Modern Cities Need History And Style – So Let’s All Find Out How It’s Done

The strongly held views on Liverpool’s World Heritage Site and the Museum of Liverpool proposals have something to tell us about how we sometimes need to look beyond our own patch, to see what could or should be done. Perhaps ‘cultural exchange’ programmes within our own shores might be a start, so helping citizens to know each other’s towns and cities across the nation?
Lots of debate as usual about architecture and design, following the Heritage Lottery decision not to fund the Museum of Liverpool…. The views about the World Heritage Site and so forth have been interesting – as ever!
The last few days I’ve been in London with my family and, as it happens, doing the ‘visitor’ bit around the Tate Modern, the City, Covent Garden and Westminster. What strikes me so strongly is that most people in London don’t seem to have a huge problem about Big Buildings and Little Buildings, old ones and new.
The mix of old and new
Of course, ‘new’ buildings adjacent to ‘old’ ones (and they don’t get much more historic than some in the parts of London I was seeing) are often designed very well in a style which merges… but then you get the Gherkin. What an amazing construction! There’s St. Paul’s being done up, and behind it what you can only term a huge conical mirror. But I really don’t think it looks ‘wrong’.
In fact, one of the things that strikes me is how vibrant this miscellany of buildings, mile upon mile of them, is. Some young people I know who have moved to the Capital have actually chosen large drawings and (v dramatic) photographs of the Foster building and similar as the artwork for their own home…. and they’re exactly the sort of young professionals Liverpool would dearly have liked to keep here. But London offers so much more.
I definitely don’t think that all ‘modern’ architecture is appropriate wherever it’s put. It has to be excellent and well-positioned to earn its footprint. But I’d guess the folk in London are lucky in being (literally) more cosmopolitan in their approach; they’ve seen more of the world – in general, not all of them of course – than folk in Liverpool (again, in general). Expecting exciting and perhaps controversial architecture alongside a proper respect for the historic, and off-set by wide-open green spaces, probably goes with that wider mindset.
Where’s the wider experience and context?
When are we going to start to try to ensure that as many Liverpool people as possible have a wider context in which to judge their city? Isn’t it time actively to encourage people, young and older, to visit other places and experience (not just ‘look at’) other contexts, so that they can have a more broadly informed view of what goes on here, as well? It’s difficult to have a positive, balanced position when the basis of it is often so narrow, even perhaps parochial.
And is there something here for everyone? Would it be a good thing if we all tried to experience parts of the country outside our own patch? Never mind ‘foreign’ exchanges, worthy though these can be. What about learning more about where we actually live, as well?

Posted on January 26, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Tony Siebenthaler

    Excellent piece Hilary, though I would agree with the sentiments of the second respondent regarding the worldly-wise Liverpudlian. All cities have to undergo constant change, if they do not evolve they end up, well, er, like Liverpool was in the 80s’!
    I certainly do not make the plea for a return to the intensely damaging approach of the 60s’ of ‘knock it all down and build anew’, but we must realise that the current paralysing preservation mantra espoused by some in Liverpool is as much a dogma as those of the 60s’ planners.. and just as damaging!
    I think that as we see on the skyline how tall buildings really enhance our city, then these arguments will drop away.. we just need some of our planners to be bold and hold their nerve.
    As we get back into the habit of generating our wealth and engaging with the world once again, this will inevitably have an impact on the city…. impacts that should be welcomed.. just as we welcomed change in the past, when we knew what we where about! Incremental, organic, but continual evolution is good, comprehensive redevelopment is evil, but aspic is a killer in its own right.
    Sadly, the horror that is taking place here under the auspices of the HMRI shows how there is no consistent policy on appropriate urbanism, replacing good, if worn neighbourhoods, with horrifically single class, low density ‘housing estates.
    Density, Density, Density (and mixed use, of course!) should be the rallying cry of all those whose interests cover downtown as well as the older urban neighbourhoods that are under threat… if not, we could end up with a wholely dysfunctional city!

  2. How did you arrive at the ridiculous assertion that Londoners are more travelled than people from Liverpool?
    Liverpool people have always been wanderers and no matter what far flung middle-of-nowhere outpost you visit, there is a good chance of coming across a Liverpool connection.
    I have met many Londoners who are like innocents abroad in a foreign country.

  3. Hilary,
    A good point well made. Many people in Liverpool, especially some of those associated with heritage groups, refuse to see Liverpool in even a national context, never mind an international one!! The fluidity of ideas which helped the city grow during the 19th and early 20th centuries has been replaced by an orthodox interpretation of what the city should look like, and how it should operate – this has often been offered to the masses as Gospel truth by the local evening press. Perhaps only further immigration to the city can negate this stagnant train of thought, which views Liverpool as a place that ‘was’ instead of ‘is’ and ‘can be’.

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