As we ready ourselves for the city’s next world record breaking attempt (the biggest catwalk is planned for the 4th of July Cunard spectacular. You know, to join the world’s biggest Love Me Do singalong, and the world’s biggest Santa-costumed run…) we thought we’d turn away from our addiction to big for a while, and mull over some smaller but, we think, smarter ways to get the city moving in the right direction, rather than sashaying down a catwalk in this season’s Matalan jeggings. Nice though that is, we’re sure.
Big ideas, such as Kings Dock’s redevelopment (pic above) are great and much needed. But, sometimes, instead of applying a cookie-cutter mentality to development (Big Wheels, Big Supermarkets, Big Skyscrapers), we should look at what we’ve got, what makes us different, and build from there. Because, sometimes, big wins come from sweating the small stuff.
1) Let us decide where the money’s spent
When, in the past, we’ve had a pop at how Joe doles out ‘discretionary’ sponsorship of events or projects, what we’ve mostly been worried about is the transparency of such procedures. We still harbour these worries.
There is no doubt that times are tight. But it’s true that little injections of cash can make a big difference to the right start ups. The Mayor’s Discretionary Fund, £1million, is a sizeable chunk of cash. Why don’t we, as a city, decide what just ten percent of it should be spent on? Surely Joe’s time’s best spent on dealing with the big stuff, instead of defending red carpet jollies and relying on the bad advice of potentially partisan courtiers – people who wouldn’t know the Kazimier from a karzy? What about a Liverpool Mayor’s Fund Fair – a level playing field where awards ceremonies, have-a-go hoteliers, widget manufacturers, concepts for new festivals, shows and tells? A fair in name, and in nature. If we choose (hey, it’s our money, folks), we’ve only ourselves to blame. Set up a weekend’s showcase in the new Exhibition Centre. Offer £10,000 for the ten ideas the city believes have the best chance to grow into something amazing. See how that sharpens up our ideas.
Liverpool’s municipal mentality is, still, the enemy within. The Mayor’s new Creative and Innovation Commission finds space for Echo editor Alastair Machray – the man who thinks reprinting endless Trip Advisor reviews passes for ideas. There are some good people on there, but not a single person under 50. Because what have they ever given us? Apart from FACT, the Everyman, The Liverpool Festival of Psychedelia, Leaf, the Liverpool Poets, Cream, Homotopia, Rampworx, Salt Dog Slim’s, Homebaked, The Beatles. Pesky meddling under 50s. What do they know?
2) Make a Pavement Landgrab
The CityBike Scheme is a great, but underused, facility. Not surprising when you learn that, outside of London, Liverpool has the worst violation rates for jumping a red light, and the second highest rate of car-on-cycle accidents. Our roads just aren’t the place for families to take to the bike. A summit was held in the city last year to look at ways to reduce that. But we think they missed a trick. If our roads are too dangerous, take a look at our pavements. Some of them are more than twenty foot wide. Is it too much of a land grab to slice some of that space into two (like they do in Antwerp, pic, Copenhagen and other bike-friendly cities) and demarcate a lane for cycles and a lane for pedestrians? It would work on Duke Street, The Strand, Rodney Street, much of the Georgian Quarter, huge swathes of the city, in fact. And all for, what, the small price of a bicycle-safe splash of red paint?
Ultimately, though, we shouldn’t separate street users into their own discrete channels. An odd thing happens when you make our streets completely open access. They become much safer. One of the busiest junctions in the UK, in Poynton, Cheshire got rid of the pavement/road divide completely. Sounds insane? Not really. The town scored an incredible uplift in road safety and traffic management. Traffic flowed faster, cycle deaths dropped to zero (Liverpool’s running at a shameful 25 killed or seriously injured a year, and rising). And they didn’t even need to bring in a 20mph limit. Watch this and see how it could work for Renshaw, Berry Hardman and Duke Streets. (A taster of this thinking has happened already, outside the Philharmonic Hall.)
3) Bring made-in-Liverpool food into the city centre
We’ve talked before about the poor street food offer brought to the city by the lamentable shanty towns of Geraud – it’s especially galling when you know our city’s enjoying a real food renaissance. Make every Sunday Street Food Sunday. Offer the length of Lord Street, free, for street food vendors to come and showcase their wares (as they do in Leeds’ Trinity Market, pic, or London’s brilliant KERB) – a guerilla-style take-over. Gotta be better than those two Britain’s Got Talent blokes with masks on their faces, yeah? Throw in some competition – offer an empty retail unit for six months for the trader who gets our mouths watering the most. See if we can’t kick start some home cooked success, and bring a touch of that Bold Street magic down into the centre of town.
4) Learn to love our alleyways
What if we said that, in the heart of the city, there were miles of empty streets, hiding in plain site, with not a single retail outlet on them? What if we said it would cost next to nothing to seed them with start ups, and turn them into a processional route lined with some of the city’s brightest makers, bakers, printers and fashionistas? With a bit of love, some simple awnings and some on-street animation Liverpool’s ancient lanes and alleyways – from Sweeting Street to Leather Lane, Union Court to Davies Street – could become modern-day, all-weather gallerias. Think it can’t happen? Brooklyn says differently (pic). Sure, ours would have a touch more grit. But what else are these streets doing? They used to be home to industry. Now they’re silted up tributaries. Let’s bring them back to life.
5) Give our accidental tourists a reason to return
Our friends from Leeds’ Culture Vultures were caught short recently. Needed to use our Passport Office’s four hour emergency service. Guess what? Thousands and thousands do the same. That’s a captive audience, kicking their feet, at the wrong end of Old Hall Street. “The city should offer a free tour while they’re waiting,” Culture Vulture’s Emma Bearman suggested. And we loved the idea. Then we thought about offering ‘dipstick experiences’ (yeah, we need to work on the name) for those who find themselves in the city for four, or six hours, or who have time to kill before they head home. Tate’s Andrea Nixon talks of how she works with ACC Liverpool to welcome frazzled delegates to spend their lunchtime immersed in some world-class art. A simple act. But one which shows our accidental visitors there’s more to us than they thought. Guess what, next time they come, they’ll stay a whole lot longer.
6) Pedestrianise Bold Street
This has to happen. We know there’s been much debate over this but, frankly, anyone who doesn’t see this as the logical next step in the street’s renaissance is either deluded or working undercover for Liverpool ONE. At the top of the street, the dwell time is practically zero. You simply can’t linger here, for fear of being mowed down by a baby stroller, or merely crushed in the general melee. It’s an unfortunate quirk of fate that the best bits of the street are at the top, where the pavement is thinner than the crust on an Italian Club Pizza (yum). So the council hasn’t got the cash for extensive engineering works? Simple, just block the street to traffic. That, at least, would be a start.
7) Adopt a commonsense approach to planning
Too many times, we hear of how blunt-edged application of regulations has left the city wanting: why Lucha Libre can’t animate Ropewalks Square with al fresco tables? Because you can’t cross a road with glasses (yeah, really. Even tiny Wood Street). Lean Urbanism advocates a more common sense approach. When Detroit went bankrupt, people simply stopped bothering to get the necessary permission. It side-stepped the often stifling rules and kickstarted the city’s revival. The ‘lean urbanist’ movement aims to strip away all but the most essential regulations to encourage smarter urban re-development. It would allow for the Pall Mall market currently vetoed by an 800 year old charter, to make use of the empty railway arches on Great Howard Street. That’s forward thinking, right? It would mean Friends of the Flyover could start animating the ariel pedestrian walkways now. It would mean the creation of ‘pink zones’ – areas where the red tape is kept to an absolute minimum. Areas of ‘can do’ thinking, where change and experimentation is fast tracked. Turn one neglected neighbourhood (London Road?) into a laboratory. Let’s build it anew, not airbrush it in billboards à la Lime Street?
We’re very good, in this city, at meetings and master-plans. And we’ve more artists’ impressions than could fill the Walker. What if, instead of waiting for the SIF to take shape, we just got on with it? Tactical Urbanism – from yarn bombing to pop-up parklets – does more than deliver a temporary grin to our city manoeuvres. It gives us all a glimpse of just what might be possible if we dare think differently.
(Sweeting Street pic: Ronnie Hughes)