There’s a cracking quote from the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1919 which sums up the rebellious, contrary and sometimes frustrating nature of the Liverpool psyche:
“Liverpool is an anarchic place where spontaneity and the flamboyant gesture are preferred to the disciplines of tactical thinking and planned interventions. It is an organiser’s graveyard.”
If ever an insight summed up what happens when you blend half a million Irishmen with a quarter of a million northern Welsh, it is this. Noisy, rumbustious, generous to a fault, open-hearted and matriarchal: welcome to Liverpool’s warm embrace.
In this regard not a lot has changed since 1919, albeit we’re less ready to man the barricades these days as the realities – and opportunities – of 21st century open markets and digital trading have seeped into our consciousness. The structure of our economy and of employment opportunities are fundamentally different and the need for organised labour hugely diminished. No longer a branch-plant economy, we’re now far more reliant on non-unionised SMEs than we ever were which, given that they create most jobs in the economy, may perhaps explain more than ten years of continuously falling unemployment hereabouts.
But that’s not what this blog post is meant to be about. It’s about the organiser’s graveyard bit.
Spend a bit of time pottering around the internet enjoying the thoughts of urban planners and thinkers and you quickly realise the gulf between levels of public engagement in civic governance in the US compared to the UK. It’s startling, and it reminded me of an essay a while ago by the excellent David Lloyd at Seven Streets which examined the issue.
In short, too few of us in Liverpool offer our civic leaders the sort of constructive, ideas-based engagement that seems to be routine in the States. There are, of course, some excellent examples: the efforts to emulate New York’s Highline using our flyovers, say; or the work of Mark Lawler and his allies at Baltic Creative, to name but two. But I’m not left dizzy like I am when I look at how people engage with Detroit and its challenges, or the broader issue of sharing ideas on city governance and economic development.
If I’m so bothered by it, what am I doing? Plugging away with a committed development client to deliver Liverpool’s equivalent of Madrid’s wonderful Mercado de San Miguel, for starters. We’ve identified a site, we’re in talks with the council and we have the funds – but, appropriately, the site will be put to open tender and we may not win. Hey, that’s capitalism.
I’ve persuaded another client to emulate the wonderful example of Christchurch, New Zealand to bring funky, low-cost container-based retail to Liverpool. We’ve bought three sites and we’re in negotiation with another two land owners about leasing land elsewhere and it’s moving ahead with pace now. It’ll deliver something fresh and new to Liverpool’s retail scene and provide some very visible pep to the chosen locations – not to mention very low cost retail opportunities for native entrepreneurs. We’ll tell you more when we can, but things are progressing well.
On another positive note, whilst we may not have too many folks manning the blogs to pitch in great ideas, a la America, what we do have is a cohort of highly creative developers and end-users re-casting neighbourhoods like Baltic and the Ropewalks. And let’s not forget the value of the big institutional investments like the new exhibition centre and the big PRS schemes.
It’s a good time to be in Liverpool, whatever our organisational proclivities.