Maybe the Friends of the Flyover thing will happen, maybe it won’t (of course, it should, if common sense prevails). But, in the meantime, here’s something to chew over.
What about, while we wait for our own High Line, we seriously consider a Low Line? Like this beauty. Fanciful science fiction? Well, just hold on a second…
It’s a fact, isn’t it, that the city’s green spaces – zones to just roam, run, relax – are now squarely in the sites of a Council that seems, at best, ambivalent towards their value. Even our head of planning has come out and said our green spaces are his favourite hunting ground.
Sefton Park Meadows, Woolton Golf Course, Calderstones – what price their protection? Because, when Joe talks about green space added, he does a clever little calculation: adding up a flattened house here, a scrubland here, an abandoned Amazon here, to make a round figure of ‘lots of new green space’. But, of course, if they’re not joined up, they’re no use to man nor dog. Nor pram.
But here’s the thing. Liverpool’s got miles of empty space. You just need to know where to look. Underground. And that’s exactly what some other cities are starting to do. New York for one. Their experimental Low Line project is seriously testing the feasibility of such an out-there concept.
But guess what? New York hasn’t done nearly the same about of groundwork as we have. We’ve more miles of disused railways below our feet than any city outside London. The Dingle Tunnel is half a mile long complete with an underground station. That’d cost, what, upwards of £600 million to bore out today? And there it sits. Wasted.
The oldest rail tunnel running under city streets, in the world? That’s right here. Wasted. Crown Street Station, the world’s first passenger station, built by George Stephenson, connects to a tunnel 300 metres long (over three football pitches). Another, the Wapping line, contains one of the oldest rail tunnels in the world. A 1.07 mile tunnel goes from Edge Hill to Lime Street in Liverpool’s city centre, much of which remains open to the elements, but countersunk below the city. Useless for an Amazon barn. Perfect for a stygian park. Think Liverpool Cathedral’s wondrous St James Gardens.
Make no mistake, Liverpool was a pioneer in railway tunnels. The Liverpool tunnels pre-date any tunnel in New York or London. Could an audacious plan to seed them back into another form of life be possible?
The historic 1929 Crown Street Tunnel is partially collapsing at the Crown Street end, due to lack of maintenance, as the subsidence in the street surface above indicates. So, whatever happens, something needs to be done.
In New York, the Low Line seeks to colonise and landscape the Delancey Underground – a disused slice of sub Manhattan real estate that, frankly, is no good for anything else. Light will be stolen from above via strategically placed apertures. We know how to do that too – the city’s littered with hidden ventilation shafts feeding air into the network of tunnels.
“Our plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. Our vision is a stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments,” they explain.
“Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings,” they say of these pollution-free spaces to run, breathe, escape the city a while.
They plan to use solar collection dishes – linked super-sized mirrors sucking light from above into darkness below, and a series of fibre-optic light pools. Sounds very Black Mirror, but actually is surprisingly entry level tech. Artificial lighting (solar powered from above) would fill in the blanks. They’ve tested it. It works. And, of course, there’s always the option of punching a hole through: see the porthole into the Old Dock at Liverpool ONE.
Fact is, it’s an idea. A way to bring something (metaphorically at least) to the surface that’s been buried, unused and forgotten about for more than 60 years All that manpower. All those raw materials, All that work we’ve already done.
Surely, at the very least, we should discuss the stuff we’ve shoved under the city’s carpet?
Is it just us, or, with the benefit of a couple of years’ distance, do those Liverpool Waters images just look so embarrassingly outdated now? They come on like some incredibly naff oligarch’s playground. Maybe Peel, the city, those who aren’t afraid of a little blue sky thinking, should start looking for the answer in deepest, darkest space.