Category Archives: Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks
How do ‘evidence’ and ‘policy’ fit together? It’s one thing to hope the evidence will tell us what to do; it’s another to persuade everyone else that the logic of how to resolve a given situation is so compelling. Evidence-based policies are a great idea; but different people ask for different sorts of evidence. And policy makers can only deliver what electors will accept. There’s a dialogue challenge here somewhere.
Political Process & Democracy
We all know that public policies these days ‘should’ be based on evidence; but I’m not clear about when and how the full might of rational thought is best brought into the public policy arena. We seem sometimes to have mislaid the ‘politics’ part of ‘policy’, in our reliance on ‘the evidence’….
The logic of the evidence
Scientists and researchers in areas where policy is being developed frequently tell us all that their evidence points this way, or that way, and I have no doubt that in their minds this is so.
I don’t however recall, ever, hearing one of these very well-informed and rational observers reflect on whether the way forward they propose is actually understood or acceptable to the public who will be paying for the implementation of the policy.
The art of the possible
It’s a cliché, but true, that politics is the art of the possible; the evidence base may be pristinely rational and logical. People, on the other hand, are not.
If we really want to see decent and well-founded changes in policy, ‘the evidence’ has to lie alongside what we can reasonably expect our policy-makers to deliver, in the pragmatic contexts of public understanding and mood.
Perhaps we should find routine ways to use ‘the evidence’ to inform real dialogue and debate, not to jump straight to policy.
This is likely to happen only when more scientists and researchers start to communicate on a human level, and not just as rational-legal beings. Maybe research has to become a communicated art, as well as a science, if it’s to be really, really useful where it matters.
Changing how we do things
Perhaps scientists need (in general) to learn more about the art of communicating.
Perhaps policy-makers need to learn more about how to explain that research must actively address what at any given time is possible, as well as what’s best in an ideal, rational world.
And perhaps the rest of us have to understand that sometimes we need to move from what ‘they’ should be doing on our behalf , to what we ourselves can do to help each other see where evidence best fits into the very human process of decision-making and change.
A version of this article was first published as a blog in New Start magazine on 14 July 2009.
Read more articles about Political Process & Democracy. and see Hilary’s Publications.
Josephine Butler House in Liverpool’s Hope Street Quarter is named for the famous social reformer, and the site of the first UK Radium Institute. Latterly an elegant adjunct to Myrtle Street’s The Symphony apartments, it sits opposite the Philharmonic Hall. But the intended ambiance has been ruined by a dismal failure and omission on the part of Liverpool City Council, who have permitted Josephine Butler House to be grimly defaced with little prospect of anything better, or even just intact, taking its place.
The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city – including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool’s creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and ‘non-arts’ businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.
Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool
The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members’ Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool’s creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the “Liverpool Chamber” magazine:
We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.
It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.
So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.
New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.
This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.
Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool…. and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.
A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee
A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of “Liverpool Chamber”, the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.
Liverpool has made much of its community engagement programme during the city’s European Capital of Culture year, in 2008. But when does engagement become genuine social inclusion? And does inclusion require empowerment as well as contact? Or is the underlying emphasis on increasing tourism to bolster the local economy enough? This is where opinion in the city divides.
Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool
Great claims have been made for community inclusion during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year; indeed, it’s sometimes been hard to identify the ‘European’ element at all, in all the local leadership talk of community embedding and power to the people.
Not all of this is bluff. The Liverpool Culture Company has fielded a team of arts educators and animateurs who have worked hard to produce some imaginative and significant projects, and for that we must congratulate them. Likewise, another team has taken forward work on arts and health, for which substantial success is claimed.
Engagement, inclusion or empowerment?
But when does a degree of engagement become genuine social inclusion? Does inclusion require social empowerment as well as contact? This is where opinion diverges.
For our city leaders, the brightly coloured photographs of smiling children and milling crowds are enough. How much more evidence of ‘inclusion’ do you want?
Bottom up, or top down?
But for some of us, the evidence that real inclusion has been achieved remains patchy. No-one wants to decry some good work which Culture Company teams have delivered; but why wait for 2008 to develop a meaningful culture and health programme, in a city right at the bottom of the well-being league? And is ‘top down’ delivery, determined at high command, as inclusive as the more difficult ‘bottom up’ sort?
It is not Liverpool’s own community arts which received the biggest budgets in 2008. Vast ephemeral ‘events’ have scooped up massive sums, whilst many indigenous local artists outside the Culture Company have had to scramble between themselves, often to ridiculous and shifting deadlines, for a few thousand or even less here and there.
Tourism as the main rationale
Of course the Culture Company have their problems; but arts practitioners who were there before and must carry on afterwards arguably face greater challenges. Their work to be inclusive is geared to much more than large public ‘events’ which have – let us be honest – an increase in tourism as their main rationale.
It’s this which worries me. I’d like the city to treat me as a grown up. If they want to pursue hotel bed counts all out, could they please say so? Could they perhaps say, we know the public events we’re offering are not truly inclusive – you can come and have a bit of fun if you want, and that’s about it – but we need to do it this way, to improve Liverpool’s economic base for everyone’s future wellbeing….?
A focus on the bottom line
Spelling things out like this would emphasise how hard we must all work, to improve the local economy – more skills, no poor service, no attitude.
It would help community arts practitioners understand why their locally focused efforts currently feel less valued than the big event spectaculars.
Treating citizens as grown-ups
And it would say to local citizens, thanks for turning up, we hope you’ve enjoyed the big splashes, and, when all the tourist destination marketing has worked, we will indeed be able to support more genuinely embedded opportunities on your own terms for exciting, local, bottom-up creative and cultural activity.
Now, those messages really would demonstrate that the relationship between Liverpool’s decision-makers and its citizens has become adult and consciously inclusive.
A version of this article first appeared in New Start magazine, January 2009.
Read more articles about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.
La Princesse, a gigantic metal spider, came to Liverpool in early September 2008. This monster brought huge crowds to the city centre, as it enacted its story of ‘scientists’ and adventure. But the reasoning behind The Spider was no fairy tale. It was there to attract ‘cultural tourism’ business to the city. At almost two million pounds, one hopes this was a success. Whether the same can be said for the rational that it engaged people in ‘culture’ is less certain: at some point real cultural engagement surely also involves empowerment.
Few people will not know that Liverpool, in the early Autumn of its European Capital of Culture 2008 year, has been visited by a Big Spider.
This ‘creature’ (for some indiscernible reason named La Princesse) was constructed entirely of metal, wood and bits of hydraulic and was, it is said, fifty feet high. It paraded in the city centre over the first weekend of September 2008, ‘acting’ out a storyline involving ‘scientists’ who had to do ‘experiments’ to control the gigantic techno-insect.
A European connection
A direct descendant of the Sultan’s Elephant (which suddenly appeared in London in May 2006), another construction from the company La Machine, this creation cost even more – apparently something under £2 million. In both cases considerable sums will have gone into the coffers of the French business which built these monster artefacts…. which by their genesis at least bring a much-needed ‘European’ angle to our singularly Scouse Capital of Culture 2008 activities.
And it is worrying to learn from Artichoke, the UK company which brought the machines to Britain, that there was a serious shortfall in anticipated budget (the sum of £300k to £400K has been suggested). Indeed, a charitable appeal was put out to plug the gap.
Arts budget shortfalls and sensible audits?
What, I wonder, would happen if smaller, less publicly vaunted, arts organisations had proportionately similar shortfalls? And if they started from the premise that they could keep the arrangements to themselves, feeling no pressing need to be particularly transparent about anticipated ‘audience’ numbers, budgets, impacts or outcomes?
I ask this as a volunteer community arts promoter threatened last year with the withholding of one thousand pounds from the munificent five thousand promised (our total budget was around £18,000), simply because of a genuine mistake by a single supplier involving very considerably less than just one pound – and which it took many weeks of my (and others’) unpaid time, as well as hours of city employee activity, to resolve.
Which Council officials, I must enquire, have time and salaried capacity to pursue relentlessly a sum amounting to the cost of one postage stamp? (If nothing else, we can now see that corporately they really don’t understand proportionality in accounting.)
Are these the same people who seem happy to permit the continuation of their own projects when over-running by six figures (predictably, since some – how much? – of this was attributed to the fall of the pound against the Euro)? Perhaps La Princesse should be renamed La Suprise.
The rationale: cultural tourism
It might seem here as though I’ve lost the point of what La Machine’s creations are ‘for’. But I don’t think so. The Spider was and remains at its metal heart a vehicle for marketing and tourism; and perhaps also a justification for the self-laudatory outpourings by the powers-that-be which those of us who live in the city encounter on a daily basis from our local media.
But using ‘art’ promotionally is not an especially Liverpool activity. It happens everywhere, from Glasgow to Vienna to South America; just think of the previous UK European Capital of Culture, or the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Andean statue of Christ the Redeemer. Very different ‘arts’, but given in the modern world (if not in origin) the same message and intent.
Marketing becomes the meaning
What bothers me is when the one and only meaning of an art(efact) is the marketing message.
Our Austrian orchestra and South American statue began in very different ways – one started in 1842 as a celebration of the great tradition of European classical music, and the other as a celebration (in 1904) of a peace treaty between Argentina and Chile, bickering over their national boundaries. Only subsequently have these cultural icons become brilliant marketing tools.
Different ‘rules’ for different ventures?
So here’s the rub: whilst perforce relatively junior local government officers were (a) assiduously trying to delay – we can all guess why – the payment of the final grand of the magnificent ‘funding’ allotted to my hard-working on-the-ground arts charity and (b) ignoring equally assiduously (they had to) my remonstrations that this sort of behaviour is exactly why many ‘in the community’ give up and walk away from delivering grassroots community arts and cultural activities, other more senior officers were short-cutting to hugely expensive ‘projects’ which amount to a cross between the disneyesque and hard-sell…. which they then self-declare to have been a massive success even before it’s all finished. QED.
I don’t, as it happens, mind spectacle and fun; entertainment in the right places is great. But entertainment is just not the same as real engagement.
Community engagement in the arts doesn’t ‘hand down’ from on high, it nurtures reaching up and out. It is both responsive and self-determining, a laborious (but never boring) process, building slowly on trust and developing each individual’s confidence and skills, both as a performer / practitioner and as an appreciative perceiver of the art/s on offer.
You have to believe in people for the longer term to be a really good community arts practitioner. You have to understand the skills which other artists – not just in your own genre, but across the whole spectrum – and partners bring to whatever you’re doing. You have to be, quietly, really good yourself at what you’re hoping to engage others in also.
Challenge and aspiration
And, even more quietly, you have to be willing to challenge the people ‘in the community’ with whom you’re working; not in a know-it-all way, but in the sense that you are privileged to have seen in the wider world how well things can be done when real effort is made, and you would like that to be reflected in how those you are collaborating with approach their chosen tasks.
No genuine artist ever thinks (s)he couldn’t do even better. ‘The best’ is at the bottom of the rainbow. All any of us can do is aspire.
The Spider’s legacy
I’m not at all sure The Spider achieved much in these lights. Its impacts will (I hope) be revealed later. But did it challenge and focus anyone? Did it leave a message for the people of Liverpool? Will it somehow still do so, if plans for its return to the city are confirmed? Only, I think, if there’s a lot more debate between then and now about how to encourage local people, in ‘the community’, to see that as yet we all have plenty of scope for delivering even better what is good about our city.
And in the meantime, small arts enterprises such as my own try to stagger on, largely sidelined and called to account in really silly ways, far more often (however much some of them might like to) than we are actively helped, supported and appreciated by the powers-that-be.
To be truthful, I suspect both that most of those in charge (not of course all – there are some very decent and reality-based people too) have no experience of struggling at the grassroots, and that people who do work on the ground are simply not a part of the high level strategic landscape.
Pre-packaged for ‘the community’
The real decision makers often talk about ‘the community’, but this in their understanding is something to be done unto, to be delivered predetermined culture in predetermined ways.
Rarely is this ‘community’ seen as hugely complex and nuanced (infinitely more nuanced than the standard ‘community’ cultural stereotypes), encompassing many possible ways of contributing to, developing and appreciating arts and culture of all sorts. But it takes time, resources, effort, belief and courage on all sides to get there.
Engaging, or just entertaining?
How much easier – as those amongst cultural managers who are genuinely community-facing will confirm – to deliver a pre-packaged monster spider, than to work patiently for days, weeks or months with the people it has been decreed ultimately will pay for it, to produce something wondrous of their own. Too many of those at ‘the top’ would, if they gave it a thought, have no idea how they could actually help here, anyway.
For me personally that doesn’t matter. I have other quite different things to think about as well, and I didn’t go into this for the bouquets. But if recent experiences were my first or only way of engaging through culture with the city in which I have lived for many years, I would be thoroughly downhearted.
Imagination and vision
‘Real’ art and culture captures the imagination and, in so doing, enables people to see things which they didn’t perceive before. Maybe La Princesse fleetingly did the first; but I haven’t seen much evidence that it does the second. And for roughly the same amount of money as the cost of the European arachnid, we could undertake programmes the same size as my own charity’s single venture in every ward of the city, ‘engaging’ hundreds of people directly and truly meaningfully on each and every occasion.
To keep this member of the local ‘community’ happy, the hard-edged longer-term marketing outcomes for Liverpool from La Machine had better be pretty spectacular.
A version of this article first appeared in a-n magazine, December 2008.
Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.
The Architectural Association, London hosted a debate on Friday 5 December ’08 about Liverpool. Consequent upon the issue of Architectural Review earlier in the year about that city, the speakers at this seminar were asked by architect Brian Hatton, a staff lecturer at the AA, to consider whether Liverpool has experienced a Cultural Turn. The article which follows is a version of my contribution to this debate.
Just hours after I’d started serious work on this piece, the following announcement appeared in Liverpool newspapers: ‘Like many local councils,’ it said,’… we face [in 2009] a budget gap despite making efficiency savings of over £44 million in the last 3 years alone. As a council, we are committed to empowering residents [so…] we are asking local residents and our partners where they think we should prioritise our spending…’
Coming at the end of the extraordinary European Capital of Culture year in Liverpool’s already very one-off history, here is a conundrum indeed. What are we to make of a situation in which the money has run out – and, Oh My, in Liverpool how has it run out! – and yet only now are we being ‘empowered’ to say how to spend the pittance available for next year?
‘Empowering residents’ is a great idea. But in the contexts of discussion of Liverpool’s Cultural Turn, exploration of this sort of empowerment probably raises many more questions than, at least initially, it resolves.
Cultural turn as re-orientation
My position – as an enthusiast for both urban renaissance and the arts and culture, and as a long-time Liverpool resident – is this:
The context of cultural turn suggests a re-orientation. ‘Culture’ can mean either things artistic, or things which concern shared social constructions or understanding.
Either way, cultural shift supposes that an idea, situation or strategy has changed in some fundamental way: that there is a shift in emphasis towards a greater insight about what’s happening, or a refocus of emphasis so we begin to see things in a different light.
Has this happened in Liverpool as we approach the end of our Great Year? As things stand, I’m not sure that it has.
At best, the jury is still out. The things which that jury should be considering – and why – will comprise most of the rest of this paper.
The Leunig – Robertson ‘Future of Liverpool’ debate
A few weeks ago I attended the well publicised regeneration debate in Liverpool Cathedral, between Dr Tim Leunig and Prof. David Robertson.
Dr Leunig’s thesis, versions of which have caused considerable consternation in my part of the world, is, if I may parody a little, that bright and enterprising people should move down South. The South – and especially that hitech Golden Triangle of opportunity around London, Oxbridge and the M4/5 corridor– will then become so overheated that brave capitalists will wish once more to develop Oop North, perhaps almost from scratch.
As a strategy for attracting investment ‘in the regions’ this analysis has its drawbacks – not least that in the Leunig proposals local politicians would be expected to plan for population dispersal in way which would almost certainly lead to their summary dismissal by the electorate.
‘The market’ is not a given
And that’s before we even get to the critique, ably delivered by Professor Robertson and shared by many of us, that Tim Leunig’s analysis takes the invisible hand of the market as a given.
It seemed to us – despite his entreaty to planners across the nation to revisit housing plans and much else – that the UK economy had in the Leunig perception no central steer from government.
Where was the acknowledgement that all parts of the economy receive vast investment from public and other external funds – not to mention much in the way of legal and enabling frameworks?
Where was the reference to John Maynard Keynes and all who’ve followed him?
The past, as was said loud and clear during the Liverpool Cathedral debate, is not a reliable guide in rapidly changing times to the future.
Interventions occur, and opportunities emerge, in ways which few of us can predict – a fact on which Liverpool should perhaps reflect very carefully as we move to 2009.
All this was not however, for me at least, the most challenging part of the Liverpool economy debate.
Unpallatable home truths?
For me, the most critical issues were these:
Firstly, the Cathedral debate showed little disagreement between the protagonists on data.
In specifics, its scope and / or relevance was mildly contested, but the hard information was not what generated the heat in dialogue between the speakers, or indeed amongst the panel members who responded later.
Second, having briskly disposed of the weaknesses in his opponent’s position around government economic strategy, David Robertson took the opportunity to deliver some home truths about his city of residence.
Liverpool would not, he said – once more reflecting the view of many who have sat around the table debating these things – succeed as it might, even now, unless the local economic community moves on.
Self-delusion and self-aggrandisement are no longer options. We are no longer a truly premier, let alone a world-class, city.
And we cannot genuinely aspire for the future to be so, unless we first recognise this uncomfortable truth.
But my third observation is perhaps the most difficult.
The audience for the debate included many people I know well, hard working and very able professionals and community activists who have given much to their city and really want our renaissance to happen.
Several said later that they had been disappointed by the event.
And this was especially true of those who were born and bred in Liverpool, as opposed to the ‘newcomers’, who have lived and worked there for perhaps a mere thirty years.
None of us had wanted blood, but the True Scousers had hoped more by way of apology and remorse than Dr Leunig was able to offer. He had said he was genuinely sorry – and I believe him – that his version of the Truth had hurt and offended people.
But what most of his critics wanted, was that he fundamentally revise his views. And what they had also expected was a robust rebuttal by other speakers, with no caveats about how we could do better.
Liverpool as myth
This is where the Architectural Review’s special edition on Liverpool of earlier this year  comes to bear.
In his contribution to this fascinating publication, Prof. David Dunster chose to consider ‘Liverpool’s powerful urban mythology and civic pride‘. He argues, as here we do also, that Liverpool seems unable to get productively real.
As a collective, Liverpudlians cling desperately to a ‘reality’ which we readily acknowledge is actually no such thing. We vest our heritage in a couple of Liver Birds.
Of course we recognise the error of our ornithological analysis, just as we know there are no pots of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. But on the other hand, we protest, too defensively, that Oh Yes There Are.
And some of us also protest, too defensively, that it’s only other people – on the right and on the left, anyone who offers a critique – who are wrong, that there’s nothing needs to change about Liverpool: it’s just such a shame, in this narrative, that the city has been so poorly perceived elsewhere.
But even if this defensiveness rings true, where does it get us?
Why should architects, or analysts of culture, intent on regeneration, worry about the Liver Birds? What does it have to do with the Cultural Turn?
My answer, reluctantly, is, all too much.
Turning to tourism
Liverpool’s current cultural strategy, and to an extent its whole economic rationale, is, and has for some long time been, directed at tourism.
The city has invested much strategic energy in hotels and talk of ‘destinations’, and in budgetary terms during 2008 it has emphasised above almost all else the importance of large-scale outside events.
This summary analysis is of course too simple; far more has come to pass than that; but the claim contains a germ of truth.
We can all understand why this has happened.
Liverpool, as Professors Dunster and Robertson, and indeed many others, have said, cannot rely for the future on industry – which, Dr Leunig’s longer-term analysis notwithstanding, is likely to stay largely elsewhere – or even on the sub-regional knowledge economy, should we actually manage to secure and develop this.
Nor can we rely any more than we already do on the public sector.
It may not, despite the commentary of many, be very much ‘too large’ for our demography; but we certainly won’t secure a sustainable future by developing it further.
So it follows that the economic activity which will most hold things together for Liverpool in the shorter term is the service sector.
And from that it also follows – because our own city region population has amongst the lowest per capita incomes in Britain – that we need tourists, preferably with quite a lot of money to spend.
So first we need to bang the drum, to light the fireworks, to deliver the spectaculars which catch the eye of those who have never before wanted to come and see us, let alone shower their hard-earned cash in our direction.
Hence, the position in which we now find ourselves.
There has been farce, there have been fantasticals, but somehow we’ve managed – and I speak as one in part on the inside looking out – largely to pull the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year off.
Other cities are keen to learn what we have done. Promising Olympic opportunities seem likely for some of those at the centre of our current activities.
Degrees of success
Why then the hesitation? Why not just heave a collective sigh of relief, enjoy, and move on?
Well, to some extent we can do exactly that.
There are arts practitioners at all levels of engagement across the city who have discovered hitherto hidden inner strengths – some in the face of adversity, some because they were nurtured and supported. We have important buildings and facilities which were not there a year or two ago.
We have engaged, if not captured, the attention of a lot of people outside Liverpool.
But have we cracked it?
I fear that recent little ad in the local newspapers does not bode well.
We as residents weren’t much asked how we wanted 2008 to pan out, but now the money’s spent, our views are invited.
The current recession obviously doesn’t help, but I guess that post-2008 was always going to be difficult for Liverpool. Cultural strategies alone were never going to be a magic cure.
We’ve now been asked to become ‘partners’ in what will probably be a very challenging year ahead.
I suspect that it’s what we can now do without, not what we’d really like, which forms at base the forthcoming agenda.
If this is ‘empowering residents’, it leaves me rather cold.
Which takes me back again to the prognostications of the Liverpool Architectural Review, to the recent Cathedral debate, and to the issue which started all this – our discussion about whether Liverpool is experiencing a Cultural Turn.
The analytical framework developed by Charles Landry shows there are many places large and small which, by whatever criteria, and howsoever termed, have experienced cultural turn.
These range from the solid grandeur of Vienna and its Hundertwasserhaus, through the second-hand bookselling mecca of Hay-on-Wye, to the less dramatic but nonetheless locally very significant reinvention, as a cultural and knowledge quarter, of Liverpool’s Hope Street – a matter in which I myself have had a hand, and which continues to challenge me and various colleagues even now.
I mention Hope Street – which is the thoroughfare linking our city’s two cathedrals – specifically because it is a critically important part of Liverpool.
As the main cultural and knowledge quarter, it probably has the greatest potential for economic development of any part of the Merseyside Liverpool sub-region.
Yet somehow it remains a side-show. Of course everyone agrees our theatres and orchestra are important; of course our universities are critical; but…. In the discourse of the city, there’s always a ‘but’.
What sort of cultural turn?
So it all depends what ‘sort’ of cultural turn we’re looking for.
Landry takes ‘cultural turn’ to mean a situation –
‘where culture is moving centre-stage for another reason when even economics and politics are culturally driven in manifold ways’.
Another writer in Wikipedia refers to the cultural turn as major element of the discipline of Cultural Studies –
developments in the humanities and social sciences brought about by various developments across the disciplines… it describes a shift in emphasis towards meaning and on culture rather than politics or economics… With the shift towards meaning, the importance of high arts and mass culture in cultural studies has declined. If culture was about things (a piece of art, a TV series), it is now more about processes and practices of meaning
and a different observer in Geocities links Market Society and the Cultural Turn –
.. contemporary social theory has been increasingly concerned with the central role of cultural processes and institutions in organising and controlling the economic. This has been labelled by some the ‘cultural turn’ in social thought. The claim is that the economy itself, and the ‘things; which follow through it, is now largely constituted through informational and symbolic processes…. The very fact that markets are not natural events, but social ones implies that they are the results of meaningful human action, and employ cultural beliefs about human nature, social action and relationships. In this sense we need to think about economics and economic theory as culture….
And we can also find references which see it in different types of context, if we look to cultural turn in respect of the historical emergence of environmental issues and other matters.
It can be the ‘culture’ of a specific discipline or action set, as well as the ‘culture of culture’.
Economics, sustainability, knowledge, arts or people?
So are we thinking here about economics, about sustainability, about knowledge, about the arts, or about people?
To my mind the cultural turn which Liverpool now ‘needs’ must include all these dimensions.
What’s required of us as citizens of Liverpool is a deeply rooted change in our mindset about how things are going to work in the 21st century.
Culture as ‘culture’
We need to take on the ‘cultural’ meaning of cultural turn – to value arts and culture of themselves as well as for what they can bring.
This cultural turn would help to refocus in a way which liberates the imagination and helps us move from a fixation on sad football rivalries; and indeed which would help us also to review the fixation with our maritime history.
Football, like the ports and also The Beatles, has been hugely formative for Liverpool, but they’re not collectively the whole of our future.
Culture as economic context
So we also need to move beyond the cultural sense of cultural turn, to a change in our understanding of Liverpool’s economic situation and contexts.
Like it or not, Manchester is as important for our future as the Mersey.
Skills – and knowing how to use them – are as important as spectaculars; but a lot less easy to deliver.
This sort of change and reorientation, as we all know, requires firm, insightful and inspired civic leadership – a feature not much noted in the local politic of my city.
Consensus and leadership
Evidence of consensus about how to move ourselves off the ‘bottom of the list’ in so many ways is difficult to find.
Local debate still rages over a number of physical features and plans for Liverpool. We need look only to the issues around the Liverpool port terminals and the ‘rights’ which some local people continue to claim, in defiance of economic progress, to walk as they wish along the riverbank.
The same applies to the reconstruction of that major highway approach to the city, Edge Lane and to those who continue to oppose it; or to the future location of Liverpool’s two football clubs, or to many aspects of building conservation across Liverpool, that once-second city of the empire.
Sometimes justice, or at least logic, lies with one interest, sometimes with another.
Choices and consequences
But who is up there, spelling out choices and consequences in a voice which actually respects the concerns and commitment of local people, whilst also offering a wider view?
In other words, who is working to bring about the really essential sort of cultural turn?
Who is, to return to our little ad in the newspaper, ‘empowering residents’ in the true sense of providing a cultural climate in which the real options for our future can be debated constructively?
Sadly, almost no-one.
Supporting change for the better
True leadership is not passing the buck, or simply shouting from the front.
It is moving beyond defensiveness, and taking people with you on the basis of open discussion, after they have been helped to understand all the issues.
Getting people to see the bigger picture, and the options which arise from this, is probably the most important thing which Liverpool’s local leaders could do, if they truly want to secure Liverpool’s future for her citizens.
Looking at the detail
Specifics are however also important.
We have during 2008 moved a little way towards the ‘cultural’ ‘cultural turn’, in the sense described by Charles Landry.
The Liverpool Biennial and other events have sparked a greater interest in public space and what we should be doing in it.
The developments along Edge Lane, despite many delays, have encompassed a real physical base for information technology and other creative industries:
Liverpool is becoming a genuinely global hub for developing computer games.
To whatever extent, these developments as such (if not always their locations) are generally perceived as benign, or sometimes as really positive.
Dissenting as residents
But as Landry himself notes, there are other aspects of our city’s development which have been judged more harshly by its residents.
Liverpool’s Albert Dock renewal has at times been amongst these.
This facility, which includes museums and Tate Liverpool, has brought the historic docks back into use as a venue for tourists and cultural visitors.
It has more recently been connected to the city centre by the new and vastly ambitious Liverpool 1 retail, commercial and mixed use development, and it also now connects to the challenged ‘donut’ around the southern inner city, via the new Liverpool BT Conference Centre and the Liverpool Echo Arena.
But still it stands aside from the experience of many hardened locals, who may enjoy the odd spectacular in the Arena or on the waterside, but deep-down still see the area as ‘for tourists’, rather than as an opportunity for more local jobs.
The knowledge quarter
Similar considerations, in a different way, apply to Hope Street.
Liverpudlians one and all agree that Hope Street’s cultural offer is important, just as they agree the universities to each side of that street are critical.
But for the most part they also think that what goes on in these august institutions has little to do with them.
Perhaps there’s a touch less defensivenesss now, but still we hear murmurs in places which matter about ‘elitism’, when really we should be hearing about achievement and excellence.
The Albert Dock and Hope Street are major regenerational drivers for the future, but they remain – both physically and metaphorically – at the margins of Liverpool’s ambitions to be reborn.
So at best, to date, there’s only mixed evidence of the sort of fundamental change in the city’s psyche which would empower Liverpool to face the twenty-first century with confidence.
Real plans and futures
In the recent Architectural Review of Liverpool, editor Paul Finch discusses the fiascos which arose from the genesis of what some now call the ‘fourth grace’, the museum currently being built, after fierce infighting and an abandoned architectural competition, on the water front.
Finch reminds us that competitions are [often] used as substitutes for real decision-making, which in turn derives from the absence of a coherent long-term proposition about Liverpool’s urban future.
Focussing likewise on developments during Liverpool’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, Brian Hatton reminds us in the Architectural Review that the EU surely invented as a way of enrolling provincial or failing cities [to the title]… by regeneration, which seems to mean making them conducive to ‘creative industries’ and attractive to the supposed tastes of top executives.
But as Hatton also remarks, this assumes that regional and sub-regional development can be a force for genuine progress – whilst the reality seems to be increasing concentration of power and resources at the centre.
Whatever, a city which over some forty years can’t even convince its residents of the need to fix its main access route to the centre, will have difficulty persuading others of its long-term focus and resolute determination to move forward.
Clarifying the issues
So where does this all take us?
A few things are, I believe, becoming clear.
First, Liverpool’s 2008 Capital of Culture year may claim some successes, but that alone will not take us far.
There is sparse evidence that real opportunities to empower and engage people at the genuinely local level have had much impact as yet; already, for instance, there is fear that 2009 will find local arts and cultural activities sorely tested.
The window for action is short; it will need to happen very quickly if we are to retain the claimed advantages of 2008.
But this follow-through from 2008 is only now being seriously considered, and impetus is almost certain to be lost.
Where has the leadership been, to embed and prepare for the next stage of Liverpool’s re-emergence as a force to be reckoned with?
Second, where there is in fact now real focus, it remains effectively outside the perceptions of many local citizens.
Tourism and students, not local jobs and the knowledge economy, are for most city residents the defining elements of the Albert Dock and Hope Street.
Except during festivals, these two regenerationally critical locations are of little interest to many Liverpudlians; and even then the festivals are not devised to raise local aspirations.
Increasingly, even these festivals are purely commercial activities which (in the case of Hope Street at least) do not build on prevoius community engagement work.
This lack of overt coherence, the segmentation of approaches to regeneration, and the lack of embeddedness, will not help Liverpool’s progress.
The Cultural Turn as mythology?
And finally, the Cultural Turn in Liverpool is perhaps in part a new mythology, for us to put alongside the Liver Birds.
Look, we say, we’ve pulled off 2008, and now we have Tourists!
But all that says, if we are brutally honest, is that we have Cultural Tourism.
Genuine Cultural Turn, of the sort which I believe would enable Liverpool to construct a new, more sustainable and prosperous future, continues to elude us.
Perhaps we now have a greater emphasis on arts and culture, but we have yet to demonstrate how that can go forward to shape a new future.
Progress or pastiche?
Maybe this can be done where a city has great leadership and vision.
But in Liverpool I must conclude that, for now, the pastiche of Cultural Tourism has eclipsed any fundamental sense of Cultural Turn.
Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and Cities in Transition; and see more of Hilary’s Publications.
After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child’s age. This decision has been widely welcomed – though strangely not quite by everyone. All children need to understand their own bodies and relationships. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.
In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a ‘guide to cross-curricular issues’, for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on ‘Health Education: Education for Health?’.
How different things were such a relatively short time ago.
Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (please forgive the self-plagiarism.):
[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc… and the whims of individual teaching staff…
[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated ‘lessons’ on the ‘nightmares of adults’ (to use Chris Brown‘s apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being….
Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources – financial and personnel – to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it….
But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.
It has to be remembered – or retrospectively understood – that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of ‘Sex Education‘, which had become the almost singular ‘topic’ focus of the then-Conservative Government’s educational legislation.
Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers of anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.
A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was ‘as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.‘
Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.
A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement – to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?
Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It’s been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.
Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.
See also: ‘Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools’ (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 208).
Summary: This is a version of the Keynote Lecture I gave at the NUREC 2008 conference, in Liverpool on 28 July 08.
In it we explore the connections between Knowledge Economies and Ecologies, and Big Science and Regeneration, especially in regional and sub-regional settings, and in respect of issues around Sustainability.
My basic thesis is that Knowledge is not yet recognised for the fundamental resource it surely is.
A complete version of this paper can be found on Hilary’s professional website, here.
Workable Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (Equality And Diversity ‘Regeneration Rethink’)
Regeneration is a crowded field. It’s the market place to resolve the competing demands of social equity indicators as varied as joblessness, family health, carbon footprint, religious belief and housing. But it’s obvious something isn’t gelling in the way regeneration ‘works’. Could that something be the almost gratuitous neglect of experiential equality and diversity?
BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, is squaring up to this fundamental challenge.
Discuss equality and diversity issues with any group of regeneration practitioners, and just one of two responses is likely.
Some respond immediately: Yes, critical for everyone; what took you so long?
For others, the feeling seems to be more : Great idea, but not much to do with me.
So where’s the common ground?
Balancing strategy and everyday reality
How can we balance large-scale strategies for a sustainable economy with the immediate human reality that, as an example, women born in Pakistan now living in Britain have twice the U.K. average risk that their babies will die before age one?
The Board of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, has during the past year thought hard about where in all this some commonality might lie, and what that means for the future. Whether as a practitioner, a client or recipient of regenerational endeavours, an agent for economic development, or a policy maker seeking sustainable futures for us all, questions of social equity matter a lot.
But the case for equality and diversity is easier for practitioners and decision-makers to see in some parts of regeneration than others.
Large-scale and micro impacts
No-one doubts, for instance, that new roads and other infrastructure can attract businesses and enhance employment opportunities for disadvantaged areas.
Some will acknowledge the physical isolation which new highways may impose on those without transport, now perhaps cut off from their families, friends and local amenities.
Almost no-one considers how regeneration might reduce the tragic personal realities behind high infant death rates in poor or ‘deprived’ communities.
The point is that these impacts are differential. The elderly or disabled, mothers and young children, people of minority ethnic heritage: overall the experience of people in these groups is more community disadvantage and fewer formal resources to overcome this disadvantage.
But for each ‘group’, the tipping points are different.
The scope for examination of differential equality and diversity impacts – of infrastructural arrangements, of process, of capacity building and of everything else to do with regeneration – is enormous, and would go quite a way towards reducing unintended consequences and even greater serendipitous disadvantage for some people.
This work has hardly begun, but it is I believe a basic requirement and tool for making progress towards genuinely remediated and sustainable communities.
One size does not fit all
It is obvious that currently something isn’t gelling in the way that regeneration ‘works’. That something, to my mind, is the almost gratuitous neglect of difference. However one looks at it, one size simply does not fit all in the greater regenerational scheme of things.
But if you zoomed in from outer space, you’d be forced to the conclusion that one size does in fact fit almost all when it comes to senior decision-makers and influencers. There are amongst leaders in regeneration some women, a few non-white faces, and perhaps even smaller numbers of influencers with personal experience of, say, disability; but not many.
This self-evident fact has, of course, been a matter of deep concern to those in the regeneration sector over the past few months.
Meeting social equity requirements – or not
In the final three reports it published before its amalgamation last September into the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) demonstrated very clearly that regeneration bodies at every level, including 15 Whitehall departments, are failing to meet their race relations obligations. They also showed very compellingly that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, experience poor health, and encounter the criminal justice system.
Causal factors cited as underlying the CRE’s findings encompass most of what regeneration is supposed to do well. Failures of leadership, impact assessment, legal framework and recruitment are all lamented in the reports.
And we can add, alongside the CRE’s analysis, inequalities arising from gender, belief and other factors such as disability, as well as the wider issue of the invisibility and powerlessness of people of all kinds who are on low incomes – who, as it happens, are the main ‘recipients’ (perhaps we should call them ‘clients’?) of regeneration.
There is a huge disparity here. Look round pretty well any significant regeneration-facing board room or policy think-tank, and it’s apparent that the majority of those wielding influence (on behalf, we should note, of people whose communities are to be ‘regenerated’) are comfortably-off, able bodied, white men.
In this respect, as everyone involved freely admits, the BURA Board fits the mould. Each BURA (elected) Director brings something special to the table; but few of them can offer at first hand a personal perspective divergent from the stereotype. We have therefore decided, unanimously, to address head-on this increasingly serious challenge to our capacity to deliver as leaders in regeneration.
But the BURA Board focus on equality and diversity, whilst driven primarily by the impetus to uphold best practice in regeneration, is not entirely altruistic. This is also good for business.
There is plenty of evidence from well-grounded research that sharing different understandings of any complex situation, right up to and including at Board level, brings benefit all round – including to the bottom line.
Our resolve to implement equality and diversity good practice throughout BURA has required that we look anew at how we function. The BURA Board recognises that we will need to be receptive to new ideas, willing to change things where needs be, and transparent in our own processes and activities.
The BURA programme for action
The BURA action plan, launched in Westminster on 20 February ’08, is therefore to:
· conduct an equality and diversity audit of all aspects (including Board membership) of our organisation’s structure and business, and to publish our outline findings and plan for action on our website;
· monitor and report on our progress towards equality and diversity;
· dedicate a part of the BURA website to offering up-to-date information on equality and diversity matters, in a format freely accessible to everyone;
· develop our (also open) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Network, launched in February this year (2008), to encourage very necessary debate and the exchange of good practice;
· appoint from amongst elected Non-Executive Directors a BURA Equality and Diversity Champion (me), to ensure a continued focus on the issues.
In all these ways – developing inclusive partnerships at every level from local to governmental to international, supporting new initiatives and research of all sorts, keeping the equality and diversity agenda in the spotlight – we hope to move regeneration beyond its current boundaries, towards a place from which we can begin to establish not ‘just’ remediation of poor physical and human environments, but rather true and responsive sustainability.
Regeneration is complex
Regeneration is more than construction, development or even planning; it has to address for instance the alarming recent finding by New Start that sometimes ‘race’ concerns are focused more on fear, than on entitlement or social equity.
Delivery of our ambition to achieve genuine best practice will require the courage to move beyond current and largely unperceived hierarchies of inequality and diversity – not ‘just’ race, but gender / sexuality too; not ‘just’ faith / belief, but also disability – towards a framework which encompasses the challenging complexities of the world as people actually experience it.
No comfort zones
There can be no comfort zones in this enterprise. Acknowledging stark contemporary truths and painful past failures is essential if we are to succeed.
The purpose of regeneration is not to make practitioners feel good, it is ultimately, rather, to do ourselves out of a job; to improve, sustainably, the lives of people who are often neither powerful nor visible in the existing wider scheme of things.
Moving from piecemeal regeneration to sustainable futures makes two demands of us: that we see clearly where we all are now; and that we ascertain properly where the people of all sorts on whose behalf we are delivering regeneration would wish to be.
Multiple aspects of diversity
When we can balance constructively, say, the carbon footprint concerns of a businessman in Cheltenham, and the ambition to influence childcare arrangements of an Asian heritage woman in Bury, we shall be getting somewhere.
Diversity in its many manifestations – age, belief, (dis)ability, gender, race or whatever – is part of the human condition.
Consistent focus on the many factors underpinning that condition would be a powerful impetus towards sustainability. It would also be also a huge professional challenge.
Taking the lead as regenerators
That’s why we as regeneration leaders and practitioners must make equality and diversity a critically central theme, both within our own organisations and in the services which we deliver.
And it’s why we must start to do this right now.
We hope you will want to join us on our journey.
A version of this article was published as Regeneration re-think in Public Service Review: Transport, Local Government and the Regions, issue 12, Spring 2008.
Hilary Burrage is a Director of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association.
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Social Inclusion & Diversity