Category Archives: Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience
We went to see Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town performed by the Halle Orchestra at The Lowry in Salford last night. And by coincidence, it transpired, yesterday was also the day when the BBC began transmitting the popular Breakfast show from its brand new operation in Salford Quay’s Media City. Apparently, despite the anticipated longer term advantages of being in Salford rather than London, there are still BBC people who think it not done to be going Up North regularly to broadcast to the nation.
We’re in Rome this week, for our long-awaited Summer break. It’s our second visit to this city, but some things have changed a bit over the past fifteen years. For a start, the Auditorium wasn’t even build then; so that’s where we headed today – where we learned more about regeneration through culture, we were disappointed as tourists, and we thoroughly enjoyed a concert by the virtuoso pianist Stefano Bollani.
Summary: The Centre for Cities 2011 report published in January makes for interesting reading, especially in its focus on the challenges ahead for places like my home town of Liverpool. The debate at the launch – which, sadly, I had to miss – will have been compelling.
The Centre’s 2011 projections are fairly upbeat for locations such as Bristol and Edinburgh for other cities such as Liverpool (and Birkenhead), Newport and Swansea is measured and dire.
To read more of this article and to comment, please visit Hilary’s professional website HERE.
Summary: Why do most of us spend such little time communication in communities? Support for bonding between parents and dependent children is surely a critical element in community life. When it comes to effective communication, early years practitioners and researchers can tell us much. Their programmes benefit whole communities, not ‘just’ infants and their carers.
Princes Boulevard in Toxteth, Liverpool, was once a bustling avenue, the home of wealthy merchants and many townspeople. Then local fortunes took a desperate downturn, the nadir being the Toxteth riots in 1981. But more recently things have begun to look up, as demonstrated for instance by The Gathering of May 2008, and today’s Big Lunch in this historic setting.
The Lowry arts centre has this week stated its opposition to current plans for the Palace Theatre in Manchester to host all elements of a proposed Royal Opera House development in that city. The arguments on both sides seem however to miss some critical points: firstly, this is a regional not a sub-regional issue; and secondly the infrastructure and the local provisions should have been sorted years ago. Some other opportunities to develop the regional cultural offer have already been shunned; and now it looks as though this may happen yet again.
Arts Organisations, Regeneration and Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.
Reports this week suggest that the Lowry in Salford feels left out and disadvantaged by the proposed development of a northern (second) home for the Royal Opera House, if as a result all ROH-related northern ballet and opera productions – some of them currently hosted by the Lowry – were to be located in Manchester‘s presently fading Palace Theatre.
This is not the time or place to go into questions of sub-regional and local politics – the cities of Manchester and Salford must get along as best they can – but there are a few larger questions which now arise which might have been addressed earlier.
Regional aspects of the arts organisation proposals
Firstly, investments and development of this size are clearly regional as well as local matters. The Lowry, a Millennium product, cost over £100 million to set up, and doubtless the cost of the new proposals would also reach many millions.
It is surprising therefore that the ‘arts and culture’ debate thus far seems to have centred in its positive aspects only on the ROH and the Manchester orchestras. (Perhaps, as a slightly mischievous aside, there are very few left who recall that it was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, not a Manchester ensemble, that performed at the Covent Garden Royal Opera House in May 1981 during the Royal Ballet’s golden anniversary celebrations?)
Locating and programming
Whatever, the there is now also a Royal Ballet in Birmingham, and Opera North may be intending like the Royal Ballet to make its northern activities to the Palace Theatre in Manchester; but the Lowry wants to keep them in Salford.
It has to be said however that the Lowry has disappointed some of us in its more recent opera and ballet offering. To begin with we were excited by the range and frequency of national-level opera and ballet at the Lowry, but over time this seems to have been diluted by a preponderance of more local and / or less ambitious scheduling. Once enthusiasms for a venue are lost, it is probably hard to get them back.
Travel and catchment
One unfortunate element in the Lowry scenario is its very poor infrastructure. It is almost impossible for non-Mancunians to reach (and return home from) on public transport. Unless you take the car, you can’t sensibly get there after work or in bad weather….
Despite the trainline from the West of Greater Manchester (Warrington, Liverpool, etc) running within sight of the Lowry, it doesn’t actually stop there, and one has to proceed into Manchester and return out on a local route. It’s perhaps relevant that the first stopping point, Manchester Oxford Road station, is however almost next door to the Palace Theatre.
The Lowry deserves a measure of sympathy for the situation in which it is placed by Manchester’s proposals; but there is already a huge plan for the relocation of parts of the BBC to that site. And there is a feeling that the Lowry could have positioned itself better as an attractive venue: limited serious arts programming, poor and / or restricted catering provision, little public transport and expensive car parks do little to ensure a consistent and devoted fully regional audience.
There again, Manchester itself needs to explain why it has not, as far as can be seen, looked beyond its own boundaries to other North West areas, in sharing enthusiasm for the ROH proposals.
Lost and endangered opportunities
A few years ago Liverpool had an opportunity, which it decisively shunned, to make a bid for the National Theatre Museum to be relocated to Merseyside. That Museum used to be located right alongside the Covent Garden Royal Opera House; but despite the potential for inside influence of very eminent Merseysiders, not least on the board of the Victoria and Albert Museum (which owned the Theatre Museum), the bid never materialised and there is no longer any dedicated location for the theatre collection at all. Most of the collection is now stored away in Kensington, at the V&A itself.
The possibilities of real cultural synergy between Merseyside and Greater Manchester have already therefore been seriously blunted by lack of vision, imagination and enthusiasm. Let us hope this is not about to happen yet again.
Sir Richard Leese, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, is surely correct in sharing with previous Secretary of State for Culture, Andy Burnham, the view that the regional benefits of the current proposals for regeneration and investment could and should be significant. But if everyone is not persuaded soon, there will probably be no action, or benefits at all.
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What will be the fundamental ‘currencies’ of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It’s likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth – carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.
The new economics foundation (nef) tells us that, as of today, the UK has used the levels of resources it should consume during an entire year, if it were environmentally self-sufficient. In 1961, nef calculates, the UK’s annual eco-debt began on 9 July; by 1981 it was 14 May, but in 2009 it falls on 12 April, Easter Sunday. But how can we help people in their daily lives to address and cope with these frightening calculations constructively, rather than such information just causing further alarm? Science and ‘facts’ alone won’t get us where we all need to be.
Sustainability As If People Mattered.
I’m not sure that those of us already concerned with sustainability approach these matters in the best way to engage others yet to be converted – nef* says Easter Sunday (eco-debt day 2009) is ‘a day which for many has become synonymous with over-indulgence’. That’s a pretty unempathetic perspective on one of the UK’s few annual family holidays.
Sometimes perhaps the force of our convictions and fears about sustainability can make us sound a bit crass.
Offering hope, not inferring guilt
Inducing guilt and/or alarm is not often the most effective mode by which to gain mass support, in an open democracy, for complex and uncomfortable change. Personally, I’d rather see Easter as an occasion with a message, whether sacred or secular, of new beginnings and hope – an opportunity for positive reflection on the future.
Eco-protagonists and scientists are vitally important to our understanding of what’s happening to the environment. But they’re not always good at helping people in the wider community to face up to the enormous environmentally-related challenges which, we must urgently acknowledge, are already upon us.
Research findings and predictions based on rational calculation do not always translate as clearly as the scientists imagine into policy acceptable to the wider citizenry. To the person in the street it can all seem just too difficult and scary, well beyond the scope of ‘ordinary folk’.
Engaging people for positive change
Nonetheless, the UK’s increasing eco-debt is desperately alarming, and something we need to get everyone to think about, right now.
The question is, how?
[* Andrew Simms (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, cited in Transition Network News, March 2009. Andrew Simms is nef Policy Director and Head of the Climate Change Programme.]
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