August 14, 2008

Leave Cambridge? For Liverpool?!?

So, the Tory's favourite think tank has published a paper (pdf) which claims that we should close Liverpool and move its inhabitants down to Cambridge. With the predictable flood of outrage, the-North-is-nice-really, and it's-true,-they're-all-money-grabbing-spongers commentary following in its wake.

I've held off writing anything about it here because I don't think adding to either side of the argument will achieve anything other than help sell a few papers (or provide a few website readers, at least).

Instead, I thought I'd offer a personal perspective on why I'm in the middle of doing just the opposite to the recommendation and swapping punting on the Cam for a ferry 'cross the Mersey.

I didn't leave Cambridge because it's a terrible place - it's not. I lived in East Anglia for a decade, with the majority of that time in Cambridge, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There's plenty of greenery (cows graze in the centre of town for God's sake); it's easy to get around by bike (although often a right pain to navigate by car); and there are many technology firms providing jobs. And those companies aren't the big Blue-chip names you get in the M4 corridor, so there's more of a start-up/doing-interesting-things vibe to the place.

However, a few years ago I was doing some hard thinking about what I was trying to achieve, and what was important to me, and came to the realisation that Cambridge doesn't provide the answer.

Part of the answer is geographical, or is that geological? Cambridge is on the edge of the fens, and hence very flat. That makes it hard to go mountain-biking, or hill walking, unless you can make a weekend of it. Compare that with Liverpool, where in a day trip you can choose between the Lakes, Snowdonia or the Peak District.

But more so it's about what I can offer to the area in which I live. Cambridge is doing just fine for successful technology companies, and its problems are related to transport infrastructure and how to cope with the hundreds of thousands of homes that the government seems intent on dumping onto the surrounding countryside. That's not something that interests or excites me.

Having grown up on Merseyside in the 1980s, I'd seen the worst of Liverpool's decline first-hand. The idea of taking MCQN Ltd. to the city and helping both to grow really got me fired up, and a trip back for the Biennial in 2004 confirmed my decision.

I'd pictured my return along the lines of the prodigal son, returning to single-handedly drag the city back to prosperity, so I was somewhat surprised (and only a touch disappointed) to discover that they'd quite rudely started without me.

The building and reconstruction work that was already underway in 2004 has continued apace in the intervening years, adding a few new towers to the city's skyline and converting huge numbers of old office blocks and warehouses into new apartment-blocks and office complexes. Wandering round the city whilst looking for somewhere to live I've been amazed at how much things have changed in such a short time. And at how much work is still going on.

It's not just the buildings though. When I left the North-West in the mid-90s, there weren't many computing jobs, and those that did exist were mostly in defence work and over towards Manchester. Nowadays there's a thriving community of geeks in the North-West and along the M62 corridor, with regular get-togethers in Liverpool (and Manchester and Preston and Leeds and Sheffield...).

There's still plenty of regeneration work to do - the city centre has been the focus of the improvements and you don't have to travel too far out to find boarded up houses and deprivation - but there's a buzz to the place, which I'm sure isn't just because it's currently the Capital of Culture. I'm looking forward to getting into the thick of it, and to help push things forwards myself, when I pick up the keys to our flat in the shadow of the Anglican cathedral next week.


Posted by Adrian at August 14, 2008 01:39 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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