Who said what to whom. Claim and counterclaim. Doddery old duffers claiming selective memory. It doesn’t really matter. Managed decline of our great Northern, industrial cities was the master plan. Of that there is no doubt. Look all around us and the scars and empty brownfield sites show a city in rapid shrinkage over the past generation. Yes, Hestletine breathed life back to the docks. But the Tories, in their messianic zeal to kill the unions, and with them our manufacturing base, have laid waste to our industrial heartlands. Because, let’s face it, making stuff is so last century. Look at rich net exporters, the Germans. The Iron Lady must be spinning in her twin set.
In truth, though, the story is more nuanced than any argument based on purely party political lines. It’s about Militant, and Capital of Culture, and NewHeartlands, and Liverpool Vision and It’s Liverpool… a confusion of agencies, ideologies, rhetoric and experiments: on us. For our own good. By others.
But how many of them spoke for us? And what does rhetoric actually look like, in bricks and mortar, jobs and investment?
As ever, we’re left to pick up the pieces when the next great idea falls by the wayside. But, as ever, and against the odds, we’ve been doing just that. The city’s DIY ethic is stronger than ever. Silently, creatively, and passionately, we have created a Renaissance of our own. Our creative sector has taken many of these abandoned spaces, draughty office blocks and unfinished hotel schemes – and turned them into the dizzying cauldrons of events, exhibitions, club nights, studios and rehearsal rooms.
But 2011 saw a slight sea-change in the creative sector’s fortunes (in fact, some might say, since the Capital of Culture). Biggs leaves the Biennial, Grunenberg leaves the Tate, and there is rumpus at the Bluecoat. Elsewhere, as already mentioned, venues shift, shut and cease trading.
And, while it’s too early to tell how things will settle down, there is comfort in the chaos. The city’s never been one for standing still for too long, we’re not overly concerned about the loss of artistic directors and venues. It’s a skin-shedding exercise that can only be healthy for us, SevenStreets thinks – just look at Camp and Furnace. Bringing raves back to the city. That’s a hands-in-the-air from us.
CityPictures have recently released a 45 minute snap-shot documentary of our city, filmed over the past couple of years. Ostensibly, it’s about the city, post Capital of Culture. In reality, it’s a whistle stop tour – showing us how we got here. From 1207 to now. If you’re looking for managed decline, that’s there too. But, interestingly, much of the film already looks like a historical document: many of the venues and spokespeople now talk of the ghosts of a city we’ve lost – with CUC especially notable.
But that, actually, is our real story. Continuity through change. And this film is as good a way to take stock, as a turbulent and confusing year ends, as any.
Happy New Year.
You can download the film from CityPicture’s website, and order a DVD of it next month