Here are two songs that I'd been thinking of including in the previous blog post about regeneration here in Liverpool. In the end they didn't quite fit with what I wanted to say but I thought I'd still share them. Think of it as a kind of bonus track to the last blog post.
They're both examples of the North-Western folk music that I've known all my life, and are both written about the slum clearances of the 60s and 70s - telling through music what Who Cares communicates through film.
First off there's the Liverpool view, from Jackie and Bridie - Back Buchanan Street
And then the view from the other end of the East Lancs Road, the Houghton Weavers singing about the Manchester equivalent - Room Up in the Sky
Since before I moved to Liverpool, huge areas have been boarded up or 'tinned' - part of the New Heartlands initiative to regenerate the areas. I'm not sure how long that's been the case but even so, that's almost two years and it's only in the past couple of months that the bulldozers have moved in and flattened the houses. I don't know how much longer it will take them to build the new estates, but there are houses nearing completion on another building site in Edge Hill and they must've been at least a year in the building.
So that's a minimum of three years that streets-worth of a number of communities in Liverpool have been empty. That's a long time for shops and businesses in already poor areas to survive whilst waiting for someone to sell things to or employ.
It's not like it's a small area either. One area I pass regularly is this one in Edge Hill - three or four entire streets of terraced housing have been demolished. I went up and took a few photos a couple of weeks back, you can some idea of the scale of destruction from this panorama...
And that isn't the end of it. Less than half a mile down the road there's the Edge Lane regeneration project which is going to clear another swathe of this part of Liverpool. At least with that one there's some reasoning behind it, as they'll be widening the main road route into the city centre. If you head half a mile in the opposite direction there's more of the same just off Smithdown Road. This time they've left the houses that are actually on Smithdown Road, and have just cleared the area behind, so once they're done if you don't look too closely you won't notice that the fabric of the area has been ripped out.
There have been people fighting against the schemes but the council seem to have pushed on regardless. Then once the damage is done, they have the gall to come up with a half-hearted sorry, I think we made a mistake.
What annoys me most is that we've been here before. In the 1960s and 1970s we did this wholesale replacement of streets, broke up communities and demolished huge numbers of now-desirable old houses. Could no-one in power spot that this wasn't likely to work or come up with something better?
It's not like you need to go far to find the evidence. About a mile from this site in Edge Hill is Falkner Street. At one end it's still cobbled and lined with lovely Georgian terraced houses - the houses fetch around £0.5m and the street featured in a recent Hovis commercial showing the Tommies going off to the first World War. It's one of the most desirable parts of the city. Yet when Nick Broomfield filmed his Who Cares documentary in 1971 they were busy demolishing some of the houses further down the street.
The houses in Edge Hill are a bit newer and not quite as grand as those on Falkner Street, but that just means they're more suitable as single-family homes. Lots of the Georgian terraces have been broken up into flats as there's not the same demand for eight bedroom houses now we don't have servants.
Conveniently the Google street view car passed through Edge Hill before the demolition, so I can do a few "now and then" shots. I've taken a copy of the street view images to save you having to click through and also because they'll presumably change at some point in the future, but if you follow the links you can explore what the area used to be like. There are some more photos of the area (and the location of the old Edge Hill college) over in my Edge Hill photos page.
Traffic lights by the Durning Arms: Google street view
End of Uxbridge Street: Google street view
Is this really the best we could do? Turning streets into a ghost town for a few years, then flattening them and handing them over to a developer to throw up something cheap and cheerful? It might be the easiest and cheapest option in the short term, but I don't see how it's going to achieve anything approaching regeneration of the area in the longer term.
UPDATE: There's a follow-up musical bonus track for this post.
Out for another bike ride today and I've found a much better route that runs to just over six and a half miles without lots of to-ing and fro-ing in Sefton Park. It still takes in both Princes Park and Sefton Park, and adds in a lengthy ride along the bank of the river. It's the first time I've been along that stretch of the river - the marina and housing is all very nice but it's just one huge soulless housing estate isn't it? Are there any shops or things that aren't houses or offices down there?
A couple of things lately have reminded me how little exercise I've been getting, and how much I enjoy it.
A few weekends ago John McKerrell and I threw our bikes onto the train and headed up to Southport. From there we set off down the Trans Pennine Trail to see how far we could get in the day. Having not done any training, and having only just gotten my bike back on the road (the gear cable had stuck, giving me only one gear - resulting in hardly any cycling over the winter) I wasn't expecting to get too far. In the end we made it all the way down to Widnes, and then cycled over the bridge to Runcorn station to catch the train back. When I checked my bike computer at the end of the day I was rather amazed to find we'd done 38 miles.
And then over the weekend I spent an enjoyable couple of hours throwing a frisbee round with some mates in a park in London. I haven't played frisbee since I used to head down to Parkers Piece in Cambridge to play ultimate frisbee in around 2005.
This afternoon I decided to get out of the flat and get a bit of exercise. So I headed through Princes Park and into Sefton Park. You can see where I went on the map below (although the orange trail isn't that easy to see against the map)
Both parks had plenty of people out enjoying the weather and jogging, walking and cycling, and there were the odd games of football or rounders. I even found the boating lake on Sefton Park but didn't spot any boats out on it - maybe it hasn't reopened yet after the refurbishment of the park.
So this summer I want to get back into being a bit more active. The only problem is finding some people to play sport with. There are plenty of five-a-side leagues and such, but I'm not looking for anything so serious. What I want is the sort of groups I knew in Cambridge - people who are up for a regular, friendly, anyone-can-play game of football (anything from 3-a-side through to 10-a-side), or game of ultimate frisbee. Rounders or softball would even be a possibility. A social trip to the pub afterwards wouldn't go amiss either, but isn't an essential.
Does anyone know of anything like that in the centre of Liverpool? Or is anyone up for joining me to start getting out to enjoy the summer and get some exercise?
On the evening of Thursday 29th April I went along to the Philharmonic Hall with a couple of friends to see a rather rare occasion - a Gil Scott-Heron gig. I haven't had chance to write-up the event so far on my blog, but I don't want to leave the occasion unrecorded.
It was an amazing gig. One of the best gigs I've attended. I can't imagine how good he'd have been to see in his prime - the banter with the audience was superb, and the songs fantastic. The guy is, understandably, a legend.
And if you don't know who I'm talking about, have a listen to this (which was the probably the stand-out track of the evening) and go check out his back catalogue ("I Think I'll Call it Morning", "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "Lady Day and John Coltrane" are personal favourites)
"My idea of a good workspace is a little different: a small office, with windows that open and lots of natural light, in a dense and well-served neighborhood in the central city."