Valuable waterside real estate …

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.”

“Liverpool Waters” – Proposed plans for the redevelopment of the shoreline of the north of the city

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?

Myself and colleagues in Pudong, Shanghai

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. 

The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, 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.

Hairy Geography update!

The full collection of piccies is now in!

Guess all the people in the photo at the bottom of the blog. Please send your answers to Andy Plater ( by 8th December – but please note that your entry is invalid if you’ve not donated. In the event of a draw in the competition, the winner will be judged on their completion of the following sentence: “I heartily applaud the Roxby Movemberists because…”

Thank you very much for your understanding and your support.

The Roxby Movemberists

Whoever could these hirsute chaps be?

On blogging and more…

Andy Davies, one of our lecturers, talked about the potential uses of blogs for academics over on his WordPress site last week.

Andy Davies's Blog

I can’t claim to be an expert here, but there’s been some fascinating blogging by geographers and others on the conflict in Gaza over the past few days.

Firstly, Derek Gregory posted a great analysis of the conflict yesterday, whilst Craig Jones has been posting regular updates on his War, Law & Space blog. The links in the articles lead to a treasure trove of ideas, and also show the relevance of geography to real world situations as they are unfolding.

They’re also evidence of the commitment of some academics to engage and discuss ideas outside the traditional boundaries of ‘the academy’. The seminar I attended yesterday on the violence of housing organised by the good people of Sociology here in Liverpool Uni (see my previous post here) was interesting as some of the residents who have had their lives ripped apart by the Housing Market Renewal Initiative…

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Hairy Geographers Club

This November, quite a few of the male staff and postgrads in the Department have been sprouting facial topiary. This isn’t an attempt to live up to the high standards of geographical fashion (tweed coat, leather elbow patches etc.), as I’m sure you agree, we are all veritable fashionistas (I say this as someone who once gave a lecture with my jumper on back to front!)

Instead, the alarming growth in facial hair in the department is down to Movember, the now annual fundraising scheme which aims to raise money for charitable issues. Whilst Movember is usually about promoting Men’s Health, we’ve taken a slightly different tack in the Department. We’re raising money for a local charity, the Anthony Walker Foundation. Anthony was a schoolboy in Liverpool who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 2005. The Foundation was set up by his family to promote equality and diversity in education, sport and the arts. His mother, Gee, was given an honorary degree by the University last year in recognition of her work with the foundation.

As it’s the last week of November, the facial hair is coming along nicely, although the sense of taste of some staff members is definitely open to question. If you would like to donate any money before we all have a shave on Saturday, then please go to

BREAKING NEWS There will also be a quiz/guess whose ‘tache competition running later on in the week. Blog readers can get a sneak preview below, but in order to be in with a chance of winning the prize, you must have donated! The full list of photos will appear shortly!

An early teaser for this week’s competition – can you guess whose Moustache’s these are? To be in with a chance of winning the prize, you must donate!

Summer 2012: GPGs researching glacial environments in Iceland

Hi, I’m Kerrell and in my third year of the Geology & Physical Geography BSc degree. Over the summer, myself and 3 friends Mike, Lewis and Alex spent 6 weeks conducting our 3rd year dissertation project in South East Iceland.

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Our projects varied but all were linked to the changing environments within a temperate glacier region. Lewis and myself conducted a study on the landforms within an ice marginal zone around 2 glaciers. I focussed on the Virkisjökull & Falljökull twinned glacier system and Lewis on the Svínafellsjökull glacier margin. Mike and Alex also worked within the Virkisjökull & Falljökull system, with Mike focussing on dating Late Holocene behaviour of the glaciers using lichenometry and Alex centring his project on the evolution of the sandur system over 5-6 weeks within the ice contact zone.

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjokull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjökull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Conducting out dissertation in Iceland was a once in a lifetime experience and to work within such close proximity to such an active glacier margin was a fantastic opportunity. On our first day we visited both glaciers that we’d be working on and were in complete awe of the huge glacier bodies that flowed over the mountainous regions. The boys were actually speechless for a few peaceful moments!

An amazing day in South East Iceland

An amazing day in South East Iceland

Having the chance to work in such a dynamic region was very exciting. The landscape, particularly within the ice marginal zone was constantly changing and you could notice subtle differences in the landforms on a daily basis. We were very lucky in that when the UK was experiencing the torrential downpours over summer, we had pretty great weather…we even came back with a tan! Although there was a few days of awful conditions were we just couldn’t do any work in the field due to the drenching rain with water droplets the size of sponges and gale force winds. We even had to prop up the boy’s tent as the wind was so strong.

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjokull & Falljokull

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjökull & Falljökull

Conducting our own research projects was an experience that all of us really enjoyed. On our hour walk to the glacier every day, we’d talk about how working in the field on our own was teaching us so many vital skills and has particularly encouraged myself and Mike to further our education with a postgraduate degree. The work was very tough, the terrain was strenuous and being so far away from home at time took its toll on all of us. But being given the opportunity to work in a temperate glacial zone, that will never be the same again due to constant retreat, was the greatest reward for all our hard work. As well as working hard in the field we also took the time to enjoy Iceland as a beautiful country and visited sites such as Jökulsárlón (where James Bond was filmed!) and also attempted to make friends with the lethal seagull with claws….the Icelandic Skua.

On return to the UK, we had to present a 15 minute talk to staff and fellow students to summarise our findings in the field and we’re all currently working on a 10,000 word report and our final maps to hand in for our overall dissertation mark. The experience was amazing and the fact that we conducted our dissertation in Iceland had the rest of our department a bit jealous. Combining both geological and geomorphological concepts has really allowed us to pursue our dissertation with lots of enthusiasm which will hopefully keep us going to the final deadline.

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón

Taking a trip… by Andy Plater

I thought you’d appreciate a bit of an insight into a conference trip.  I was recently invited to attend a conference at the State Key Laboratory for Estuarine and Coastal Research (SKLEC) at East China Normal University.  As well as taking part in the ‘International Symposium on Climate Change and Human Activities: Coastal Causes and Consequences’.  The event was a culmination of a number of research projects being undertaken at SKLEC, many involving international colleagues, and especially the Dutch coastal engineering community.  I guess I was invited because I’ve now been working with the folks at SKLEC and ECNU for nearly 20 years!  This has involved staff and postgraduate exchanges, training workshops, and various field and laboratory research projects.  This link stems from the President of ECNU, Prof. Yu Lizhong, being a former postgraduate in the Department of Geography at Liverpool, and has now grown into an institutional partnership.

The discussions on the afternoon of the first day centred on various initiatives to attract overseas postgraduates and postdoctoral research fellows to SKLEC.  I was rather dwarfed by the research reputations of the other contributors, especially the Dutch coastal researchers: Roelvink, de Vriend, Stive and Winterwerp.  The best thing was to meet Willard Moore – someone who I’ve wanted to meet since I did my PhD.  He was such a lovely chap. The discussions extended through to the early evening, although I headed off to have dinner with Lizhong, Zhang Weiguo (my good colleague and Deputy Director of SKLEC) and Rick Battarbee (who was visiting various research institutes in China).  I then retired to start on my presentation – and to begin the battle with jet lag.  It’s always easy to get to sleep on the first night in China, but you generally wake up at 3 am.  Still, being up and about at that time gives you an opportunity to Skype home.

Breakfast was non-existent on day two – I’d managed to get back to sleep at about 6 am and ended up waking at 8:30 am for a conference start at 9:00 am.  The sacrifice was worth it; there were plenty of tea and cakes during the session of keynote talks which were mostly on coastal modelling, sedimentary processes and coastal evolution.  Changsheng Chen’s presentation on the development and application of FV-COM was superb.  Ian Townend also did a great job on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.   Despite the serious attractions of a few Tsingtaos with Ulo Mander, Chris Craft and Richard Bellerby (new colleagues arising from off-line discussions during the meeting), I had to go and finish my talk – and again wage war with the early wake-up. 

Attendees at the conference – I’m at the back!

I successfully managed breakfast on day three – along with Chris Craft who was another early riser.  The parallel session talks at the conference were quite a challenge.  The themes of the various talks were, er, varied, as were the experiences of the numerous presenters.  Rather lax chairing of the sessions also meant that we ran on.  The same applied to the afternoon, where over-running of the first session meant that I hurried into the session to give my talk on using numerical modelling in support of coastal management decision-making.  It seemed to go pretty well – and I had a couple of quite challenging questions, notably on how providing advice for decision makers could learn from the experiences of the recently jailed Italian seismologists!

That night was the formal conference dinner at a plush restaurant in Shanghai… and the inevitable karaoke. We knew it was going to be done on a ‘national’ basis so John Dearing and I nervously tackled the various dishes – from hairy crab to whole fish soup.   And as representatives from the various nations did their thing, stage-managed impressively by Dano Roelvink who seemed to be a bit of a karaoke king, I was desperately seeking the lyrics for “On Ilkley Moor baht ’at” on my phone.  As we took to stage, I secured additional performers in the form of Richard Bellerby and Ian Townend.  To the cheers of “The Beatles!” we disappointed the international audience pressed on with our planned rendition.  It wasn’t too bad at all (phew) – especially with Richard knowing where to chip in with some smutty little additions.  The evening ended with me, Ulo, Chris, Richard and Norbert Hertkorn heading off to ‘The Pub’ outside the back gate of the university – and then returning in the early hours by having to climb over the gate!

The fourth day saw the conclusion of the conference in the morning, and then me spending some time in the magnetics laboratory at SKLEC helping Da Dong, a PhD student at ECNU, identify some Chinese diatoms.  Surprisingly, the preservation was really good.  I also had a good chat with Weiguo and Lizhong about setting up a dual PhD programme between the University of Liverpool and ECNU.  UoL graduates really should be thinking of a future in Shanghai, especially in the area of environmental research and resource management.

That evening I headed off to the airport with Simon Neill, a lecturer from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.  He was due to fly back via Abu Dhabi but his flight was cancelled.  Fortunately, he was transferred onto my flight (via Doha), so we compared notes on the crappy superhero and sci-fi films that we watched on the way back.  Do not waste any of your valuable time watching the remake of Total Recall!

The GPG Experience

Hi.  We’re Elle and Jess.  We’re in our third year of the Geology and Physical Geography (F6F8)BSc degree – affectionately known as ‘GPG’.  Over the summer, the two of us spent three weeks in Cornwall working on our Honours projects.  Elle’s project focuses on the record of Quaternary climate and sea-level change preserved in the cliff sections of Godrevy.  Jess’ project is a study of the Holocene evolution of the coastal lowlands near Gwithian.  We were out in all weathers recording the cliff exposures, coring through the sands, clays and peats of the Red River floodplain, and noting the characteristics of the contemporary beach sediments.  It was a real challenge – both mentally and physically – to get the work completed, but it was really worth it.  We both feel that we’ve achieved a huge amount as a result of our independent fieldwork and follow-up analysis.  It is perhaps the first time where we feel we’ve been a part of the geosciences research community.

That’s us – Elle and Jess – doing what we do best: fieldwork!

Following the field, laboratory and library research, we’ve just completed our Honours project presentations where we give a 15 minute summary of our research findings and how they address our stated project aims.  It was a traumatic experience presenting our results and being quizzed by our fellow students and staff – but it has been really useful in bringing together our ideas on our respective projects.

There is no doubt that the GPG degree is a fantastic opportunity to specialize in geomorphology, sedimentology and the ‘softer’ and applied areas of geology.  We’ve had a great time in learning new material, and in having direct experience of this in the field.  Fieldwork has been probably the best part of the programme – and we’re really looking forward to the 2-week Almeria fieldtrip at Easter in 2013.

The GPG degree has a long history at Liverpool – and it is great that it is a coherent programme accredited by the Geological Society.  This offers us a real advantage, when it comes to jobs, over similar people who have studied either joint or combined degree programmes at other Institutions.  Famous graduates from the GPG programme include, amongst many others, David Hodgson (Reader in Applied Sedimentology at Leeds), Tom Bradwell (Quaternary Geologist at the BGS), Tom Hill (Museum Scientist at the Natural History Museum) and Ian Selby (Head of Minerals and Infrastructure at the Crown Estate).

A Strategic Investment Framework for Liverpool: A Comment From a Low Carbon Perspective

Post by Alex Nurse and Pete North

Yesterday, Liverpool Vision revealed a Strategic Investment Framework (SIF), which sets out Liverpool’s vision for the city centre for the next 15 years. The video above, produced by Liverpool Vision, outlines the main points of the SIF.

The city centre is identified in the report as being the engine for the city’s economic growth, the place of work for 100,000 people (45% of Liverpool’s jobs) and home to 32,000 people.  This is as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and playing host to numerous historic buildings and civic spaces.   Having been revitalised through the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations, Liverpool now sets out its’ vision for how this process can continue.

Here, we seek to provide a short comment on how the Strategic Investment Framework meets the needs of a Low Carbon Liverpool, and where the city can strive for even greater improvements.

In particular we are pleased by the fact that low carbon is one of the four ‘core principles’ behind the strategy:

  • ‘Meeting our carbon reductions to make Liverpool a green city, whilst continuing to grow the economy, particularly around the environmental technology sector, putting climate change and renewable energy at its heart’ 

One of the other core principles is the desire to be ‘economically distinctive’.  We feel seeking out low carbon opportunities throughout the city and thus becoming an exemplar space for low carbon best practice is one way that Liverpool can achieve this aim.

Going further, within the report there are several proposals which we particularly welcome:

  • The plan to create ‘St George’s Plaza’:  A signature space for the city that creates a pedestrianised area, and revisits some of the traffic solutions in the area, including Lime Street, the Queens Square Bus Station and Hunter Street.
  • The acknowledgement that environmental sustainability is a key factor in attracting investors/filling office space. This is coupled with the development of energy and heat plans, as well as energy efficient retrofitting of city centre buildings to encourage businesses to invest in city centre office space.
  • The removal of the Hunter Street flyovers, and improved access for pedestrians, which could lead to street spaces that could rival La Ramblas in Barcelona.
  • The creation of a low carbon circular bus service that links the University areas with the City Centre.
  • The prioritisation of walking and cycling over vehicular activity across the majority of civic spaces across the city centre including Dale Street, Lime Street and the Strand.  The aim of being able to move – via walking or cycling – between the docks and Lime Street being the marker of success.
  • The extension of Liverpool’s Green Infrastructure Network into the city centre, with an increased number of trees.  This will also help to reduce the urban ‘heat sink’ effect.
  • Revitalising some of the city centre’s urban parks including St John’s Gardens and St James’ Gardens, bringing them into greater use.

However there are several aspects of the SIF, where we feel the city could go further in its ambition.  In particular, the Smart City ambitions, which currently focus on heat and energy are key issues for the city.  Yet the decision to postpone work on waste, health, transport and commerce until heat and energy work is complete risks leaving Liverpool behind competitor cities, both at home and internationally.  Instead, we encourage the city to adopt a whole world view of a smart city ensuring that Liverpool pushes itself to be a leading Low Carbon City and stays there.

In all, we particularly welcome the Strategic Investment Framework for the City Centre and recognise it as an excellent step towards creating a low carbon city.   We also look forward to working with the city to explore how this work can be expanded outwards towards the city as a whole, and these ambitions can benefit the city’s residents.

Geography and Philosophy: Leibniz’s Theodicy and the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

The Carmo Convent was destroyed in 1755 and is now preserved as an outdoor museum.

Post by Rev. Dr David Chester

I recently attended a conference in Lisbon entitled, Leibniz’s Theodicy: Reception and Relevance. In the past I have written papers on the cause, course and impact of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake (see also here) an event which was not only one of the most serious natural disasters to have affected western Europe, but also sent shock waves through the European intellectual elite of the time. Written in the early eighteenth century, Leibniz’s Theodicy argued that that the world is the best possible world that could have been created, a position which was challenged in the aftermath of the earthquake. My role as the one of only two non-philosophers at the conference was to provide an introduction to the earthquake and chart recovery from it.

Following the eruption the Marquês de Pombal, the King’s chief minister of the time, was a pioneer in reconstructing Lisbon using earthquake-proofing initiatives which included: wide streets; fire-breaks between buildings; restrictions on building height and, most innovative of all, the construction of a timber-framed structure within buildings to absorb shocks and so allow people to survive future events.

The so called ‘Pombaline Quarter’ of Lisbon. These building were constructed following the disaster to what were then pioneering standards of earthquake proofing.