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It’s often said that people from Merseyside are good talkers, but it’s the buildings that say more than most. In every façade you can track a running timeline of the city’s fate.
In the neoclassical grandeur you see prosperity through the trade of human life. Areas like Scotland Road show the remnants of a once swollen, cramped population moved on through slum clearance and lack of work. Hollowed out churches serve as a reminder of conflict. Across the water, Birkenhead’s waterfront wears the bruises of a declining shipping industry. Facing back on the other side, post-war housing projects, such as St Andrew’s Gardens (The Bullring), reflect a time when municipal dreams came before individualism.
It’s no different today. In the space of 15 years much of the inner city stands unrecognisable. The early phases of this regeneration point to the Capital of Culture makeover. Since then, the trend for developments have been near uniform. Residential apartments and student accommodation have pushed their way into any available spaces with the tenacity of weeds nudging through pavement. Like much of the historical architecture these buildings cast shadows upon, the socio-economic fate of the city is contained in their presence.
The government’s council inspection report is undoubtedly a difficult moment for the city. If whisperings on social media for the past decade hadn’t already confirmed its findings, then the right-before-our-eyes evidence was there; the shimmering clad pretence of build-at-any-cost developments did little to charm a landscape washed out by central government cuts.
The misdealing within planning, highways and regeneration appear to be rife. Music venues and other cultural hubs are now in a more unforgiving landscape due to these practices. Some have been squeezed out altogether. But the public shaming at the hands of the Tories suggest an endemic problem with cronyism at local government level, which doesn’t provide the full picture. Liverpool rightly has to acknowledge the failures of its council, but it’s important to face up to the actions that led us to desperation and rampant opportunism.
Where the “awarding of dubious contracts” has seen many areas of Liverpool change cosmetically, there remains countless skeletal developments across the city – either failed or exhausted of funds. Their bare concrete anatomies are the withered bones of austerity, a harsh financial reality that Liverpool has swallowed for over a decade during which time its central funding has fallen by almost 60 per cent. When you push a city to breaking point due diligence frays, and opportunists will find their way into the cracks. The city had to find a way of paying its way, but it has instead been made to pay the price itself. The imposed commissioners in certain areas will now only heighten public distrust.
Trust is one of the main issues that now faces Liverpool. Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen other forms of opportunism through protest and the spreading of conspiracy. With the added furore around the mayoral selection, politics is now slipping to its lowest ebb off the back of the council report. Liverpool deserves better than the hands it has been dealt both internally and externally. And it’s looking further internally where we’ll find the figures who’re worthy of our trust. Those who offer an alternative while the council soul-searches.
These alternative leaders and decision makers don’t have to be connected to institutional power. As has been covered in this magazine for the past years, it’s those at the grassroots level who’ve been able to bring about the most telling changes, rewriting narratives within communities in the process. As Liverpool’s political framework is dredged, we should remain hopeful that there is a new, alternative way to bring us through the challenges ahead. Community leaders, facilitators, activists, artists, musicians can and will lead us when we need it most.