This is an issue about space.
Space is the oxygen that creative businesses need to survive, and we are surrounded by it in our cities and towns. Music venues, studios and workshops exist side-by-side with our living and public spaces, maintaining a dynamic mix of art and creativity that sits at the heart of Liverpool’s cultural identity. Space to do, experiment and make noise is a key component in a city of ingenuity and opportunity.
But space is increasingly becoming a final frontier for those smaller businesses caught in the crosshairs of residential and commercial developments. You can hardly blame cash-strapped local authorities for recognising that the growth areas of university attendance and retail opportunities bring in much-needed injections of cash, even if this does mean selling off prime real estate in the city centre to private developers. Space used in the creative sector brings, on average, a much lower and longer term return on investment than major retail or residential projects, which makes the precarious job of balancing the books part of a broader vision of what kind of place we want our city to be. What we can make sure of, however, is that future decisions are made with the interests of the creative community at heart.
In this issue, we want to draw your attention to the multiplicity of space we currently have at our disposal: how varied and fit for a multitude of purposes it is; how we can protect this space, learn to value it and create the conditions for small businesses to flourish in it; how we can appreciate the range of uses these various spaces have, and learn how best to represent their interests; and how we need more space to be put to use by a greater number of creative businesses, in a greater variety of interesting ways.
Crucially, there are plans afoot that give us the opportunity to achieve these aims. The Ten Streets development is the principle one, an ambitious plan from Liverpool City Council to develop the area north of the city centre over the next 15 to 20 years. The draft proposal of the Ten Streets Spatial Regeneration Framework, to give it its grand title, aims to “transform over 125 acres of Liverpool’s Northern City Fringe into a vibrant creative quarter located within the Liverpool City Enterprise Zone that will drive future prosperity and enhance the city’s status as an international destination with a unique offer and character”. The Framework includes the renovation of the Stanley Dock complex, Peel Holdings’ Liverpool Waters site along the docklands, and a new football stadium for Everton at Bramley-Moore Dock. At its heart is a designated “creative hub” in the area between Oil Street and Saltney Street, dubbed the “Ten Streets character zone”.
Whatever fancy name is given to it, this is an area teeming with possibility; there are dozens of empty warehouses and industrial units packed into this former docking heartland that are ripe for appropriation. These are the spaces our DIY, independent businesses should flood into and take hold of the narrative of what a creative hub actually is. Now that the Baltic Triangle seems to be more suited to tech and digital businesses, the Ten Streets development should, in principle, be our future hothouse of noisy, creative ingenuity. Liverpool has a real chance to make a statement with this development – if it wants to. It’s up to us to realise it in whatever way we want.
This northwards expansion of the city centre does, however, come with a note of caution. It was pointed out by the proprietors of Drop The Dumbulls Gallery, which falls inside the Ten Streets character zone, that their building on Dublin Street – which they own – had been marked for “positive intervention and re-use” in the draft version of the Spatial Development Framework. This sounded suspiciously like a gentle way of saying ‘demolition’. After the Dumbulls collective’s successful campaign during the proposal’s consultation, highlighting their concerns, Liverpool City Council’s planning team appear to have heeded the venue’s apprehensions and have ensured (albeit via Twitter) they will make sure that Dumbulls is protected in any future development of the area. This is the kind of positive dialogue we need in projects of this magnitude, and we hope the same concerns of smaller leaseholders, such as Meraki and North Shore Troubadour, are also heard in future proposals.
In order to make projects such as these a success, we must have a vision for what the overall picture is. In the accompanying report you received with this issue of Bido Lito!, we believe there is the blueprint for what this vision could be – or, at the very least, some guiding pointers to what that blueprint could become. The findings in the report were gathered and researched by a team from the Liverpool John Moores University off the back of the Liverpool, Music City? event we held at Constellations in May of this year. A new music strategy is currently being written by Liverpool City Council, and the way it is implemented will directly impact on the way developments like Ten Streets will be used. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to understand how our creative and music community works, so that we can better drive its future growth.
Featured in this magazine are a set of images of the spaces we currently have at our disposal for creative endeavours: the familiar rooms and venues where musicians perform, create and have the freedom to form identities. These spaces are crucial cogs in a creative ecosystem, yet their importance can’t be measured by the (relatively) meagre profits they generate. Instead, we must value their role in providing an environment where any seed of creativity can flourish. These types of spaces can only survive where the external pressures or expectations on them as businesses is managed in such a way that their value can’t solely be quantified in financial bottom lines. In short, there has to be some provision for creative people to just create, to learn their craft, without the Damoclean sword of profit hanging over them. In order to make progress, creative artists need opportunities. For musicians, that means venues.
The collectives that form around spaces like all those mentioned in this issue provide vital networks of support and encouragement that allow great art and creativity to bloom. Not only that, but their voices are louder when they’re speaking in unison. We come from many different backgrounds, but we have a collective voice – and, as shown by the work of Drop The Dumbulls and the Liverpool, Music City? report, we can use it to apply pressure and to ignite positive change.