Liverpool and the built environment

 June 29, 2009         3 Comments

There’s an interesting blog on the Daily Post’s website by
Peter Elson concerning a book by Anna Minton that looks at the built environment in the UK, taking in a look at Liverpool One and its effects in Liverpool.

GROUND Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty First Century investigates ownership of various projects around the city, most notably the mass demolition of houses down Edge Lane and Liverpool One.

These projects are funded and owned by private money and the potential ramifications of leaving town planning to people for whom the bottom line is the, er, bottom line.

There are clear pros and cons to these huge investments of private cash into the city, but the clear danger is in building estates that pander to commercial needs, rather than the needs of society.

Fear and Happiness in the Twenty First Century

Minton outlines the disconnect between local people and the architecture that is taking the place of the city’s heritage and history.

“It’s not bad that it poured lots of money into Liverpool, but why do the streets have to be private for good shopping?“This is a shopping centre model to get as many people in to spend as much as possible. It’s not about those in England’s poorest city.“What were public spaces are now there to be bought, sold and spun.”

In some ways it’s easy to write off concerns like this as rather wet liberal whingeing, but the quotes in the article seem to reveal the very real alienation that local people feel towards these huge projects. Could these buildings actually be creating fear and distrust?

Liverpool One’s very obvious effect on other retail areas of the city is another current problem, but the long-term effects of this corporate-driven urban planing may only be known when it is far too late to do anything about it.


  1. The thing is, it’s not an either/or issue. I’d love the construction work going on in and around the city to be primarily for the benefit of Society rather than Capital, but historically, it’s never happened on a scale large enough. If we reject private investment on the basis of some idealised notion of social provision of city centre building, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve let the best become the enemy of the good.

    Since 1945, and throughout the 30 years of post-war consensus over social welfare issues, the country still couldn’t get its act together sufficiently to fund social infrastructure/construction projects which avoided creating alienation, fear and distrust (many of them have since been torn down for this precise reason). I say let private capital have a go – it can hardly do a worse job of creating pleasant public (or pseudo-public) spaces than Liverpool Council has done over the past forty years.

    Look at Liverpool One and the way in which the project has transformed huge chunks of the city centre from being dominated by deprivation, potholed wastelands and BNP-supporting retail entrepreneurs. It’s not perfect by any means, and there are bound to be issues with it in the future, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what used to be there. And it’s a hell of a lot better than what public ownership of city centre streets ever gave us.

  2. Obviously nothing is ever either/or, and I acknowledge – as I think the author does – that there are definite upsides to these huge investments of cash.

    I think it’s also easy to become fearful of private ownership for nebulous reasons, but I think it goes beyond that when big chunks of city centres are signed away for 100 years to Grosvenor et al.

    I don’t know what a housing estate built by retailers will look like, but I think it’s wise to ask the question before it happens.

    On that not, though, perhaps we’d better read the book before we go any further.

  3. You mean actually know what I’m on about before commenting? Nah.

    Agree that questions need to be put, but its likely the answers would merely reflect pre-existing assumptions, from all sides.

    Nice pic of Manchester on the cover, though.

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