Inverness had a big idea. It wanted to be the capital of the Highlands, and needed to attract brains, brawn and businesses to make it happen. Not enough for them the day tripping Nessie watchers and the Shearing coach parties.

But Inverness had a problem: Aberdeen was where the oil money was, and Glasgow and Edinburgh the only Scottish cities with any real international clout.

So Inverness offered a bounty – a £25,000 incentive for families wanting to relocate, and work in the far north. Now it’s Britain’s fastest growing city, a biomedical, renewable energy and digital media hub, where 90% of the city’s smart workforce is paid above the national average.

Inverness’ Big Idea. It paid off.

Liverpool? When we talk about our life sciences ambitions we talk of us being ‘as big as Singapore’ (just as Joe Anderson said LIMF will be ‘bigger than the Edinburgh Festival’). The comparisons are odious and ridiculous and show us less as city that champions ambition, but as one with with a conceited idea of our place in the world. And one that really hasn’t been out much.

The world’s best cities don’t feel the need to size each other up at the urinal. They do their thing. They have belief. They have Big Ideas.

Nantes was never exactly on the tourist map. Economic difficulties closed much of the city’s shipbuilding yards and related industries. The city council had a Big Idea. In 2001, a major redevelopment scheme was launched, and the warehouses of the former shipyards were given over to the Machines of the Isle created by two artists, who now front La Machine and Royal De Luxe. We’ve seen their spellbinding work in the city. And we may do again.

In 2004, Time named Nantes as “the most liveable city in Europe”. In 2010, Nantes was named a hub city for innovation in the Innovation Cities Index, and the city was ranked 36th globally from 289 cities and 4th overall in France for innovation. Are the two facts connected? We’d say they were. The town got its Mojo back, an international brand, and exposure (in the form of oversized elephants and deep sea divers) the like of which no PR campaign could ever compete with.

manchester_christmas_markets_2009__26_Then there’s Manchester. Which big idea do we pick? The fact that, 15 years ago, it saw that markets had a future, invested, built a strong team (for year round and special events) and was the first UK city to import the continental-style Christmas market to our shores, in 1999 – a full SEVEN years before Liverpool.

Travel experts, Frommers, rate Manchester’s Christmas market among the world’s top ten. It attracts 1.5m visitors to the Albert Square site alone – with estimates of 7m visitors across the city’s nine other sites, generating tens of millions of pounds for the local economy. Liverpool’s big idea? To give the markets to Geraud. Genius.

Cities with big ideas are cities that plan for a future they control – for a future they shape. Rather than moaning about cut backs and recession, they think their way out of trouble.

And they’re not all big hitters, either.

Bruce Springsteen’s Youngstown is a rust belt city in America’s Ohio heartland. But, with the collapse of the steel industry, the town began to shrink, as residents fled to look for work elsewhere. But, despite its deteriorating reputation, Youngstown refused to give up.

The town Council had a big idea – a radical one at that – The Youngstown 2010 Plan.

The plan? To make a cleaner, and smaller Youngstown. To embrace downsizing – to snatch a chink of hope from the jaws of defeat. Not to bleat, moan, and threaten Draconian cuts. To think, to commit, and to act.

By downsizing the city’s infrastructure to match its declining population, Youngstown fully embraced the model of the shrinking city – and its resultant benefits. It tore down warehouses and abandoned houses to make green spaces, urban gardens and growing plots – and, while they were at it, safer, more liveable neighbourhoods.

The plan also called for diversification in the economy, which used to be almost entirely based on manufacturing. Tax incentive programmes attracted investment throughout the city. Business Incubators favoured new tech with zero business rates and, now, the town is turning around. In 2007, it was named America’s fastest growing technology town. Downtown has been transformed from a ghost town to a vibrant location for restaurants, bars, apartments and other businesses.

What’s Liverpool’s big idea? I mean, apart from wiping out the bus lanes, and begging Peel to start building a whole new city (because, what, we’ve given up one this one? And, what exactly, is the Liverpool Waters idea, anyway?)

We’re not denying the scale and seriousness of the city’s budgetary woes. But we’re sick of the rhetoric coming from Dale Street: of fear and loathing, of sackcloth and ashes, of cultureless summers and winters of discontent. We are, as my mum says, where we are. The question is: where do we go from here?

We look to our leaders for ideas. That’s a currency Liverpool’s never been short of in the past – from dry docks to railways, skyscrapers to medical officers – so now, how about a few more where they came from?

And it doesn’t take money. SXSW started with two journalists, a booking agent and $10,000. Now it earns Austin $200 million. Will LIMF or Sound City (or both) be our SXSW? We hope not. The best cities innovate – and we have the talent to create something uniquely Liverpool here.

And if our Biennial’s budget is slashed, maybe we look to Grand Rapid Michigan’s ArtPrize, which began as an experiment, with a budget of just £100k. The idea? To transform every possible space, by artists of all background, in an open-to-anyone competition. No central curation. No ArtPrize staff selecting the work. Yes, a completely different beast to the Biennial – but, perhaps, proof enough that there is another way?

The event (and the city), has become a premier cultural magnet – the biggest art draw in the Midwest, generating millions for the economy, half a million visitors, and huge, global awareness. More than that, it now attracts over 200 artists, for free – who come because they want to be a part of it.

We can make this happen.

So, what’s your big idea?

38 Responses to “Liverpool: What’s Your Big Idea?”

  1. John Meadowcroft

    Spent a week in Nantes at the end of September. The similarities between it and Liverpool (and to an extent Birkenhead) are astounding. The only difference being Nantes put its money where its mouth was and is reaping the benefits today.

    While there they were celebrating being European Green Capital. Big projects everywhere that weren’t flashes in the pan that they intended to carry on – the opposite of our 2008.

    And loads of trams.

  2. John Meadowcroft

    Spent a week in Nantes at the end of September. The similarities between it and Liverpool (and to an extent Birkenhead) are astounding. The only difference being Nantes put its money where its mouth was and is reaping the benefits today.

    While there they were celebrating being European Green Capital. Big projects everywhere that weren’t flashes in the pan that they intended to carry on – the opposite of our 2008.

    And loads of trams.

  3. Carl Ryan

    who needs big ideas when we’ve got the Cavern? haha, its a wonder the city is still here despite the best efforts of the council over the years. having said that though, getting the cruise ships back was a good idea

  4. My big idea is to lead the UK and make ourselves Britain’s cycle capital. All we need to do is to turn those lost bus lanes into proper exclusive cycle routes. That was Copenhagen’s Big Idea and despite massive resistance at first, it truly paid off. Their cycling has become their pride and joy attracting many people who want to relocate there for the improved quality of life. Having lived in Copenhagen I can confirm that that was the only significant difference between their city and ours – and what a difference!

  5. not my idea but as published in the seven streets mag – Turn the fly over into our own High Line with shops, cafes, some greenery and open space to enjoy. A new place where the city’s (and beyond) independent and progressive thinkers can come together to put on a new show for everyone, creating something a bit outside the box but more so just doing something daring. And hopefully a progressive space like a High Line could be malleable and evolve quickly with the trends or seasons or years never getting stale or missing the boat on opportunities to stay fresh and vibrant for Liverpool .

  6. Cycles I think is it. 200million on repairing road. Put a big chunk of that into proper cycle lanes, eventually you road bill reduces. More informal red line cycles lanes out in the suburbs. Planning permission for office space must include showers and changing facilities, and of course bike parking. Would transform the health, the wealth (how much are cars and insurance) and liveability and hence attraction to investment.

  7. Build a foot bridge over the Mersey – connecting Birkenhead and Liverpool city centre. Turn Wirral’s Waterfront on its head. Innovate with a peice of iconic engineering and create a year round attraction with countless 24/7 photo ops of Liverpool’s world heritage waterfront.

  8. List all of the empty spaces in our city centre. Put the list on the internet. Encourage people to come forward with ideas of what to do with the space. It is just sitting there, doing nothing. People like myelf, curator of the annual Liverpool Folk and Roots festival, could use those spaces to put on incredible live shows.

    We could reclaim our musical heritage.

  9. Ye Know The Dance

    7 Big Ideas
    1 Imagine There’s No Beatles – get rid of every tired Fab Four statue, tedious tour, sentimental Merseybeat anachronism – Above Us Only Trite Corporate Slogans – free Liverpool from its Mop Top shackles and invest in NEW musical and cultural talent which brings us to….
    2 LIPA – if the best that LIPA can boast is the fucking Wombats then something is rotten in the state of mark feather boa’s underpants. If Holy Paul – praise be upon him – really wants to invest in local talent then try offering scholarships and buraries to kids in granby, in Speke, in Kirkdale, in Huyton and stop chasing Yanky and Scandi rich kids.
    3 Knock down Anfield and Goodison and build a new superstadium on Stanley Park shared by both clubs – keep the money in the area (unlike Man City when they deserted Moss Side) and fuck phoney ‘traditions’ – 60,000 capacity is enough because clubs don’t make their dough from season tickets any more but telly deals and selling their ‘brand’ in the east.
    4 Make Aigburth Road a 70mph zone – stop bizzies making fortunes clocking anyone who goes over 30mph on a eight mile stretch of road into the city – Ok, make it 50 then.
    5 Nationalise all the shitty car parks fleecing people all around the city – build one gigantic free car park fifty stories high in Garston and then a tram terminal into town
    6 Stop all this ridiculous boasting – Liverpool’s the capital of the universe, Liverpool’s the best city ever in the history of cities ever and the Liver buildings are known all over the world by every single person who has ever lived – no, they’re not. No -one cares, so get on with it. why do you have to prove yourself? It stinks of an inferiority complex camouflaged as civic zealousness.
    7 Recognise that Liverpool has a unique social and cultural history and that it is not really a socialist city but an anti-authoritarian city and celebrate the triumphs with humility – stop opposing new schemes for the sake of it, stop clinging to a romanticised past, stop living in a nostalgic bubble and wake up to new possibilities, new ideas, new ways of doing things. Chasing Chinese wedge is demeaning – follow Detroit instead, create from the rubble of post-industrial neglect.

  10. The runway at John Lennon Airport could easily be doubled in length and width with almost zero impact on it’s surroundings. This would allow airlaunched suborbital spacecraft (Virgin Galactic) and airlaunched orbital spacecraft (Stratolaunch, Pegasus, Antonov Aeroluanch, Skylon) to take off and land there, making JLA the only working spaceport in all of Europe.
    The global space industry is worth £400bn and is growing at around 9% per year. Also, private space travel is already making companies and regional spaceports VERY rich.
    A number of passenger carrying suborbital spaceliners are currently being flight tested. The next stage is ‘point to point’ flight, which people often framed as London to Sydney in 3 hours. Let’s talk about Liverpool to Beijing/LA/Rio/New Delhi in 2 hours!
    Extending the runway in this manner, for the purpose, would secure Liverpool’s future for centuries to come.

  11. paul connolly

    How about a Liverpool Free State?…Subvert the current paradigm of patronising pats on the head from central government and a London based media that ignores anything of cultural worth outside it’s borders. Stop being just another provincial English city and think about what makes us unique and stop trying to copy everywhere else. Getting rid of Uncle Joe and his paucity of ideas would be a start.

  12. You’re kidding, right… The difference between Spaceport and a spaceport from which we can launch orbital spacecraft is not insignificant. Though those Dr Who exhibitions are certainly fun!

  13. Do it again? But with a higher profile this time?
    One thing that Liverpool has never been lacking is a sense of public ownership. Urban Strawberry Lunch in St Lukes is a great example of turning something vacant and disused into a cultural draw.

  14. david_lloyd

    some good ideas there. esp the superstadium. But it’ll never happen. even though it would be amazing for the city, the two sides are too entrenched to even consider it. such is the tribalism of the terraces.

  15. John Walker

    There are so, so many differences in policies from schooling to public services, planning regulations through to taxation (basic rate of income tax is 42%?, I paid 52% on a middle salary), thus explaining why Scandinavian nations plan for healthier, more content, egalitarian populations. Friends I resided with had a 1960’s Fiat 500, which as a classic car avoided road taxes (heavier than ours) and more importantly avoided the 100% tax on imported vehicles into Denmark (it doesnt make any cars), making vehicle ownership a very expensive prospect. Historical housing / apartment stock was never built for vehicles (having the smallest car in the city was no guarantee of a parking space within 1km of the apartment), whilst new developments have a fraction of the parking allocations that the UK appears to provide.

  16. home advantage liverpool

    i’m working on a virtual hotel in anfield – a way for the community to accommodate football (and tourism) visitors. wouldn’t it be great if the fans who think of anfield as holy ground got to benefit the local residents with some cash and some community spirit? at the moment the HUGE tourism economy does sod all for real people.

  17. Dominic Wilkinson

    Inverness is a dump surrounded by supermarkets and soulless business parks, sometimes economic vision just is not enough (however successful the statistics), you need to have ambition for the form and spaces that make the place unique and pleasurable to be in.

  18. Diana Heredia

    Stop copying other cool places! I’m not from here and I love it, but the lack of confidence, communication and vision is frustrating. Liverpool has a lot to offer but struggles to show it and then there is the thing about improving the quality of what is already there rather than wait for it to outlive its shelf life.
    We are not New York, Copenhagen or Manchester and copying them will not make the city more lovable or livable. Working on the diversity already here and creating little pockets of irresistible places that are unique will make people want to copy us. Big ideas come from innovation not reproduction!

  19. Gary Kilroy

    First and foremost our political and business leaders need to stop being silent on HS2 missing out our city. For a big idea rebuild the Overhead Railway and the double the size of the Merseyrail network. Reopen the Bootle and North Mersey branches to passenger use. Rebuild the Liverpool loop line and the spur to Skem. Reopen the Halton curve to allow direct trains from Lime st to North Wales. And build this

  20. So, ye know the dance, lets get rid of the one attraction that makes Liverpool a world beater and has created over 40.000 jobs and also brings in £ 3billion. The reason that the “kids” in Granby, Speke, Kirkdale and all the other places you didn’t mention are not at LIPA is because they have no talent, talent will out. I won’t even mention football.
    I take it you have been done speeding along Aigburth Road.
    No we will bin your ideas.

  21. The place with the open space inside and shops, cant recall name where carluccios is would be amazing for daily live drama/music showcasing what’s on locally or theatre and arty school showcasing raw talent like Covent Garden does….you read here first folks….

  22. Dave Foulis

    I think we should build a huge statue of a Liverbird on a plinth (statue of Liberty proportions) overlooking the River Mersey – Possibly on the hill at Everton. What a tourist attraction it could be

  23. Well to be honest Liverpool is living in the shadows of the Beatles, quite sickening. Idea’s, wow I have millions. probably about 100 out of them are huge and long lasting investments and future proof. It’s funny this world because someone like myself living on 4k a year (I manage barely) can come up with better results and ethnics than most of these bloody plant pots chatting here. Gary kilroy got this a little bit right with clean energy. abandon nuclear power plants (This will take time as it’s the biggest power source of shit government can come up with) but their working on it slowly. Maybe invest in trying to make a powerful fuel from sand there’s enough of it like wouldn’t you agree many formats to create power eg: heat, weight, pull, magnetic, solar, but enough about power we have it for now that would be a huge program to do. start with immigration I’m not a racist but when a country’s self origin is becoming out numbered by immigrants it’s time to pull the plug. government have lost control they just wont admit it besides their out numbered really. Here’s one idea I will share but just one because I don’t like making people rich while I stay nothing. Make floating soap. my idea’s will die with me unless I’m proved I will make from it. gosh Imagine if I could go to uni Jesus Education should not cost as 90% of it is bloody digital its a joke really. this is just another banter website about someone probably trying to steal good ideas. if you ask me there’s nothing new under the sun you change England clean power, friendly people, easy happy life yes well done. but somewhere there will be a country that fucks it all up. So just think before you start slurping idea’s out like space ports. people die in those investments I don’t like it. and for what for rich to enjoy space. because nobody here will be going any time soon. you ain’t rich enough face it rich stay rich poor stay poor. that’s how it goes so if you don’t like it then say good bye and do it. because this planet wont be lasting long with the way the worlds going nobody is caring about it. everybody all lost in online games or online shopping or facebook all this shit. don’t get me wrong i spend about 15 hours each day online playing games and self studying it’s all I feel like I want to do because there nothing out there and I’ve looked trust me. now I’m just here for the ride. best but yes worlds biggest mistake INTERNET feel free to email me if you have any comments I can go all day I have knowledge and a lot of it from my self no one else because I I’m lost on a planet with a life of no meaning and a world full of tricks and traps. its fucking ugly!

  24. […] We don’t need giants. We don’t need banners covering up empty buildings. Empty buildings are fine. Don’t worry. It’s like putting your mum’s foundation on your zits. Quickest way for people to call you zitface, right? Not every brownfield site has to have computer generated, Minority Report-style gleaming skyscrapers wished upon it. They could be, just, parkland. That’s ok too. […]

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