When the Turner Prize was awarded to Assemble and the Granby Four Streets collective last night their tenacity and vision was rightly rewarded with a £25,000-shaped validation. And, for me, a penny dropped.

When the council talks about regeneration, these days, it’s shorthand for top-down intervention. It’s shorthand for Sainsburys, or a one-size-fits-all solution (in the case of Sainsbury’s to be fair, it’s not one size. It started out big, and now it’s shrunk to medium).

But elsewhere in this city, regeneration under the radar results in wondrous things bubbling up, and new life taking hold in the most unlikely of places. If we really want proof that there is another way, all we really have to do is take the regeneration dogma out of our eyes.

We were on Bay TV this week, talking about Lime Street. And, while Neptune’s Design solution 2.0 is streets ahead of Design Solution 1.Are you having a laugh, the fact remains: they’re building ticky tacky boxes, soon to be colonised by chain stores. Not Subway, but classier Subways, we’re teased with. Probably Pret, then. And the people who colonise the street now, who keep it alive when the council left it for dead? They’ll be cleansed.

They have to do this, because the retail plots are big, we’re told. And no-one can afford to seed a start up in a big retail space. Because why? Because the pension funds and hedge fund managers that prop up these schemes want a return on their buck, so they can get a nice bonus and a new timeshare in Dubai for Christmas.

These schemes aren’t about long term vision, they’re about short term gain. The city? We’re just collateral damage. We’re caught in friendly fire while our markets, great streets and institutions get hastily passed from one offshore fund to another, like a bad smell that no-one really wants to claim ownership of.

While we’re locked into these five year political cycles, we’ll always favour the ‘knock em up quick’ schemes, because cranes and new builds on the Mayor’s watch = success. Doesn’t matter if, when he’s replaced by the next one, the building crumbles. Not his problem.

Liverpool ONE is great. But the weakest part of the whole scheme? Has to be the restaurant terrace. And, I bet you, Grosvenor must look at the thriving food scene on Bold Street and wish they’d played the long game. They totally missed the street food and indie, artisan food revolution. Why? Because they were impatient. They wanted to sign up Cafe Rouge. Chains? Chains are fine. I love me a bit of Byron. But we need a healthy mix, in the heart of town, or we’re anywhere. I bet we’ll see more made-in-Liverpoolness creeping in soon, because the only food place that gets talked about is what? You guessed it – Lunya.

And who talks about Cafe Rouge these days? No thanks. We know the real money’s on Mowgli, and Bold Street Coffee, and Mr Miyagis and Leaf. Liverpool ONE could have had it all, but it danced to the tune of the pension fund.

But Granby Street, and Homebaked, and Evertro and Bold Street and Baltic show us that this creative city can, given time – grow into something much, much bigger than the sum of their parts. They could be the start of our new city. A distinctive place. A city that we built.

“This was a largely empty area of terraced streets,” says A Sense of Place’s Ronnie Hughes, one of Granby’s most passionate advocates, “The street market was about attracting people in not only to celebrate and protect the streets but also to dream up, and set in plan, the revival of them.

It’s a revival that, now, thanks to the press the Turner prize will bring, is surely unstoppable. But what now? Will our Council really think that, sometimes, they don’t know best?

It’s unlikely. They’ve already torpedoed the chance for residents at the waterfront to have their own say in how their community develops. The Neighbourhood Plan, passionately lobbied for by Engage, has been turned down by the council, and pushed into the edges of the city. For their mindset is still locked into green lighting travesties like Hope Street’s student flats, letting speculative developers make merry with our heritage and paying lipservice to localism. For the longest time, the good people at Homebaked couldn’t dare talk critically of the council, for fear that the wrecking ball might still swing their way. It may yet. But that would be the last thing they did. I think one more tinned up house would bring about the sort of change that could move mountains.

Diane Jensen’s a stallholder at the Granby Street market: “I’ve always come here for the community and the friendship and for the joy of being involved in something that’s been so good for us all in Liverpool 8 for so long. You feel like you’re really involved in the place here and a proper part of helping to create the future its people want”

“There are no corporates in sight,” says Ronnie of the market, “And the backdrop to the trading and talking is of course the place itself, the point of it all. Residents of the Granby area were forced to live elsewhere when all but these four of the original streets were cleared. Now they’re coming back each month to check what’s happening to the streets now and how they might help. New people turning up to try out new ideas, musical, artistic and enterprising in an interested and interesting place.”

The future we want isn’t some idealised, unworkable uptopia. It’s a future that puts us in control of the city we love. Because, sometimes, we know best.

The future is Granby Streets.

5 Responses to “Granby Streets – The Future Starts Now”

  1. Jane Nolan

    Spot on; we will always need the ‘Big Boys’ as there is a demand for low-high end chain stores from the majority of people ( we’re all guilty of using a soul-less retail store every once in a while, be honest). However, Bold Street is the perfect example of the ‘people’ leading the way and turning independent dreams into reality. Just think, if we could have had the chutzpah in the 70’s, Commutation Row might still exist.

  2. This is just so obvious, which makes it all the more depressing and frustrating to watch politicians wilfully fail to acknowledge it and do what they think’s best (read: more profitable) instead.

    I might disagree slightly about the leisure terrace at Liverpool ONE, though. Whilst it’s obviously populated by the big chains and completely lacks the soul and verve of Bold Street, those big names have their place, and in the heart of the city’s main shopping complex, along with all the high street brands, is probably it. I’m not sure that exciting, independent restaurants like those on Bold Street would have opened there even if Grosvenor had removed the obvious financial obstacles to doing so, and I’m not sure that the many visitors to the city who come for the popular, chain-store shopping experience would have been as willing to eat and drink in restaurants with names they didn’t recognise in the same numbers as they do in the likes of Zizzi and Las Iguanas.

    The continued clearing of beautiful old buildings and streets across the city saddens me, especially when I see their flimsy, ephemeral replacements. Why can’t more of these be brought back to life like the Granby Four Streets rather than demolished and replaced (or not)? How much does the law governing the reclaiming of VAT on new builds but not refurbishments affect things?

  3. david_lloyd

    Yeah, I totally take your point about chains. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Byron and Cote and a few others. But a whole row? I dunno – it could have found room for some surprises – some semblance of place, know what I mean? And it has happened in, say Trinity in Leeds with their street food (horrible overused tag, I know) market. To be honest, even Liverpool ONE itself admits that it needs to do more to bring in local businesses – they originally talked of a market along Paradise Street. Never happened. Anyway, thanks for commenting and yeah, here’s hoping this is the start of something…

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