This morning, after a huge heaping of branny breakfast, my brother and I visit Martin in Granby, an area of Toxteth in Liverpool where there are four whole streets that have been marked out for ‘renewal’.
- In local council speak, this roughly translates as ‘this area is broken, let’s bulldoze it and put some luxury flats here and hopefully make some money’.
- In developer speak, ‘we get some grants to redevelop brown-belt sites. Here’s some land we can get cheap’
- In landlord speak, this translates as ‘quick, easy money? OK’.
- In tenant speak, this translates as ‘We can’t afford the rents anywhere else. Oh we have to move? Right then, we’ll pack’
- In home-owner speak, this translates as ‘I worked hard for my house. My family has lived here for generations. I am not moving’.
So for the last few years, the council and developers and the remaining home-owners in the four street area of Ducie, Jermyn, Cairns and Beaconsfield have been involved in an uneasy stand-off. The council and developers offer paltry sums and terrible terms for the property.
If you are retired and have no mortgage, would you accept a lump sum that couldn’t buy property anywhere else in the city? Or would you exchange it for free rent on a flat, when you have kids you want to pass your house to? The last 22 households aren’t tempted.
So while the vacant houses around them collapse in on themselves, while contractors employed by the council come round and rip the lead off the roofs (‘to stop other people doing it’), the residents continue to live there. Windows get bricked up. Big security doors and screens get installed. They watch as their once bustling neighbourhood gets used as a dumping ground for old furniture, trailers, rubbish. Pigeons move in. Everything gets eerily quiet.
The thing is, the houses are quite big, and nice. They are of a brick Victorian terrace style that anyone down in the South of England would be eager to preserve and pay sh*t-loads of money for. The developers insist that they aren’t worth keeping. Its cheaper to scrap them and do new-builds, not even keep the facades, though they initially paid lip-service to this idea.
Several years ago, the residents of Cairns street decided to do something about their neighbourhood, not content to watch everything slide into dereliction. So they spent lots of time tidying up the rubbish, carting away the abandoned furniture.
Eleanor, a green-fingered and community minded resident, spear-headed an effort to green the area. In pots, bowls, baskets and stacks of old tires, flowers and vines and saplings are planted. plants hang from lamp-posts, stack along the top of walls, train up fences. Someone builds boxes for flower beds on the pavement. A trailer gets turned into a nursery stand for seedlings. They enter in the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition, and win neighbourhood prizes. People start coming specifically to admire the plants.
It would be nice to get more publicity for the area and the resident’s plight. It’s also a wonderful example of a collective ‘f*** you’ to the council and developers that don’t appreciate the personal significance or architecture of a place. A neighbourhood is not a collection of buildings. It is a community. Establishing a destination – in the words of James H Kustler, ‘a place worth caring about‘ – takes the efforts of the people that live there. The council and developers can help but they often get it wrong. And its nice to have a few plants around.