The £1bn retail and leisure led urban regeneration development by Grosvenor was launched on some idle Thursday on the 29th of May 2008 and currently attracts millions into the city year upon year. Sounds great right?
It is an architectural tour de force and has around 160 retailers, most of them being the usual suspects and fan favourites but it is with great disdain that just a few years after its completion we have to digest the news that Central Village, the Central Regeneration project that will replace Lewis’, is apparently 85% complete. A Liverpool Two if you like. Don’t make hasty presumptions, this blog is in fact not going to be a negative and regurgitated spiel on the collection of conglomerates but in fact an appreciation of its current worth with an alternative hypothesis of what it could have been and how we the people can do more.
There is a myth that seems to be present at the top of hierarchy that all cities must be carbon copies in order to compete. To refer to the little economics we remember from that one module in our degree we occasionally turned up to, it is almost like “game theory”. When one city makes a move, the important people in other cities meet and follow suit. Manchester has Trafford Centre, we have Liverpool ONE and both offer the same clone of chains and compete for the same kind of person. We beg the question, is it too outlandish to ask where the innovation is these days? Are we mindless souls dictated by haphazard leaders? We don’t disregard the value Liverpool ONE has added to the local economy, the jobs that have been created, the millions it has attracted and the 18% increase in foot traffic and the buzz it has created but we argue you could place the majority of Liverpool ONE in any city in the UK and no-one would notice. What is unique about it? A part from being in Liverpool, what is Liverpool about it?
At a recent meeting with private sector businesses from all over Liverpool, the hot topic of discussion revolved around deciphering which models to copy from European hotspots as well as neighbouring cities to try make it a sought after city, well endowed with tourists from across the world. We couldn’t help but think, how are we getting ahead of cities by being the same? Back to the catalyst behind Independent Liverpool, our mantra is celebrating the unique and if your experience in Liverpool is ludicrously similar to one in Manchester or Leeds, what would ever make someone want to return? We argue that we should be inventing our own models so that the big decision makers in Amsterdam and Berlin have to have their very own emergency meetings to evaluate why Liverpool is doing so well. Liverpool is enriched in profound history and hosts a consortium of independents that rival any city in the world, why are we not pushing these and the charm all the people behind these people possess?
Liverpool is one of those cities that has a spirit and a sense of rebellion that a handful of mavericks are always at the forefront of. It is inherent in all our genes for us to fight for something we all believe in and the city itself isn’t short of innovators. Liverpool is responsible for railways, transatlantic steamships, electric trains and The Beatles for crying out loud. We find the fact that our biggest plan was to catch up with other cities model hard to swallow, if we aren’t devising paths, experiences and majestic moments for tourists to experience the real and quite wrongly hidden Liverpool, how will they have a true representation? Will entering Liverpool ONE, walking beside the boardwalk empire of chains and finishing their afternoon window shopping with a Costa really make them plan to come back or better yet tell their friends to visit? Or will a morning coffee at Bold Street Coffee, a lunch at MelloMello and a pint of the real stuff in the midst of Liverpool folk music in The Caledonia enhance their experience? Liverpool ONE should aim to attract people to the city but not forget about the rest of it, encouraging people to walk further afield and experience the depth that is on offer.
One of our biggest motivations for Independent Liverpool was to create an alternative trip adviser after shockingly picking up a map of Liverpool released in tourist centres where not one independent was present. Liverpool ONE was depicted in all its grandiose and the bohemian Bold Street was disregarded a part from naming the Costa and Nero on it as the premonition of walking a couple hundred yards to the ones in Liverpool ONE is apparently far too inconvenient. Better yet, the bird cartoons ‘Liv & Liz’ that are bill boarded around Liverpool ONE in an attempt to inject some personality into the area was outsourced to a marketing agency in Manchester. Do the decision makers behind Liverpool ONE not have enough faith in their own marketing team so much that they have to outsource? Is Liverpool so deprived creatively that we couldn’t create something that rivals a duo of rather smartly dressed yet bizarre looking liverbirds (that look more like peacocks if you ask us) which are both burdened by the same materialistic idiosyncrasies.
So, what’s the big plan? In the words of Charlie Chaplin; “more than machinery, we need humanity”. There isn’t a magic answer and there isn’t something we can do overnight, to reclaim the high street we must rally the troops and more importantly we must unite in our quest to keep Liverpool unique. Go show that local coffee shop around the corner from you that you usually walk past some support, buy your next page turner from your local bookshop, have a pint in a proper pub and please go experience what some of the remarkable independents left had the courage and spirit to create. It is beginning to feel like we all sadly sunk along with the Yellow Duck Marine as Liverpool’s next big projects plan to enclave themselves from the proper Liverpool but as long as we’re here, we promise to keep the independents afloat. A bit like the word entrepreneur, revolution is a word people feel awkward using but we plead now more than ever people become a part of the movement. Let’s stop being a world where most of our political agendas can be found on our t-shirt or Che Guevara cup and get up and do something. Nando’s is just chicken, Starbucks is just coffee with your name on the cup and Gap is just overpriced clothes.