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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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Liverpool makes tough choice in favor of historic preservation over big, flashy development

In 2014, I wrote a piece on Liverpool, "LIVERPOOL REGENERATION AS A PROCESS FOR REGAINING RELEVANCE AT THE REGIONAL, NATIONAL, AND GLOBAL SCALES," as part of the series of articles about culture-based regeneration in European cities, for a project the Washington Chapter of the EU National Institutes of Culture was doing in Baltimore.

The Liverpool experience reiterated the six point revitalization process that I first outlined wrt Bilbao ("Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh").

Liverpool Pier Head, with the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, and the Anglican cathedral in the background.  Wikipedia photo.

These buildings were constructed at the height of Liverpool's economic might, when it was second only to London in its place in the British Empire.

One of the issues that was pending at the time I wrote the article was the status of the Maritime Mercantile City Heritage Site, a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 2004.  Achieving this status had had been a key pillar of the city's Strategic Regeneration Framework Plan.  
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UNESCO and English Heritage expressed concerns about potential for negative visual impact on the heritage site from the proposed skyscrapers and other modern architecture across a large section of the Liverpool waterfront ("The breathtaking potential of Liverpool (and Wirral)” and “Unesco meets to discuss Liverpool’s world heritage status," Guardian; "Liverpool Waters plan approved despite World Heritage threat," BBC).

In the face of the loss of the designation from UNESCO, the Liverpool Council reversed its earlier approvals ("Liverpool Scraps Skyscrapers To Save World Heritage Status," Urban Developer) and agreed to put back into place height controls for new development in the waterfront district.

Decimated budgets for UK city governments.  Since the Conservatives took power in 2010, there has been a constant reduction in funding for local government, as well as increased financial responsibilities--in the UK, local governments are responsible for senior care, including nursing homes, not the National Health Service.  So virtually all local governments are desperate for money, shutting facilities, cutting back services, firing employees, and contracting out services.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Council received £523.72 million in Government funding in 2010 and £243.90 million in 2017.

-- "In Liverpool, 20 Tory cuts have brought a city and its people to its knees," Guardian
-- "Austerity hitting devolution plans, Liverpool report finds," Financial Times
-- "Council budget cuts: What has Liverpool lost since 2010?," Liverpool Echo

A City's Elected and Appointed Officials as Brand Managers.  In 2005, I wrote a piece, "Town-City branding or 'We are all destination managers now'" that made the point that commercial district revitalization advocates, stakeholders, and managers needed to think more broadly about their mission, that we should be managing the destination (our "places") in all aspects.

When I wrote a couple of commercial district revitalization framework plans for Brunswick, Georgia and Cambridge, Maryland in 2008 and 2009, I expanded this idea, writing that:
... elected officials need to take their responsibilities as stewards and managers of a community's image very seriously: 
Just as the study team believes that “we are all destination managers now,” elected and appointed officials in particular and in association with other community stakeholders serve as a community’s “brand managers”—whether or not they choose to think of their roles in this manner. 
That means that decision-making on land use and zoning, business issues, infrastructure development (roads, sewers, water, utilities, transit), technology (broadband Internet, etc.) and quality of place factors (arts, culture, historic preservation and heritage, education, public schools and libraries, urban design, etc.) must be consistent and focused on making the right decisions, the decisions that collectively achieve and support the realization of the community’s desired vision and positioning.
Something else I read termed this as making "brand deposits" or "brand withdrawals," how the decisions and actions concerning a brand either make positive contributions and build the brand or the actions are negative and diminish the value of the brand, its reputation, aspirational qualities, etc.

Liverpool made the hard choice.  The Liverpool Council is to be commended for making such a hard choice, given their dire economic circumstances but in concert with what I describe as their role as the "brand managers" of their community, and stewards for the city's "brand promise" and maintenance of the city's unique selling propositions/competitive advantages, which in this case includes the heritage conservation elements of the historic waterfront.

Likely the site will still be developed, and with modern styled buildings, but at a reduced height -- which frankly, is probably more in line with market demand anyway.

And note that Liverpool has already integrated some modern architecture within the existing historic fabric of the waterfront.

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The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various efforts, I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).

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