There is nothing like the excitement of visiting a new city – and Liverpool was surely a city I should have visited years ago. But this was my first time and after 10 years of documenting Glasgow I was keen to see if there was scope to document stories from another city undergoing regeneration.
I was invited to talk about my Disappearing Glasgow project at a ‘Concrete’ Symposium organised around the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool Metropolitan Church. On Saturday I had a free day to explore the city, so armed with my iPhone I set off for a one day recce about town.
As soon as I stepped out of Lime Street station I was covered in a spray of dust as buildings all around me were being demolished slowly, picked away at, piece by piece. Redundant 1960s civic buildings were being replaced by yet another complex of luxury student accommodation. A common sight we are used to seeing in Glasgow.
Liverpool is a city that has embraced its previously neglected waterfront on a massive scale. The newly opened Liverpool One connects the city centre and the river via a ‘super stylish’ centre for shopping, restaurants, and entertainment that dwarfs and kind of suffocates the old city centre.
Newly designed museums and office blocks beamed along the waterfront, all seemingly trying to compete with each other for the most modern and radical architecture. It made me think of how Glasgow’s own Riverside Museum looks – isolated in its shiny aluminium clad curved walls surrounded by nothing but ruins and grassland. This level of waterfront regeneration in Liverpool is something Glasgow could only dream of.
Of course, the city centre and the regenerated waterfront was not the ‘real’ Liverpool. Like most cities, its shiny city centre is simply an impressive facade to entice tourists and business. I travelled on a bus outside the city centre to Anfield and Toxteth and found empty streets and abandoned homes. Regeneration was happening at a very different and somewhat archaic way in these inner city areas.
In Anfield I visited a neglected church, abandoned for over 35 years, now being transformed into a Mosque and community centre. In Toxteth I visited streets where houses were for sale for a £1 in a desperate attempt to encourage communities to settle again. Both grass-roots community projects and collectives where local people were fighting back to save their own neighbourhoods from further blight and annihilation.
Like Glasgow, Liverpool is very much a tale of two cities and a city that is packed with many stories and documentary projects. The next step is It will be a challenge to document somewhere further away and less known but I look forward to my return visit and following up from this recce.
Thanks to Kirsteen Paton and Victoria Cooper for being excellent tour guides on the day