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Liverpool's challenge: no simple formula for bottom-up regeneration

editorial

Talking to the Liverpool Echo about the city's status as European Capital of Culture 2008, the Right Reverend Dr James Jones, the city's Anglican bishop, proclaimed: 'Its culture, its enterprise, its humour, its compassion, its faith will become the talk of Europe.' So what about its architecture?

As is evident from the profile on page 28, it is not that the bishop is unaware of architectural issues. On the contrary, his ministry is firmly in the Faith in the City tradition, placing urban regeneration at its heart. It is simply that for Jones, as for so many community leaders, successful architecture is the product of - rather than the catalyst for - a healthy functioning society.

There is nothing new about this stance. The Church of England and, to varying extents, Britain's other organised religions, have long since been wedded to the notion of grassroots development and organic growth.

But the mantra of bottom-up regeneration is gaining currency, not only as a means to improving the lot of deprived areas, but as the key to cultural and corporate success.Urban guru Richard Florida is currently seducing politicians with his theory that subsidising business and commissioning landmark architecture are less effective as economic policies than creating an environment which will attract the so-called 'creative class'(see pages 22-23).

It is an appealing idea.There have been enough failed 'Bilbaos'to prove that it takes more than jaw-dropping architecture to resuscitate a city. And Florida makes a convincing case that the seemingly frothy formula of galleries, cafes and live-work space translates into farreaching economic gain - not only among the cappuccino classes but for society as a whole.

But there is a danger that its popularity with decisionmakers lies in the fact that it obviates the need for substantial capital expenditure. And a strategy which is too sophisticated to be dependent on tangible evidence of large-scale investment may also be so subtle that it encourages inertia.There is no easy formula for channelling momentum and investment into effective 'place-making'. But if Liverpool carries it off it will be the envy of Europe - just as the bishop predicts.

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