One of our most read, commented upon and shared features was our piece on Birkenhead, a few years ago: Birkenhead Must Die, Seven Reasons Why. We weren’t saying it should die, not really – we were saying it needed to be reborn. As a south bank, liveable town, with views to die for. A place with a real market at its heart, a re-energised Hamilton Quarter and a waterfront to really be proud of. Stuff that, actually, it had all along and somehow forgot about.
This new vision, launched yesterday by ION Developments in conjunction with Wirral Council, is a massive vote of confidence, and a clear statement of intent: let’s start with the stuff it needs right now – an inviting nighttime economy, wrapped around Europa Boulevard – then built out from there in a series of confident nips, tucks and realignments.
Let’s get the market great again (honestly, it’s not far off – and a world away from the sorry state of Garaud’s). Let’s get great housing, a can-do culture that does away with red-tape and allows things to bubble up and infect the town’s great swathes of empty space. Artisan markets, yes, but festivals and interventions too. Let’s give the town a spring in its step again. It used to, you know: Birkenhead used to be brilliant. If we change the narrative, we can change the scenery too.
We helped with this new website – interviewing good Wirral folk from Bido Lito’s Craig to Wards Fish and the Principal of the Met college.
We also interviewed amazing Rotterdam place makers, MVRDV. They’re the ones responsible for giving Rotterdam its groove back (their market-hall, village square and apartment building pic r), by collaborating with the people who live there. It’s now, for our money, one of the most thrilling examples of how, with a little lateral thinking, post-industrial urban zones can enjoy a sustainable second act. And it’s something Liverpool Council should listen very carefully to.
“Building a huge supermarket will attract shoppers, but will it attract people who want to live next door? To make a place where people feel proud to live in, and that will stop people in their tracks when they get off the ferry or the train: that’s got to be the best way forward for everyone,” MVRDV’s Jan Knikker says.
“It’s all about the individual, about building a sustainable community. One that works,” Jan told us. “It’s about collaboration. Cities are the heart of our societies. We approach urban challenges by asking how can we offer a high quality of life for their residents and users, and create added value for their cities.”
Jan, unlike previous generations who’ve held the keys, and built ugly light industrial estates on prime waterside plots with views any local would love to wake up to, really believes this town has a future.
“It just oozes potential. You could do so many great things here. The good thing about having a lot of space is that you don’t have to find use for everything right now – just start with a few good initiatives.”
They all believe. They, like us, don’t look at the town and think ‘game over’ – we see a place with an incredible bone structure. A town that’s battered and bruised, yes, but a town that’s really beautiful too. With handsome streets, a glorious square, resilient and resourceful people and a creative soul. All the best music came from the Wirral, anyway…
“There is currently not a venue dedicated to new music in the borough. For a place that gave the world artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Elvis Costello, The Coral and Forest Swords this is a saddening truth and a missed opportunity,” Bido Lito’s Craig Pennington told us.
“Music venues are the maternity ward of music cultures. They provide a context for talent to develop, infrastructure to grow, local start-ups to blossom and they stimulate local economies. They can be used as beacon developments to encourage investment, a project base for new ideas and provide a focal point to stimulate related industries.”
Birkenhead was built to work. Move Ahead Birkenhead is its best route back to work. Take a look, have your say. Get involved. A better Birkenhead is better for all of us, and completes the circle, along the riverfront. Makes us whole again.