Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 9: From Cityscapes of the Past to Brave New Worlds of the Present – Heritage and the Politics of Urban Revitalization *

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 9: From Cityscapes of the Past to Brave New Worlds of the Present – Heritage and the Politics of Urban Revitalization *

Article excerpt

I repeat that there is a politics of space because space is political.


1 Introduction: Urban Regeneration - Some Questions

The regeneration1 and revitalization of central parts of old industrial cities in Britain - a process often involving the use of industrial heritage on a considerable scale - since the late 1970s has resulted in a wholesale physical transformation of urban space and built environment and of their uses. This raises a number of questions as to the overall economic, social and cultural effects of these dramatic changes. Have these cities become more liveable places by providing more spatial justice,2 namely better environments for work, leisure and living for their inhabitants, which would involve "the fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and the opportunities to use them" (Soja 2009)? Do these changes, which no doubt are part and parcel of the shift towards ever more emerging post-Fordist forms of production and reproduction in western capitalist democracies in a globalized environment, amount to nothing less than another urban revolution? Are they signaling new forms of how we (as the French historian and sociologist Henri Lefebvre would have it) "produce" space proceeding towards the ultimate perspective of a new humanism created by and for a thoroughly urbanized society?3 Or do they rather indicate another paradigm, in which urban space is getting ever more exploited by property market-driven interests?

In the following, these questions will be pursued by taking a closer look at Liverpool as one of the earliest examples of large-scale urban regeneration and revitalization efforts in Britain. Liverpool's urban revitalization, which is still far from complete, has made (and continues to make) extensive use of industrial heritage. Some of the issues involved in this practice will also be discussed.

2 Liverpool Past and Present

Liverpool's extraordinary development and its famous "scouse" identity4 have been a result of its geographical location at the Mersey estuary (cf. Schuch 2012) (Fig. 9.1).

The city celebrated its 800th birthday in 2007, but its fortunes only really took off with the slave trade in the eighteenth century and, by 1800, it had established itself "with unashamed commercial pride" (Belchem 2007: 220) as the slave trade capital of the world. After abolition in 1807 the city and its merchants quickly adjusted to the new situation. Not only did they spearhead the efforts at abolishing slavery and the slave trade in the British Empire (eventually achieved by 1833), but they also shifted their focus towards new markets and commodities: Raw materials (cotton, timber, oils, various foodstuffs) from all over the world passed through Liverpool to the manufacturing centres of North West England, and their finished products were exported through Liverpool. By the beginning of the great Victorian boom Liverpool had established trading links "with every port of any importance in every quarter of the globe" (Baines 1852: 840). As one of only two general cargo ports in Britain (the other one being London), the city had become a major hub in the international system of trading and finance priding itself of seven miles of docks along the tidal river Mersey. On top of all this, in the second half of the nineteenth century the port and the city increasingly specialized in another important cargo: emigrants to the New World. Thus Liverpool, the 'gateway to and second city of the empire', continued to grow as a port and as a centre of shipping and business all the way through to World War One.

Until the 1960s the port managed to cope with the turbulences caused by two world wars, depressions and realignments of old trading-patterns. Then, after "a seemingly fatal collapse in the 1970s and early 1980s", Liverpool saw a "striking revival in seaborne trade from the late 1980s", however with "its hardest transition, from being a labour-intensive general-cargo port to [. …

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