baltic closer to the centre, make our hills less daunting and our waterfront less disconnected? If we want to make movement part of the experience of a different city, then the scaled-down urban street cars proposed by architects working on the St James Heritage projects are exactly the kind of imaginative unconventional thinking that we should embrace and encourage. If the next phase of Liverpool’s growth is about nurturing difference then we need a new model and mind-set. Above all we need to make time and space for the smart people – the dreamers and doers who can make us extraordinary.
Jon Egan, Archetype Studio, Liverpool
2. High Ideals
The 2012 SIF (Strategic Investment Framework) document for the city proposes the removal of the Churchill way flyovers which run from Islington, sweeping past the rear of the library and World Museum though to Dale Street and Tithebarn street. It would be a shame to see demolition costs of around £4 million spent with little in return. What if there was a far more exciting and affordable alternative?
Our vision of ‘the Flyover’ (above), devised with Mark Bennett at Michael Cunningham Architects, sees the highway gifted to the people, following removal of traffic and the creation of a pedestrian and cycle-friendly promenade in the sky. With the addition of planting, kiosks, cafes, lighting and power infrastructure, this route of hustle, bustle and speed is transformed into a thriving oasis and green lung in the centre of the city, an iconic attraction for residents and visitors.
As visitors meander along the park, they will come across cafes, raised beds with planting and allotments tended by the local community – including residents and education establishments, independent retail kiosks and market stalls.
Just imagine yourself in this elevated park, having visited a farmers’ market, accessing the wifi cloud and being served with freshly-made coffee and toast, with a generous serving of honey produced by bees from hives within the park! All of this would come with a wonderful vista across the city!
Artists studios and small units for start-ups, offer a link with the adjacent LJMU and the new University Technical College which opens on Scotland Road in 2015.
The Flyover has the potential to become a thriving promenade and meeting space within an important part of the city centre which is central to the vision. With creative use of low-cost materials, there is no reason why a scheme with this amount of vision should cost the earth. Add to this, the siting of solar and wind energy generation along the park, powering a vibrant lighting scheme for night-time promenaders and cyclists, running costs can be minimized.
Steve Threlfall, studioF, Liverpool
3. Just imagine
“Stepped out of Lime Street station today an hour after leaving London (which was good going) into sparkling winter sunshine to be met by Liverpool’s annual Christmas fair on St George’s Square.
It’s amazing to think how much traffic used to come down Lime Street past St George’s Hall, but the new look square feels like it’s always been here – and the fair looks stunning.
The demolition of the old ABC Cinema made me sad, but the plans for the urban garden running up to Central Village look great, especially the parade of units running through the middle – plus it’ll also bring the Clayton Square fountain more into view.
I had a meeting at the conference centre on Kings Dock for hosted by Shanghai Bank about their European HQ at the north docks, so picked up a hire bike from outside Central Station. Security was intense as G24 summit is the day after tomorrow.
My colleagues working in the recently formed Waterfront BID hosted a reception afterwards in the Albert Dock’s floating hotel – which now boasts the city’s third Michelin rated restaurant – but sadly passed on the food as eating late tonight.
Have a Skype call with Philadelphia on Liverpool in USA Summit next year and then my family are joining me for some late night Christmas shopping. The restaurants are rammed and with last train home not until 1am, the pace is busy but not frenetic.
Storms due next week. Just hope the engineers putting foundations in for Mersey tidal generator are OK. They say it’ll be 2030 until its fully finished.
Be interesting to see what the city will be like in 10 years time…
Mike Doran, City Central BID
4. Plagiarise and grow
It was as sudden as it was dramatic: from nowhere, the Manhattan skyline reached for the heavens. Great stone-faced Goliaths began punctuating the horizon from 1884 onwards and just as each bore testimony to its patron’s bravura so, too, it owed its existence to the theft of a great Liverpool idea – one that, in our wisdom we had discarded, seeing no place for it amidst the tumult of the Gothic revival.
Maybe it’s a bit harsh, therefore, to say that New York stole it. Copied it, more like, adding its own distinctive flavour.
Years later, of course, when our great trading partner on the Hudson had built an impregnable lead over Liverpool we realised we’d missed a trick and embraced what was once ours, throwing up the Liver Building in hasty penitence. Our sin? To have castigated the great Peter Ellis, the man who invented curtain walling as early as 1864, a technology he expressed with supreme elegance in the guise of Oriel Chambers. That simple engineering innovation gave the world skyscrapers and when we topped off the Liver Building with our winged sentinels, Liverpool was able to boast Europe’s tallest office building for more than fifty years and remind itself that it was still a leader – on this side of the Atlantic, at least.
It’s time for Liverpool to follow once again; to take the best ideas in urbanism and public and private infrastructure and cast them in our own distinctive mould. For we have too many gaps in our provision as a city and when you tot up the cumulative impact in terms of jobs, competitiveness and tourism appeal, the result is eye-watering.
Put another way, we don’t need to go to the pain of original thought to garner huge growth in our economy and huge physical investment – we should just copy London’s fabulous aquarium (we’ve the perfect site for it, on the west quay of Wapping Dock); Vancouver’s lovely Granville Island market (main pic, and above); Barcelona’s wonderful cable car; and New York’s High Line park, to name a few.
There’s more, of course, particularly in terms of reinforcing individual neighbourhoods’ sense of place. Where in Liverpool really matches Dalkey village in Dublin or London’s Portobello Road, for example?
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not arguing against the merits of individualism. Far from it. It’s just that there are such simple wins to be garnered from copying the best of the rest that there’s no need for think-tanks or commissions to agonise over how to propel us up the civic league table. And we should think big, too, whilst plugging the obvious gaps.
Liverpool’s biggest ever win was when we went down to London with a CPO plan in our back pocket and boldly told the capital’s property moguls that we’d offer them 43 acres of decrepit real estate if they’d bung £850m in to the pot. And you know what? A disorderly queue formed in a jiffy. The result became known as Liverpool One.
So what’s the next £850m project? Where’s the next CPO proposal for neglected areas of our fascinating city centre which we can use to beguile London’s money men?
We should copy the best of our own thinking as well as that of others, it seems.
Dougal Paver, Paver Smith PR, Liverpool
5. Go Green
“Cities need to adapt, need to breathe,” says Krista Kline, managing director of Los Angeles’ Regional Collaborative for Climate Action.
In the future, says Kline, cities with a robust green agenda will be the ones that survive, and thrive.
“We’ve made a commitment to be totally off coal by 2020,” Kline says of her home city’s ambitious plans to transform itself from most polluted US metropolis to most earth-hugging.
“Climate change is happening, and we need to mitigate its effects, now, if cities are going to be able to meaningfully function in ten, twenty years’ time.”
“Car culture is the biggest thing that needs to change,” says Kline of the inconvenient truth: LA’s smog-soaked bowl is due, mostly, to that city’s love of the gas guzzler.
“It’s true,” she says, “but things are changing. People are starting to realise that, if we want a better quality of life, we have to take the bus more. Local entities need to work together, developments need to be mixed use. We need to be able to walk more, use mass transit more, be better connected.”
But it’s not just about adding bus routes, Kline says. “We need to make it fun. We need to make the walk to the bus stop a pleasant experience.”
Los Angeles is a lot like Liverpool, she says (we guess she means minus Hollywood and the weather).
“We’re making the move to clean green technology, in part because we want to live in a cleaner city, but also because that’s where industry is heading. And smart cities know that. We were an industrial city, just like Liverpool, but those days are gone. Our manufacturing base needs to be focused on future industries, as does Liverpool’s if it’s to compete on the world stage.”
To that end, Krista believes Liverpool should increase its tax breaks to green tech, invest in research and export green technology like tidal energy and other renewables.
“The idea that going green hinders economic development has been discredited by the strategies of successful and progressive cities around like Los Angeles, Hamburg, Sydney and New York,” she adds. “They’re building their future prosperity on a high value / low carbon economic vision. Liverpool is now adding its name to this list, saying the city cannot afford not to embrace the same agenda.”
Liverpool Green Partnership – a body which includes the University of Liverpool, Chamber of Commerce, Liverpool Vision and the Diocese of Liverpool is on board, inviting Kline over for a series of workshops this summer.
“There is plenty of evidence, from studies by the CIB, that improving the sustainability of a city can help it to become more successful, not just because it will be a much nicer place to live and work – but that there are proven economic benefits too.”
“In the future, a successful city will be its own solar system. It will be able to maintain its water resources, stay moving, invest in incubator space for new tech, and realise that it is much less costly to prepare for climate impacts than to respond to them.”
Krista Kline, LARC
This article first appeared on the Seven Streets website.