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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, August 02, 2004
    Not a nice little badge
    Interesting slant on the abandonment of Alsop's Fourth Grace in Prospect magazine:

    Tony Siebenthaler, director of lobbying body Downtown Liverpool, believes that the decision to scrap the Fourth Grace was influenced by the fact that Liverpool waterfront recently received UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The WHS status coincides with the emergence of a tall buildings policy in the city. "This scheme could have been made commercially viable if enough apartments could have been built," said Siebenthaler, "but the pressures of the World Heritage status meant that it was not an option because of height and volume restrictions. This could become the way that all future projects go in Liverpool. A poll suggests that 85 per cent of the public reckon that World Heritage status is a good thing for the city, but they see it as a nice little badge, not the rigid and restrictive management regime that it is. Hopefully in six months time, the council will see the enormity of the folly that is the World Heritage status, and make another brave decision to give it up."

    This from an architectural and business community angry that the city's success at achieving recognition on the international cultural stage has been bought at a high price - regulation and restriction now abound.

    The Downtown Liverpool website is a forum where voices of the counter-Culture gather: a place to be critical. Which is vital at a time of massive change in the city - but actively, positively critical.

    Other voices today have shared that stance. Conversations I had with Jim whilst walking him around the derelict roads of the Boot Estate. "What would have happened if we'd have lost the Capital of Culture bid? We wouldn't have had any culture? And now, all the culture we have must come from Brussels," he raged. As he affirmed my instinct - that it's more interesting debating culture on the city's rough outer fringe during this time than it would be whilst embroiled in the mediated atmosphere of the city centre.

    And an excellent Channel Four documentary about Niall Griffiths, Scouse-Welsh outsider writer of raw contemporary classics such as Sheepshagger and Stump. Like me, he found being unemployed in Liverpool an illuminating time: "The dole is the unofficial sponsor of the arts." And like the critical voices above he has an alternative view on the shape and form of the city's culture. He talks about the city being built on the blood of slaves, and how so much pain in the place's past must have a splintering effect on the present. He looks at the river, uses the image of Liverpool as a city which has turned its back on England and says "The city's soul is a very open, floating one."

    Far more in all of this than will fit on any nice little badge.