Creating a new narrative
The biggest stumbling block to the flourishing of a different kind of economy, however, is the dominance of the narrative that size matters and that growth is the ultimate aim.
The ‘beautiful ideas’ outlined above are competing with the ‘big’ ideas for the future of the city, which include a ‘mini Shanghai‘ on the Mersey, extending the high speed rail line to connect the city, and bidding to host the Commonwealth Games in 2026.
These ideas – should they be fulfilled – will no doubt bring visitors and jobs and economic growth to the city, and help those wanting to leave to catch a faster train out of there. But will they harness and build on the creative energy of its people? Will they help turnaround the social and economic fortunes of the north of Liverpool? Will Liverpool be a place of excitement and difference or an AnyTown?
‘Liverpool, perhaps more than any of UK core cities, has the social capital,
the belligerence and the chutzpah to stand up to the status quo’
Many believe that the city has a small window of opportunity to show what it could be. Within a few years other cities will have moved ahead of it economically and it will struggle to catch up; if ideas are not supported those with creative energy will move elsewhere, long before the fast train to Manchester has been built.
So what are the new narratives emerging for the city? Below are a handful of ideas that have emerged from the New Start/NEF/CLES event on 8th April and from conversations in the city:
An Enterprising City – that prioritises people not profits
- A partnership between the social and the public sector to build a high quality care system which, by not taking profits, is able to provide well-paid jobs and high quality care.
- Support for the city’s small food producers like Pau! to help them build markets and feed into supply chains of the city’s hospitals and football clubs.
- The north docks of Liverpool designated a ‘community enterprise zone’ which gives tax breaks and support to those taking on empty buildings and setting up enterprises.
How much wealth could be generated – financially and in wellbeing terms – through the creation of social supply chains in the city?
A Maverick City: A symposium will take place in the city in June, hosted by We Make Places, to bring together artists, designers and activists from across Europe who are developing grassroots cultural projects that re-think our cities. In Liverpool We Make Places has put forward a number of ‘provocations’, the most popular of which is turning a 1970s city centre flyover into a pedestrianised zone with an elevated urban highway, gifted to the people (pictured above). Councils in Boston and Sydney are actively collaborating with their creative communities and entrepreneurs to re-imagine the city and re-build its local economy. What would Liverpool look like if it supported its mavericks?
A Democratic City: Democracy and citizenship are at low ebbs in many of our cities, but in Liverpool they are being revitalised by a number of organisations and ideas. Engage Liverpool brings people living in the city centre and waterfront areas together to build community and neighbourliness and to discuss how problems from air quality to the need for more green spaces and better designed housing can be solved. David Lloyd has for some years articulated the problems – and solutions – in Liverpool through his blog Seven Streets. In this rousing article published on the first days of the year he warns of the urgency for change and calls for a ‘parliament of the people, for the people’, to break the deadlock in governance and allow the city’s greatest assets to take greater control over its destiny.
These ideas for the city are not mutually exclusive but could work together to build an alternative economic powerhouse in Liverpool – one that works for all of its people and that sets it apart from the courses other cities are slavishly following.
For it is Liverpool, perhaps more than any of the UK’s core cities, that has the social capital, the belligerence and indeed the chutzpah to stand up to the status quo. As a city forged on a sense of difference and geographically on the edge, it has never accepted the mainstream. The traditional ‘economic development’ offerings currently on the table, be they devolution deals, Peel Holdings or Chinese investment, are, in their current form, getting in the way of the city’s true development.
What if it opted out and went its own way? What if it looked a bit further than Manchester for a model, and was inspired by, say, Portland or Copenhagen, Melbourne or Ghent? What if it negotiated a more imaginative devolution agreement, one that engaged and involved all of its citizens?
The city has its confidence back but can it use its famous ‘brassy boldness’ to create its own future?
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine