I had a great chat recently. One Wednesday after work, I headed over the city from the Wordscape studio, down Jamaica Street, through Liverpool One, stopping on the strand to take a photo of the Liver Building, and then towards the Business District and an event titled Boundaries, hosted by Engage Liverpool at One Fine Day, and supported by me and Fiona. As I walked, I chatted over text to a friend in Boston about how small Liverpool feels as a city to walk across. End to end the walk took 20 minutes. It felt like a great walk.
Twenty or so of us gathered for the event, the first in a three-part series. Gerry very skilfully set the scene as the event kicked off after we turned to the person next to us to say why we’d come here, for this chat. This was an evening to talk about the invisible and physical boundaries of a place, of our place – more specifically Liverpool – and why they’re important and who sets them. The sense of love for the place was felt in the room from the outset. Gerry clearly loves his city, but I suspected from the outset that everyone who turns up at an event like this, does too. It was a good crowd.
And a great conversation. I said a little bit about how an invisible boundary had been crossed when the New Bird Skatepark wall had been vandalised by Netflix, who replaced years of built-up and cherished artwork with a blue sky and a flock of flying flamingos, only for it to be covered again within 24 hours. Another gentleman spoke about how his work for the European Space Agency runs up against the idea of boundaries by its very nature, and how Brexit is also a story ultimately of boundaries. And then we chatted for a bit, all of us, everyone really pitching in.
We talked about how the boundaries of a city centre can cut the rest of the city off, how they’re a cultural divide. How they’re about identity and belonging, about comfort and security, even if just in our own minds. I think I knew that this stuff was important to me – Fiona and I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate on this series when we were asked – but the range of perspectives in the room had me hooked. It was interesting to hear verbalised how I subconsciously felt about the topic as this chat unfolded. I’ve been more conscious of them as I’ve crossed them since.
Rob Burns, who was involved in us winning world heritage status, then spoke about the specific boundaries for our world heritage site. Why the boundaries were picked, the criteria that places have to fulfil in order to be deserving of this special global status. For the first time I heard the phrase, ‘outstanding universal value’, and instantly felt newly proud of bits of my town. It really does have outstanding universal value – that’s why I’m here, I thought. Rob spoke about architectural quality, authenticity, innovative building technology and uses and integrity.
The word ‘integrity’ changed the conversation somewhat, as it hung in the air for a while. You see, our world heritage status has been a bit of a hot topic of late as the city evolves and new things are built. And that’s really why we’re here, to start off a conversation about boundaries and what boundaries are important to us and what aren’t. How would we feel about us moving the boundaries of the world heritage site if we then lost the status, all because what we proposed to do within it lacked outstanding universal value? Should the things we build here, within this boundary and elsewhere all be authentic, have high architectural quality, be innovative and have integrity? Should we expect and demand that?
We finished the evening looking at examples of other world heritage port cities and Gerry discussed how Bordeaux involves its citizens in the process of development. It felt like a good note to end on. Citizen involvement is of outstanding universal value.
On 19 June, we’ll be picking up the chat again as we have a walk and a talk. We’re starting in Central Library for 5:30pm and then we’ll finish up at the waterfront where I’m hoping to have a pint or two and carry on the chat for a little longer into the evening. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.