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Hung, Drawn & Quartered

June 22, 2011

How many quarters can a city have? The newly proposed ‘Hope Street Quarter’ or ‘Hope Quarter’ joins other equally ridiculous quarters in Liverpool’s city centre such as the Met Quarter (a shopping mall) and the ‘Knowledge Quarter’ along with made up zones such as Ropewalks and East Village. The trend for this arbitrary zoning and re-zoning of city centres is part and parcel of the regeneration industry, transforming formerly run-down or derelict areas by giving them pseudo-cosmopolitan handles. Manchester’s ‘Northern Quarter’ for example used to be the seedy, undeveloped but ‘Bohemian’ area around Oldham Street. It’s still seedy, undeveloped and ‘bohemian’ and has retained that aura of rough and ready edginess that all city centres require as an escape from the sanitized retail zones that have spread like a consumerist cancer across the rest of Manchester, post-bomb.

Liverpool has copied Manchester’s blueprint in a desperate bid to re-market itself as a vibrant, forward-thinking 21st century haven for spenders and students, the chattering classes and the ‘business community’ anyone in fact apart from the people who actually live in the city, those who don’t fit into the marketing peoples’ vision of the future. Yet these quarters and zones have no boundaries either real or imagined; where does the Knowledge Quarter begin and end, where is East Village on the map? The corproate bumf for the Knowledge Quarter stresses it is targeted at ‘wealth creators’ not y’know boring old academics and intellectuals. The very thought!

The development of the Hope Quarter is aimed at attracting money away from Liverpool One, and whilst the proposals speak of ‘community and ‘culture’ it is commerce, as usual, that is really fuelling this concept. Liverpool One was supposed to be the solution to all Liverpool’s problems, a shiny, retail paradise that will not only cater for local shoppers but also entice people from other towns and cities on the periphery away from Manchester. What is has done is move the centre of commercial activity away from the traditional shopping areas moving south from the city centre from Hardman Street and Bold Street up towards the cathedrals and the bourgeois/boho area of Hope Street with its theatres and bistros and colleges. Just as the formerly thriving area around London Road has now become a wasteland of tatty material shops, cut price bargain stores and run-down alehouses, so the city centre south of say Hanover Street is quickly fading as the money gets sucked into the privatized black hole of Liverpool One.

The Hope Quarter is designed as a counterweight to the short sighted, easy money options that resulted in Liverpool One’s development which was itself the culmination of 30 years of constant ‘re-generation’ beginning with Albert Dock. If the city centre looks much better than it did 30 years ago and that’s a matter of opinion, then there’s no doubt it looks very different. Yet there are still many questions to be answered about how aristocrats such as Lord Grosvenor and wealthy companies such as Peel Holdings can own swathes of the city centre and enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary people who are increasingly squeezed out of the city centre back to their red brick reservations on the periphery. For all the billions spent in Liverpool via EU objective one funds, government and private investment, what has changed for the everyday people? Walk a few miles in any direction from Liverpool One – north to Kirkdale, south to Toxteth, east to Kensington (or even west across the Mersey to Birkenhead) and suddenly the rosy future promised during the run-up to Capital of Culture seems just another mirage.

Simply re-naming something doesn’t change it. Canny Farm is still Canny Farm even if the planners prefer Stockbridge Village and Duke Street is still Duke Street even if the marketing suits prefer to name it East Village. How many quarters can a city have? The Four Quarters of the Apocalypse – culture, retail, education and administration? A city and a psyche can’t be neatly divided in such a fashion and such zonings are actually counter-productive, forming ghettoes and increasing division. If we can have a Hope Quarter why not a Despair Quarter? I’d certainly spend my hours if not my money there.

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