Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Revitalization in Liverpool

Pier Head, Liverpool.  Wikipedia photo.

The latest piece in the series of articles I have been writing about culture-based revitalization initiatives in European cities for the "Europe in Baltimore" initiative of the European Union National Institutes of Culture Washington Cluster is up at "Liverpool regeneration as a process for regaining relevance at the regional, national, and global scales."

Each article seems to get longer, because I learn so much with each exploration. Liverpool is a case in point. Like many US cities that have de-industrialized, Liverpool is faced with a great deal of poverty. But Liverpool has been hit with a triple whammy besides that:

1. the shifting of UK maritime trade to Europe, making a western port like Liverpool locationally obsolete;

2. the shifting of the UK's economy to Southeastern England anchored by London, and away from the north especially;

3. regional competition for economic relevance with Manchester, also once a leading industrial city (the birth of modern textiles happened there), which is only 30 miles away.

While the city still faces incredible deep-rooted poverty and building abandonment issues, over the past 18 years especially, they have successfully pushed forward on revitalization of the waterfront and city center, attracting residents, retail and new businesses to the city's core, through the successful creation of an "urban regeneration corporation" as an implementation organization, guided by a solid and visionary revitalization plan (called a "Strategic Regeneration Framework"), and a good dollop of funding from the European Union's economic development programs targeting areas of especial impoverishment.

One of the most striking moves was setting in the SRF the goal of being selected as a "European Capital of Culture," even though at the time the UK wasn't even slated to be a participating country.  So they created the Liverpool Culture Company to begin bid preparation, and when it became the UK's time, they were ready, and were selected over 11 other cities.

They used the event to rebrand and reposition the city at regional, national, European, and global scales in a very impressive manner.

Around the time of the Capital of Culture host year in 2008, they reorganized the urban regeneration corporation from a planning and marketing organization to one more active in development, functioning as the city economic development agency, with new responsibilities for the rest of the city.

Similarly, they reorganized and integrated the city's culture functions into a unified city program and agency as well.

The economic downturn hasn't been kind to England, and the austerity program of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government hasn't helped.  But the city keeps moving forward, utilizing big events as inflection and focus points.  For example, this year the city is host to major events commemorating the start of World War One as well as the inaugural edition of the UK's business promotion trade festival, the International Festival of Business.

And they are working on being ready to bid to be selected as a future European Green Capital, to further their achievement of a variety of sustainability objectives and initiatives.

The city has challenges, but for the most part they are working very diligently to address them.

They are a very good example for US cities on how to be very strategic.  And a good example to the US federal government about how creating urban promotion, capacity building, and knowledge dissemination programs like the European Union Capital of Culture, Science City, Green Capital, and Youth Capital programs could be a great way to reset our aspirations as cities, metropolitan areas, and as a nation.

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At 7:59 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

While not disagreeing with your overall conclusions, we already have a lot of stuff like that. There are a whole host of alphabet suit groups and conferences that do this level of promotion in the US.

And if you look at the background of the EU stuff, they are looking at that stuff as the model. Federalism 2.0.

And european mayors/regional leaders would kill to have stuff like superbowl, nba all star game, etc and what not. Of course we know it it leaky and usually doesn't leverage existing assets.

And in terms of changing the conversation, as long as we frame "urban" in the US as code for black and poor rather than dynamic it is an upper limit. Of course the reality is right now we don't have dynamic cities -- we have dynamic regions but cities are just SF. When we talk about Boston, for instance, as the go-to place for biotech we really mean Cambridge + the suburbs. That is where Richard Florida flopped.

And the new trend of framing cities life as "paris on the potomac" is great -- hell, there is a reason I live here - but it also inherently limited and little evidence that the vast majority of Americans buy into that.

All goes to a question you asked, which is "Why do we have cities right now?" and the need to preserve the streetcar city, rather than just tear it up in the name of density.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the sports events are nice, but don't have near the impact as the programs I mentioned, especially in terms of generating structural change.

and there is nothing in the US like IBA in Germany, which I wrote about wrt Hamburg.

And a Green Capital program could certainly move sustainability planning beyond the level of boasting and towards more substantive programming.


2. wrt your last point, the book by Patrick Condon is relevant, and it's sort of excerpted here:

but yes, it's the urban form from the walking and transit city eras that make the city such a desirable place to live.

the "black and poor" trope is a real one, which is how most people see cities, with a few exceptions.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

well that is more egg mcmuffin for the GM theory -- the point is it turns out the streetcar city is very livable even without streetcars!

Doubly so 40-50 years after the fact.

That was point about leaky that SB and other events dont' really do much to promote an urban agenda -- different incentive systems.

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