Centre of the Creative Universe
It was hailed as The People’s Opening, and so it seemed to be. The 38,000-strong crowd sandwiched in front of St George’s Hall for the kick-off of Liverpool as European Capital of Culture was impossibly all ages, thick with prams and wheelchairs, tottering elderly and teens with tall cans – not to mention police.
A blockbuster, if brief, 40-minute street party ensued, the spectacle featuring an aerial construction ballet with men-at-work pirouetting off cranes, riding scissor lifts and performing in a hectic jam session from the rooftops of Lime Street Station, St George’s Hall and the Radio City Tower, identically kitted out in neon hard-hats and fluorescent vests. For the climax, Ringo Starr bellowed his humdrum track ‘Liverpool 08’ to an indulgent crowd that doggedly sang along. Cue the fireworks and paper snow, and then repeated announcements for people to leave quietly and carefully. ‘This city has seen tragedy before,’ said a stern voice over the loudspeaker. ‘Let’s not mar this great evening.’
Although it was over quickly, the hard-hat and crane dance, billed as ‘the transformation of the Big Dig into the Big Gig’, was an apt metaphor for a city performing its own regeneration tango – the product of a £3 billion investment. Arriving in Liverpool for the opening weekend, I’d half expected to see
this new city revealed, as though (as it often feels with Olympic cities) the redeveloped Liverpool would be un-crated overnight. But it is still a city of hoardings, great swathes concealed in no-go areas.
The opening party baptised Liverpool as the ‘centre of the creative universe’, but in truth, it doesn’t feel like the centre of anything yet – especially when the centre itself is still in gestation. Liverpool is currently oxymoronic. New developments and converted warehouses (including my hotel) are flanked by abandoned buildings with smashed windows, some cunningly boarded up with colourful Liverpool 08 propaganda. As a tourist, these ‘in-between’ spaces are unnerving when taken in alongside the spanking new.
The overall impression is that a great gamble is taking place. Does regeneration really spread like a contagion, infecting adjacent sites? Has Liverpool really thought about the question of legacy? Liverpool is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has the greatest number of listed buildings in the UK. Despite its fascinating sea-faring history, the emphasis of the Capital of Culture marketing campaign is based entirely on the construction of the ‘new’. They may put on a good show, but the promise of Liverpool’s performing forklifts and dancing cranes has yet to materialise.