Post by Dr Pete North
The Liverpool Daily Post recently reported on the visit to Liverpool of what it billed as a world-leading urban design expert. Canadian Professor Trevor Boddy argued that Liverpool has real estate “most cities would die for” in the form of prime land on the waterfront which would be a major draw for the Chinese market if it were developed into residential properties. Professor Boddy argued: “Waterside real estate, I don’t think in global terms you (Liverpool) realise how valuable that is, especially to Asian markets. No-one can compete with it.”
I was thinking about this in the light of my Low Carbon Liverpool project, which is thinking about whether Liverpool has the policies in place to combine prosperity and social inclusion with what we need to do to avoid dangerous climate change – reducing emissions. Despite my doubts about the possibility or desirability of Liverpool becoming ‘Shanghai on Mersey’ (look at the picture of Pudong below) my immediate thought was the incompatibility with reducing emissions with marketing proposed developments such as Liverpool Waters as pieds a tierre to the East Asian market. Is this the best we can make of our world heritage waterfront?
Then this weekend I made a visit back to my old stamping ground, the Elephant and Castle, London. Ten years ago I wrote a couple of papers recounting the experience of what was actually a creditable attempt to involve residents of a prime piece of real estate, the Elephant and Castle in large-scale regeneration plans focused on the redevelopment of a large local authority estate and the reconfiguring of a major transport interchange. Using government SRB monies, Southwark Council formed a development board to oversee the regeneration which included local residents as directors. A significant amount of social housing was included in the plans: working people would still be able to live in the heart of a world city. What was a laudable attempt at community engagement basically floundered due to the reluctance of officers to let go, to really involve the community in the plans – the gap between rhetoric and realty was too great, and the proposed developer pulled out.
10 years later a new development is in place, and the estate, the Heygate, is now empty and boarded up. A few hardy tenants and squatters are hanging on, with the district heating system switched off: it seems only a matter of time before they give up an unequal battle. Nonetheless, many local residents and activists formed a group called Southwark Notes which continues to develop community-based visions for the Elephant. Supported by the RGS’s Urban Geography Research Group and the academic journal Antipode they convened a conference on gentrification in South London.
I attended, and the trip enabled me to revisit the estates on which I expended a large amount of shoe leather ten years ago. Ideas there were aplenty, but this time there was no way for residents to influence the regeneration from the inside as there had been ten years ago. All there was were sporadic opportunities to be consulted on agendas set by the powerful, which those at the conference condemned as inadequate.
The Elephant of the future would not be a place for current residents. No social housing was now proposed. Rather, receipts from the development of prime inner city and waterfront real estates would be recycled into council housing and leisure facilities away from the river, where you would get more “bang for your buck”.
Looking at a number of newspaper cuttings in the groups archive, the difference between ten years ago and now became clear, and Professor Boddy’s views began to make some sense in the Liverpool context. Would it make more sense to market Liverpool Waters to international elites, and spend the receipts on the housing, leisure centres, libraries, developing job and business opportunities and the like that North Liverpool needs? Given the scale of the spending cuts that local authorities can expect over coming years, might this be an example of Liverpool acting as what David Harvey calls a ‘entrepreneurial city’? Or should we be calling for more socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable approaches to the regeneration that North Liverpool so badly needs?
North, P. (2003). Communities at the heart? Community action and urban policy in the UK. In Urban renaissance? New Labour, community and urban policy. Edited by R. Imrie and M. Raco. Bristol, The Policy Press: 121-138.
DeFilippis, J. and P. North (2004). The Emancipatory Community? Place, Politics and Collective Action in Cities. In The Emancipatory City? Paradoxes and Possibilities. Edited by L. Lees. London, Sage: 72-88.