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?

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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. unnamed-7Some 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.)

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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.

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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. night-market-downtown-brooklynThink 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

unnamed 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

7AGK_HToo 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.

Who’s in?

(Sweeting Street pic: Ronnie Hughes)

28 Responses to “Home Improvements: Seven small ways to make Liverpool better”

  1. Carl Ryan

    As far as becoming cycle friendly, that would require the relevant departments to employ people with a brain. The city isn’t pedestrian or car friendly yet so not much hope for cyclists. Just look at the placement of ‘street furniture’, makes the pavements like an obstacle course. Derelict areas get demolished, here’s a chance to change road layouts to enable cycle and bus lanes, make junctions better and reduce congestion. Nah lets just let new developement take place on the existing footprint. Forward thinking and future-proofing in Liverpool, not on your nelly.

  2. bornagainst

    Can I ask what the source of this data is?

    “Liverpool’s running at a shameful 25 a year, and rising”

    I’m a pretty keen cyclist, but this seems unbelievably high for Liverpool. I keep an eye on the news, but 2 a month doesn’t ring true – possibly a large overestimate?

  3. bornagainst

    Interesting article….

    “If our roads are too dangerous, take a look at our pavements.”

    I’d sort of disagree with this with regards to cycling.

    Pedestrians should be given priority – hence even your own suggestion for the pedestrianisation of Bold St. Public Transport & Cycling should be given the next priorities… and so if space is needed it should be taken away from the space currently given to motorised traffic (This space is often just parking space anyway – not actual space that moves people – E.G. Bold St is largely car parking…)

    Liverpool (and wider) seems to have no interest in promoting cycling, despite the obvious benefits. Examples of missed opportunities abound. The Strand rebuild gives cyclists nothing. Liverpool One? = Who knows it’s so vague! Liverpool waters plans show nothing. Otterspool prom route has steps in it! The new Crosby > Switch Island bypass = nothing. Vauxhall Rd (northbound) is a fucking deathtrap with pinch points. Woolton Rd bike lane is a car park.

    The current work on Leeds St promises segregated cycling, but I’ll hold my nose til it’s finished, and it won’t benefit many commuters.

    The Poynton experiment is interesting, but I’d be very interested to see if it’s actually increased the amount of pedestrian and cycling traffic (although it does genuinely seem to reduce accidents – possibly simply due to reduction in speed)

    We simply cannot forever give motorised traffic a free pass. If space is needed, take it from them who already have the most of it.

  4. bornagainst

    Ta!…

    Certainly very glad to hear it’s not 25 deaths.

    But as a statistic, I wonder how much light it can shed? An absolute figure isn’t really that useful without knowing the volume of cycling. Cities with a very low figure are actually not necessarily safer – they are just cities where people don’t cycle at all.

    Without digging into stats, it’s the death & injured per billion km that tends to paint a better picture…

  5. bornagainst

    “But that the figure is rising, I guess, is concern enough?”

    It’s a good question, but could this stat be turned round to indicate that Liverpool has had a recent increase in cycling overall? Post economic downturn and a general increase in interest in cycling after 2007? So, as unpleasant as it may appear, an increase in KSI could show an upturn in cycle use.

    I would love to see a real increase in (safe) cycling in Liverpool.

    Come 7am tomorrow morning, cycling KSI’s in Liverpool will be firmly on my mind… :/

  6. Littoral

    Obviously it has not occurred to you that the upper end of Bold Street is the better one partly because it does not suffer the curse of pedestrianisation. You are right about ‘shared spaces’ however.

  7. david_lloyd

    No. I think it’s better because the rents are cheaper and it’s become a foodie hub. And I bet they’d all love to put tables and chairs out. Pedestrianisation isn’t a panacea. But it would be a real win here. I think.

  8. Littoral

    Smarter local authorities are now doing away with pedestrianisation. There are few places that cannot be made worse with it. I’d even de-pedestrianise Church Street – like most pedestrianised streets it becomes desolate and at least a bit scary after main business hours. The decline of the once healthy lower Bold Street accelerated right after it was pedestrianised and the improvement of the upper section because it escaped it. Yes, clever things can be done with traffic calming, wider pavements, shared areas and so but the least thing that street, and nearly all others need, is an late application of a failed 1970s measure that caused enough damage to Liverpool, and many other cities and towns around the country and elsewhere (including many now reversing it), already.

  9. david_lloyd

    I think you’re conflating the macro with the micro. I agree about church street and the general over zealous application of pedestrianisation. But used judiciously, to create piazza- style spaces, where people can stop and mill about, not just walk through? Yes. Bold street’s upper stretch is not made better by vehicle access. I think that’s a leap too far. But it would be interesting to run a trial period of restricted access/the addition of seating, and see what happens.

  10. bornagainst

    I’m not sure I agree that pedestrianisation has a negative impact. Liverpool One is largely pedestrianised and has been rather successful.

    Undoubtedly Church st is quiet after the shops have shut, but I’m not sure it would be improved by having cars driving down a road through the middle?

    Look at Northumberland St in Newcastle. It was once the A1 – by any measure a major road and it was pedestrianised. It has been a real success for retail.

    Birmingham (a pretty awful city to navigate on foot) is betting heavily that pedestrianisation will bring money into the city – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-30503702

  11. Will C

    I’d be interested in seeing some roads where there have previously been bus lanes be used for creative parking and outside space use. For instance Wavertree High St, where for the minimal cost of some planters and judicious use of paint, the area could be assisted in rejuvenating the shops and cafes, benefitting local residents and business owners.

  12. david_lloyd

    I think we’ve definitely reached peak on street parking. It’s horrible, dangerous and bad for micro neighbourhoods. Let’s scrap it.

  13. mogwaiman

    Living in Newcastle I’d argue that the pedestrianisation of Northumberland St had little to do with the retail success of that part of the city. It has been a retail destination since the 18th Century and many retail experts point to the arrival of M&S and C&A in the the early 1930’s alongside the already popular Fenwick’s as the point at which it became THE place to shop. It wasn’t pedestrianised until the late 1990’s and by then already had some of the most expensive retail spaces to rent outside of central London. Pedestrianisation may have made it more pleasant but I’m not convinced it made the tills ring any more.

    I do think that any pedestrianisation needs to be well thought and looked at in a much wider context of how it affects the city across a much wider area but also what (as outlined in the article) is DONE in those spaces to entice people in.

    You also need to look at access. In Newcastle, pedestrianisation, together with an increasingly bizarre road development scheme is making it harder and harder to simply get into the city by car. I’m no car fanatic, especially when we have a fantastic light railway system, but there are times people need to come into town by car and it’s becoming harder and harder. Even just to get in and drop off/collect people from the train station has been hampered by an insane multi-million pound road re-development that has only served to cause long lines of traffic. I seem to spend more time in my car than spending money in the city. If I didn’t work in the city I suspect I would spend even less money here, pedestrianisation or not.

  14. joeshoo

    I remember chatting with the venerable Roger Hill who mentioned that at one stage the whole of Bold Street and Leece Street up to the Everyman was mooted to be pedestrianised at one stage in the 80s – Liverpool’s version of Las Ramblas – a grand idea that stayed that way as usual. Bold St is an absolute gem too, always buzzing with small shops. Would be great to have it carless.

  15. goldenblls

    I love the alleyways idea, it’s not difficult to imagine this idea coming to fruition. As for Bold Street well this has to be done.

    Imagine a walk down on a hot Summers day and instead of being trapped behind a slow walker, having to leapfrog a street post to get past, there is a pavement cafe outside each of the wonderful eateries such as Mowgli, Nolita, Maray, Italian Club etc.

    It would give the street a whole new lease of life. Please let’s make this happen.

  16. Jay Martin

    It’s very regrettable that the CityBikes scheme is in competition with another, practically identical scheme. Bike & Go has a prime spot in Central Station – and nowhere else in the city centre. I understand why this has happened – Bike & Go is a big railway station-based initiative between Merseytravel, Northern Rail and, weirdly, Greater Anglia Trains; and has geographical reach right across the North (and Essex) – but it still seems like a missed opportunity for a bit of synergy.

  17. helen McAllister

    Liverpool is a very interesting city.I really think so much more can be done to restore some of those magnifiersent building just rotting.Also the streets need a good clean.Bolt St.Which was a wonderful place to visit years ago.Is now used as a throw way your chewing gum place.Get a grip on the place.More and more visiters love coming to that city.And put a stop to all the clubers and fast food eater.Throwing up and discarding their food and containers on the street.Be proud of your city.Dont be so lazy.Have big clean up days,were people get together and clean a all that mess.Thank you

  18. Nicola Boden

    Not sure I would venture to the top of Bold Street if Forbidden Planet and Rennies weren’t there. The original features on the Rennies storefront just shows how lost that street has become. Those Artists know beauty, that is for sure.

  19. KevStinx

    Anything above first floor level on Lime Street and Renshaw street is an eye sore. It is clearly visible that these buildings are not maintained, not a pretty sight, makes Liverpool appear grubby for first time visitors. I can not imagine being on the tour bus and having a lovely view of the polluted buildings.

  20. With regard to your 7th point regarding adopting a common sense approach to planning. I agree that common sense is lacking somewhat from planning, however initiating pink zones might be difficult within the national framework of planning. However I am of the view that many of the issues you have highlighted can be addressed by the involved private parties receiving guidance from planning consultants. With good professional guidance many of these issues can be circumvented. However the next question is where can you find a planning consultant who is affordable enough and whose time is not occupied with applying for student accommodation.

  21. burnan

    Brilliant idea re alleyways; I seem to remember Space magazine doing a feature on Fazakerly Street some ten years and inviting three architects to come up with designs for re-populating the street with retail and food stalls. This idea is small enough to be doable but potentially transformative when you get one street undertaken and set a precedent.

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