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Liverpool 2022: The Regeneration Games

By September 6, 2017

Politics. Liverpool.

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Liverpool is a city built on legacy. A short trip around the city centre is all that’s needed to reinforce such a belief. Whether it be static ships left behind by departing imperial winds, sporting grandeur doused in red and blue, or the Cuban heel footprint of four local lads in matching suits, Liverpool is only too happy to provide a history lesson for all that walk its streets. Here, the buildings talk just as freely as those who call the city home.

It comes as no surprise then that Liverpool’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 is centred on a regenerative legacy. With Durban relinquishing its duties to host the showpiece event, Liverpool, along with Birmingham, has sprang into action. Both cities are currently jostling for the necessary elbow room to make a case to host the games, with the Conservative government set to appoint one as the UK’s candidate this month. The eventual host city will be decided this year.

The two bids couldn’t be more different. Birmingham puts forth the offer of a low risk games: centring development on an already established athletics stadium (Alexander Park) – amending its capacity from 12,700 to 40,000. With one host city already dropping out, and the 2010 games in Delhi marred by controversy, Birmingham stands out as a reliable surrogate. Transplanting the games would be carried out with a relative ease. A newly elected conservative West Midlands Metro Mayor won’t go unnoticed by the current government either.

In contrast, Liverpool has been struck with a fit of ambition. Substantial redevelopment in the north docks has filled the eyes of the Liver Birds watching over the Mersey and the city it feeds. The city council aren’t naïve; hosting the games would give the greenlight to initiatives that laboriously trudge from department to department in search of financial backing. An opportunity to develop while enriching an already celebrated legacy is too good to miss, it seems. Liverpool is spying its own (re)generation game reboot.

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“You’re walking around the city sometimes, and still, after living here all these years, you notice just how amazing our buildings are”, Joann Kushner, chair of Liverpool City Council’s Culture, Tourism and Sport select committee, shares. Joann is just one of many within the council confident that Liverpool is the right city to host to games. What’s more, she argues regeneration won’t be confined to infrastructure and business. “Distributing wealth is always a baseline for any initiative at the council. The Commonwealth Games is no different, and it will reach areas such as the north docks, Bootle and Kirkdale; places suffering from deprivation and in need of redevelopment. Hosting the games is one way of drawing together sport, culture and art as a means of helping communities to flourish.”

The impact of hosting the games is broad. Everything from housing to available facilities is in line to reap the rewards of further investment. But, in order to host the games, Liverpool must develop a capable athletics stadium. The solution: Everton’s new home at Bramley Moor Dock – complete with removable athletics track. Once complete, the stadium will serve as the focal point of the north docks regeneration, with tens of thousands of football fans descending on the water front each month.

The centrepiece of the bid, however, is the proposed floating swimming pool housed at The Albert Dock. With added buoyancy provided by a desire to deliver a visually striking games, the structure defines Liverpool’s dedication to ensure the Commonwealth itself will benefit from returning to the North West. Liverpool aren’t looking to be the only benefactors. Not only will the games thrust the city’s regeneration plans toward materialisation, but a Liverpool games will do its part to draw positive attention to an event that lives in the shadow of the Olympics and its own colonial history.

It’s fair to say that Liverpool is in need of hosting the games more so than Birmingham. The value of hosting the games in Liverpool, according to Deloitte, will stretch upward of 1bn, with Manchester also benefitting from the event being hosted in the North West. The carrot of the games dangles even more tantalisingly when it’s learned that the council’s central government funding has been cut by 62% in the last seven years. Therefore, it’s no surprise that everyone from Tony Bellew, Steven Gerrard and Beth Tweddle have been asked to endorse the bid. Even Frank Cottrell-Boyce, script writer of London 2012’s opening ceremony, has been spied as the man to dream up Liverpool’s own opening ceremony. “Liverpool is renowned for its events, so there isn’t a chance that we won’t showcase what we have here; not just in terms of our sportsmen and women, but also our writers, our artists, our musicians, our heritage – everything we have to offer is integral to the bid”, Joann passionately assures.

However, winning the bid is just one hurdle for Liverpool. Convincing its inhabitants that the legacy will be felt in homes across the city is where the real work lies.

In Liverpool, a city left to rot in the salt waters of the Mersey estuary through the 1980s, regeneration isn’t music to everyone’s ears. And they would be right to be sceptical. Regeneration is a studio apartment complex and adjoining coffee shop chain away from gentrification. This is where the problem lies for Liverpool City Council. Delivering the games will be hard enough, but delivering a games that put the people of Liverpool first is necessary to validate a prospective legacy. “Making the city work for the benefit for the people who live here will always be a top priority”, Joann informs, adding: “that being said, if we are able to improve the city’s economy, improvements on a local level will undoubtedly be felt.”

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In recent years, a thriving student economy has made itself known to Liverpool’s skyline. But below the 16th floor penthouses residing under cloud cover, a number of Liverpool’s cultural hubs have been made to suffer – notably the Kazimier and 24 Kitchen Street. While the minds behind the Kazimier have since established Invisible Wind Factory, situated in the north docks, their new home is just a stone’s throw from the 10 Streets regeneration project. The redevelopment, a collaboration between Liverpool City Council, Harcourt Developers and AWP Architects, has been the subject of much discussion since its announcement. In transforming the 10 streets into a neighbourhood fit for aspiring classes, it has been argued that a prevailing social housing shortage in the city is being neglected.

Should Liverpool’s Commonwealth bid prove successful, developments such as 10 Streets will fast forward toward completion. As much of the prospective games is set to take place in the north docks, it’s no surprise 10 Streets is at the front of the queue. Yet, it must be said that the area is calling out for development. With the world’s cameras potentially focused on the area, a polished image will only benefit a city that generates £4bn a year through tourism.

While debate will centre on projects that pave over Liverpool’s prevailing social issues, the Commonwealth Games can bring about positive change of its own. Following 2022, the proposed athlete’s village will be transformed into a mixture of private and social housing; partly incorporated into the Homes For Life scheme. This is an initiative which aims to build houses fit for all ages – from first time buyers those in retirement. “The Mayor has a priory of building 10,000 new houses in Liverpool. Therefore, Homes For Life is a priority,” Joann points out. A successful bid will see an injection of progress pumped into schemes such as Homes For Life, and set the ball rolling on a lasting legacy that improves social welfare across the city. Joann adds: “The Commonwealth and athletes village is an opportunity for the council to get moving on the scheme right now. With the bid, we can quickly guarantee the first 500 of the 10,000 houses. All priorities within the council will come together eventually. The commonwealth bid just gives us the opportunity to do it now.”

It must be stressed that the potential of Liverpool hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 is a positive. The city would undoubtedly benefit on a socio-economic level. Even without the Commonwealth Games, much of the development around the north docks of Liverpool will still go ahead – and the same goes for social improvements across the city, albeit on an extended timeline.

Development across the city is needed, and we need only look toward the benefits of being European Capital Of Culture for proof. Before 2008 Liverpool was a completely different city. The award made the area even more self-aware of what it had to offer. No longer was Liverpool chained to the irritable jangle emerging from Mathew Street: the city had swathes of culture to showcase, and its new tag provided a long craved platform. In typical Scouse fashion, everyone was made to take notice.

Liverpool Council image... Commonwealth Team pic.. Images by Gareth Jones

Growing up in the city through the 90s and early 2000s, buildings like St John’s and its iconic tower (although completed in 1969) provided a thumping hangover of 80s austerity. The landscape was washed out, and the pale beacon in the sky looked down on a city crying out for development. That development came in form of EU money, and Liverpool has been a palpably different city ever since. Unlike Manchester and Leeds, the two focal points of the proposed northern powerhouse, Liverpool has gone about its regeneration in a different manner – granted, a little slower. Not one to follow trends, the city hasn’t seized the potential of a growing digital economy unlike its counterparts, instead holding true to an inimitable identity and a healthy tourism sector. Evidence, perhaps, as to why faceless developments such as 10 Streets and Liverpool Waters haven’t been met with fanfare across the city. That said, the latter does pose the threat of intruding on the dock’s sought after UNESCO world heritage status.

The glimmer of 2008 is starting to dwindle; Liverpool needs to host the 2022 Commonwealth games. In doing so, the city would be guaranteed another 10 years’ worth of substantial regeneration; a welcome boost in an era where economic stability hangs on a government careering towards a hard Brexit. Sure, some elements of gentrification will have to be swallowed; arguments over how money should have been spent are inevitable. But Liverpool is ambitious, and should dare to dream of hosting the Commonwealth games in 2022. A new legacy can be left across the whole city, should culture and social welfare receive the rightful attention in plans for future regeneration.

All images courtesy Liverpool 2022

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