Rediscovering Hidden Liverpool

There are many things for an Urbanist to love about Liverpool. I rediscovered many of them when I revisited the city this summer to attend the International Festival of Business. 

I studied Urban Design at John Moores University in the late 90's, did a couple of consultancy commissions there in the early Noughties and have been back a few times since on social/cultural visits. I know the place reasonably well, but it's been over a decade since I went off the beaten track there and thought it was worth a post.

Parts of the City have been completely transformed. The central area now links seamlessly to the waterfront via Liverpool One and connects a 21st Century retail and leisure experience to the waterfront which contains the maritime DNA of the City. 

The maritime culture of Liverpool has given the City its distinctive accent (via the immigration of Irish labourers), its food (the lobscouse broth from which the city's inhabitants derive their nickname) and it's trading history which catalysed the building of banks, warehouses, trade halls and pubs. 

Whilst the new additions to the City are important, it is the older parts of the City that make Liverpool what it is. There is an interesting architectural language that binds maritime cities like Liverpool to Hull, Cardiff (Butetown / Mount Stuart Square), Bordeaux, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and many others. Of these Liverpool, I think, communicates this maritime character most convincingly because so little of it has been polished and Disneyfied as a 'visitor experience'. You won't have to look far to see the City that Liverpool once was and arguably still is.

The economic marginalisation of the City in the 70's, 80's and early 90's has meant that much of the city's grit (even some of the detritus) have remained, which is actually really positive because it provides such a strong sense of place and a palpable link to the past.


What really struck me about returning to the City is how the older, gritty, parts of Liverpool are often only a street a way from the glossy consumer-driven places. In cities like Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester the really interesting (slightly feral!) parts of the city are not always that easy to find, having been cleaned up or swept away by previous generations of development. In Liverpool, you don't need to walk far to find interesting backstreet pubs, 'lost' streets and old port buildings still bursting with a myriad of activity. Just because these parts of the City don't have a Costa coffee franchise doesn't mean that they aren't desirable, or valuable to the City's economic wellbeing or sense of place.