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.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Liverpool loses UNESCO World Heritage Site designation: An example of tough choices for cash strapped governments

With the denouement of approval of the conversion of the Bramley-Moore Dock into a site for the new Everton football stadium, UNESCO has pulled the designation of Liverpool's maritime heritage as a World Heritage Site, because of the coming loss of integrity of these historic resources as an ensemble.

I wrote about Liverpool's urban regeneration program ("LIVERPOOL REGENERATION AS A PROCESS FOR REGAINING RELEVANCE AT THE REGIONAL, NATIONAL, AND GLOBAL SCALES") as part of the series of articles related to an EU National Institutes of Culture Washington chapter program in Baltimore (2013/2014).

Shoppers on Church Street in Liverpool City Centre (Image: Andy Teebay/Liverpool Echo)

And in 2018, I was able to attend the International Place Branding Event in Liverpool, in part with the support of blog readers, friends and acquaintances--THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Which gave me the too brief opportunity to see in person what I wrote about, and also a chance to see in person what I missed when writing the original piece.  

One was the big pedestrian district emanating from the train station, and with the extension provided by the new build Liverpool One shopping center, extends all the way to the waterfront.

Another was the level of dereliction of many of the docks outside of the core section of the waterfront, anchored by Albert Dock, home to multiple museums.  The super cool Titanic Hotel where the conference was held, is on Stanley Dock, and the buildings bracketing the enclosed dock were in the process of regeneration.

But most of the nearby docks are not.  And the area beyond the docks is seriously disinvested.  

In Liverpool, their rapid transit system, Merseyrail, is railroad-based.  It's pretty awesome and because of its level of integration, it's the only transit system outside of London that wasn't privatized in the British government's orgasm of privatization.  (Buses are still privatized in Liverpool.)

This Flickr photo by PH Hanson shows the Merseyrail train line, with the Stanley Dock on the other side of the line.  To the left, on the other side of the tracks, is the large Bonded Warehouse which was being renovated when I was there.  

To the right, across the water and not visible, is the Titanic Hotel.  To the right of the Hotel is the Bramley-Moore Dock.  In the foreground is the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Park

Sandhills is the closest rail station to the current soccer stadiums in Anfield and Everton, which are served with game day special bus services.

Merseyrail map.

One of my thoughts then was an infill rail station between Sandhills and Moorhills stations, to serve the dock area from a closer-in station.  

It would be all the more important to do, with the construction of a new stadium for Everton.  

I would aim to make this the utmost priority in association with the construction of the new stadium, were I making such decisions.  

It's not really "just for the team" as they have "only" 19 home matches guaranteed (although this is 10 more than for US NFL teams) but to energize the revitalization opportunities on this side of the Liverpool waterfront.  There are great physical assets and better transit options would open them up.

(Back in the day, there was an elevated railway that served all the docks, the Liverpool Overhead Railway.  It shut down in 1955.)

Container yard in Seyforth.

The city's waterfront was the foundation of great wealth for almost two centuries, as the port and its development of protected waterfront docks, was the main link from England to the west.  

The problem for Liverpool is that as the Empire shrunk and shifted east, Liverpool's western-focused port was supplanted.   

Later, changes in maritime shipping practices led to a shifting of shipping to parts of the region more workable for large scale container-based shipping.

Royal Liver Building, Liverpool waterfront.

Liverpool, like many of the old industrial cities in Northern England, is extremely impoverished.  This is only accentuated by the Conservative government's centralization, austerity program resulting in constant reductions in local government funding along with an increase in responsibilities, and anti-local government practices when the governments aren't run by the Conservatives.  

Liverpool has lost about 2/3 of its budget because of decisions by the Conservatives.  This makes the city and its leaders and stakeholders financially desperate.

Liverpool is one of the case studies that shaped the concept of what I now call "Transformational Projects Action Planning" ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning"), where a set of visionary and audacious projects is used to push improvement forward in a concerted way:

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  

  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s  
  • 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
  • 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 
  • 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
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan  
  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework.
Liverpool Waters masterplan. The project includes 9,000 apartments, hundreds of offices, hotels, bars and a new cruise terminal. Photograph: Rust Design.

For Liverpool there were three planning elements that were audacious, not necessarily in this order:

(1) Beginning the planning to be designated as a European City of Culture within the EU program, at a time when the UK wasn't even in the program's selection cycle.  

(2) Working with developers to build the Liverpool One shopping center, which had the effect of extending the pedestrian district to the waterfront.  The development was unanticipated when the city created its regeneration plan years before.  (Unfortunately, one of the key anchors, Debenhams, has since gone out of business.)  This is an example of serendipitously extending planning vision as new opportunities develop.

(3) The third was getting the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to boost tourism and notice.  

From the Guardian:
Liverpool's world heritage site officially stretches from Albert Dock, which has the largest collection of Grade I listed buildings in the UK, along the Pier Head and up to Stanley Dock. It takes in the elegant Edwardian "three graces": the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings, which have defined the view from the Mersey for almost a century.
But, in part because of the experience of Liverpool One, and because of the constant pressure on budgets, the city has been incentivized to seek development of existing disinvested areas, which significantly threatens the historical integrity of the waterfront.

New developments in and around the waterfront caused UNESCO to issue warnings and finally a rescission of the designation.  The major development is Liverpool Waters, a set of modern glass skyscrapers ("Liverpool Waters redevelopment gets government green light," Guardian, 2013).

Bramley-Moore Dock is set to become Everton’s new home (Getty Images).  Stanley Dock is in the foreground.

Most recently, it is the agreement to build a new stadium on the Bramley-Moore Docks for the Everton soccer team ("Everton’s plan for new stadium on Bramley-Moore Dock receives government approval," Independent).

It's a much better location for the team, and much closer to rail transit.  But it completely makes over one of the docks ("Everton stadium truth is clear as Liverpool stripped of World Heritage Status," Liverpool Echo).

It was the decision to build the new stadium that triggered UNESCO's decision.

I don't know if they had done a "throwback" design using architectural style references from the maritime warehouses, not unlike how the Camden Yards stadium in Baltimore incorporates part of the old B&O Railroad Warehouses, if UNESCO would have gone along.  Probably not.

Artist's impression of Princes Dock under the Liverpool Waters redevelopment. Photograph: Rust Design

Despite the fact that I am a hard core historic preservationist, I do think that Liverpool was forced to make a difficult choice, given the city's desperate need for both economic development and revenue, and to be fair to Everton in terms of helping it to maximize its opportunities vis a vis its competition with the Liverpool Football Club, which is one of the most successful teams in the English Premier League.

I can see them thinking "It's just one dock," given how many still exist.  But the decision shouldn't have come as a surprise.  UNESCO pulled designations before, and they have expressed concerns about  Liverpool and their development practices being threats to the waterfront's heritage integrity since 2012.

But I may well have made the same decision.  But they should own up to it, rather than exclaiming surprise.

Mayor Joanne Anderson, who was elected in May, has expressed her disappointment at the decision and raised concerns about how it was arrived at. 

She said: "I’m hugely disappointed and concerned by this decision to delete Liverpool’s World Heritage status, which comes a decade after UNESCO last visited the city to see it with their own eyes. 

“Our World Heritage site has never been in better condition having benefitted from hundreds of millions of pounds of investment across dozens of listed buildings and the public realm. “We will be working with Government to examine whether we can appeal but, whatever happens, Liverpool will always be a World Heritage city. 

We have a stunning waterfront and incredible built heritage that is the envy of other cities.

Apparently Stonehenge is in danger of losing its UNESCO designation ("Why could Stonehenge be stripped of world heritage site status?," Guardian) because of a planned road project.

Venice just warded off a similar threat, by banning cruise ships from berthing in the Venice Lagoon ("Venice Avoids UNESCO’s ‘In Danger’ Designation After Cruise Ship Ban," ARTNews).  Likely the decision on Liverpool motivated Italy to act.

It's important that UNESCO takes the integrity of its heritage designations seriously.   And that communities recognize this is the case because these designations are considered important at the global scale.  So making decisions that threaten the designation must be made with great care.  Rarely, but sometimes, such decisions can be justified.

(One similar instance in the US, was when the National Register of Historic Places removed the designation from Soldier Field in Chicago, when it was significantly changed in a renovation aimed at keeping the Chicago Bears in the city.  See "Soldier Field loses landmark status," Chicago Tribune).

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At 11:22 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Great piece.

Other comments:

"Liverpool has been careless with its heritage"

Both cite Hamburg, the FT one was a better analysis I thought.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I thought about HafenCity as an example to mention but I thought the UNESCO designation made them a bit different. The arena and now the Everton stadium + the Waters projects are all super modern where except for the philharmonic building HafenCity's design palette is more historically empathetic (brick, colors, etc.).

Hamburg is also so much more well off, economically and politically. The political difference is absolutely key and enormous. Politically Hamburg is a city state with the autonomy that brings, which is completely different from England. Even London is pretty dependent on the vagaries of the national government (also more complex because of all its boroughs).

And then as a result, economically, with control of taxing capacity, but also with its continued important role as a center of nationally significant business activity, which Liverpool has long since lost. (Manchester is more like Hamburg than Liverpool and still it is a laggard by comparison.)

Will read the articles. TY for the cites.

Speaking of, I've been slogging through the Ecckes book. Not because of the writing, but the depth. The chapter on political theory undergirding Eccles and the New Deal should be required reading for everyone.

Sad of course that we have the same arguments 90 (New Deal) and almost 250 (Smith) years later.

Lots of cites in the Eccles book that deserve further attention.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

(A guy from Hamburg's marketing was at that Liverpool conference and I amazed him with my depth of understanding.) One thing I missed, but so did they, it was "pointed out" by a videoographer in a fun video which they showed,from Sydney, is that the Elbephilharmonie and the Sydney Opera House are "competitive" from the standpoint if startling architecture and this redefines the cities globally.

Eg the Sydney Opera House has a YouTube feed. I repetitively listen to the 4 song Iggy Pop set. It is amazing. That markets Sydney too, beyond "opera."

(I picked up an architectural engineering autobiography at a little free library about a then young guy working for Arup assigned to that project. Very interesting.)

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

When I was writing that EU series I couldn't be too harsh. The new buildings in Bilbao are startling architecturally too. But I equated them to "sculptures" that while startling, were still embedded in a rich ensemble of historic architecture that was strong enough to withstand the "discordance" produced by the new buildings.

(I don't know London super well but I think it has a similar quality. Plus they still do a lot with brick.)

Maybe because of the linear nature of the waterfront and the scale of the new buildings compared to the old, this is much harder to pull off in Liverpool (other than the Liver and Cunard buildings and their sisters, the waterfront buildings are not very tall).

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Heathcote is an awesome writer. But I am surprised he didn't mention HafenCity as an approach significantly more architecturally grounded in Hamburg's waterfront architecture than Liverpool Waters.


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