Celebrating the Small

The Turner prize being awarded to Assemble for their work with Granby 4 Streets is timely and welcome news for the importance of ‘place-making’ in our communities. Muriel Gray’s disappointment at Assemble’s nomination started a pithy debate as to whether Assemble’s community-centred work constitutes art or not, frankly who cares? There are fundamental human needs and issues being elevated to national and international public platform and that can only be for the good.

Right at this moment there are lots of examples of Liverpool pioneering highly engaging and innovative grass roots development and place-making projects. Across the city there are many game-changing community projects that offer an inspiring human approach to revitalizing our streets, homes and spaces. Big Society this is not, rather than fulfilling Cameron’s dream, these projects are gaining momentum as a reaction to the failure and imperfections of decades of top-down initiatives and development that have divided communities. Housing market renewal projects frequently socially cleansed communities but the alternative approaches being harnessed by We Make Places, Assemble and others, bring a new sense of optimism and empowerment.

Take Homebaked in Anfield. In the shadows of some of the highest salaries on earth, you will find wards that fell within the 1% of most deprived communities in the UK in 2010. The community here rather than wallowing in the statistic is engaged in positive change and empowerment to turn things around. Homebaked is a co-operative bakery and community land trust set up in 2012 and the bakery itself emerged from a Liverpool Biennial project in 2012 (so it this type of regeneration activity has been considered as ‘art’ previously). The thriving bakery which is run for and by the community, and is looking at extending into wholesale and capitalising on tourism spend, forms just one component of a community vision to revive their High Street and ‘get the buzz back’ with a mix of living working and shopping.

The Homebaked Community Land Trust in the words of co-founder Britt Jurgensen, ‘celebrates the small’. Homebaked are proving that when you look at the small, you can test and pilot events, enterprises and ideas for space usage reflecting the needs, culture and talent of the community, not importing an identikit high street or housing solution. This community are currently hard at work planning the next steps in shaping and delivering their high street vision and holding their first event on the public space in their community.

Larger scale top down development on the other hand is about buildings rather than people and you only have to move a couple of miles north to Bootle to observe the obliteration of the former Klondyke community, during the final throes of a Housing Market Renewal Scheme. The tightly knit terraces provided 100 years ago by William Klondike, a philanthropic landlord have made way for a new suburban fabric of cul-de-sacs, picket fences and a largely new population of greater affluence than those it ‘displaced’. When development is big and about buildings not people, ultimately social cleansing happens.

On the fringes of Liverpool City Centre stands Churchill Way, a late 60s temple to highway engineering, a twin elevated flyover, with concrete walkways and ramps. The Liverpool Strategic Investment Framework (SIF) 2012 from the council proposed the desire of the city to demolish Churchill Way. As citizens we proposed that rather than demolition, for less cost, the re-purposing of ‘The Flyover’ to form a park and alternative venue would offer an urban green space, promenade and venue. Once made public through Seven Streets, our idea for The Flyover went viral and led to a successful crowdfunding campaign for a feasibility study. The completed feasibility study included engaging with the local community in imaginative ways, a social media campaign, a festival and interactive lighting workshop, each on the structure itself.

In recent weeks, the project has received planning approval for the 1st phase of development for The Flyover. Our ‘Urban Workbench’ project will provide a grass-roots construction training facility, using state of the art digital manufacture, working with local residents to both build interventions and buildings for The Flyover and to offer resources to empower individuals and communities to deliver changes in their own neighbourhoods. Focus will be on nearby communities and areas into the north of the city.

Urban Workbench by We Make Places & Friends of the Flyover

Urban Workbench by We Make Places & Friends of the Flyover

Friends of the Flyover see the implementation of the project being evolutionary and pragmatic, led by a growing progression of small and delightful interventions, with a growing programme of events and cultural activities which will continually pilot and test what is possible, addressed by the citizens of the city. In common with Granby 4 Streets and Homebaked, this project is driven by people not buildings or architecture.

With the case for community-led placemaking now in the public arena through Assemble’s Turner Prize win, hopefully the prospect of further communities suffering the fate of the Klondyke neighbourhood will be a thing of the past. It certainly feels that Liverpool is leading the way in turning the tide and through The Flyover and Urban Workbench, We Make Places are proud to be part of it.

Steve Threlfall

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