When the time comes for historians to ask critical questions of Liverpool's "renaissance", they'll doubtless cast their eyes over culture year (the best thing to happen to the city in its entire history, according to the Oldham Echo, a once-in-a-generation opportunity criminally squandered, according to anyone with a discerning eye), the civic despoiling of the Pier Head & the inundation of the upside-down caravan masquerading as a ferry terminal (thank-you, Professor Chucklebutty) due to rising water levels.
They'll also gasp with incomprehension at the decision to construct an open-air mini version of Trafford Park (thank-you, Wayne) otherwise known as Liverpool One just as the deepest economic recession in 70 years hit the global economy.
As well as the economic insanity of Liverpool One's arrival (taking trade away from Church Street & Bold Street in the process), there is also the wider philosophical question to address. That question is met head-on by the Oldham Echo, no, sorry, only kidding, the Guardian on its Comment is Free pages by Neal Lawson (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/02/consumerism-society-shopping ).
Rightly lamenting that the growth of such developments has turned most shoppers into "turbo consumers", Lawson observes: "It's not just what we choose that reveals our consuming compulsion, it's the thousands of things we don't. We consume to buy identity, gain respect and recognition, and secure status. Shopping is the predominant way in which we know ourselves and each other, and it is at the point of ruling out other ways of being, knowing and living."
Naturally, such sentiments would be branded as heresy on Oldham Hall Street.
Lawson goes on to say in his piece:
"The market extends into more aspects of our lives in its search for profit. At the weekends there is increasingly nowhere to take the family but the shops and other paid-for enterprises. We end up in a vicious, negative feedback loop; we shop literally for retail therapy, to make us fleetingly feel better because we live such narrow monocultured lives."
Those who wish to disparage Lawson's contention as the mutterings of a Meldrewesque curmudgeon would do well to pause & ask themselves whether civic life should place at its heart the dubious &, as we now increasingly see in this recession, reckless phenomenon of "retail therapy".
The issue is explored in two books, just published, & reviewed by Jonathan Glancey in last Saturday's Guardian, "Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-first Century," by Anna Minton, & "The Thinking Hand: Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture," by Juhani Pallasma (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/01/ground-control-the-thinking-hand ).
Glancey notes that Minton's book features London's Canary Wharf & Liverpool One, which, he declares, is "a shopping mall that could be anywhere, which launched on a titanic scale and served as the main attraction in the seaport city's year as European capital of culture in 2008."
You can almost hear the winces from within Grosvenor, the city council & Oldham Hall Street, can't you?
Minton's book, according to Glancey, details the changes to cities such as Liverpool with the opening of retail behemoths, observing that "Minton argues that 'now more and more of the city is owned by investors, and its central purpose is profit'. She is not 'against change' --cities are evolving organisms-- 'but against the type of change we have persued, laid out in Docklands more than 20 years ago'.
"What are these changes? They are public squares owned and run by private rather than public corporations. They are the undemocratic urban development corporations of the 1980s-quangos, Minton says, chaired by property developers. They include shopping centres, gated housing estates and 'non-places' such as airports. They are entire city centres, such as Manchester's, which, for all the big New Labour talk of 'urban renaissance' and 'regeneration' has, over the past grasping decade, 'reinvented itself as a property and shopping mecca' while poverty has grown around it."
You could substitute Manchester for Liverpool in the quote & the point would equally apply.
Moreover, Minton appears to have cast her net far & wide to provide supporting evidence for her position: "Minton is very good on the government's dim and nasty 'Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder' initiative of 2002. This has led to countless boarded-up houses in parts of northern cities, Liverpool included, that could and should be perfectly decent homes in perfectly decent streets. Instead they have been sold off, decadently and wastefully, to maximise profits for developers at the expense of local people."
The Oldham Echo occasionally mentions the entire boarded-up neighbourhoods in areas like Tuebrook & Anfield, but doesn't, or most likely daren't make the connection between this civic scandal & the insane insistence that the best hope for the city's economy lies in "a giant shopping mall that could be anywhere".