What’s trending? On the cultural challenges facing cities

The 2015 Madrid carnival. No idea. Image: Getty.

Cultural and creative industries are increasingly central to cities’ strategic agendas. They positively impact local economic development and can help generate greater social cohesion. As such, city administrations will have to consider the challenges these industries are likely to face in the coming years, and how cities themselves might need to adapt in order to meet them.

That is precisely the process EUROCITIES recently underwent with our members. By focussing on the horizon 2030, and talking to members, we identified five areas that will need the attention of city administrations. Through this dialogue, and thanks to our ongoing involvement in the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative, financed by Creative Europe, we have started to map and share ideas about the on-the-ground changes this will entail.

Horizon 2030: Creative thoughts for cultural planning

First, changing demographics will mean that cities’ populations have different needs. Many cities will focus on developing intercultural dialogue to welcome newcomers; others will offer services to a growing number of pensioners, or young families.

In many cases, culture is a perfect tool to help engage otherwise vulnerable societal groups. Birmingham’s Arts Champion scheme ensures it brings quality cultural activities to more remote neighbourhoods by pairing them with large city-funded arts organisations based in the city centre. Each organisation is then challenged to work with local adults and families to reduce social isolation and boost cohesion.

Second, audience empowerment means making better connections with citizens by reflecting their ideas in the everyday work of cultural organisations. Local cultural institutions will need to adapt by working more closely with local citizens. Co-creation can help build ownership of culture-led development among citizens.

From the city perspective, this can also mean making sure public spaces are accessible to different users. To take the example of public libraries, Aarhus provides rooms for mothers to feed their babies, and Antwerp offers knitting groups in one community library to help migrants socialise while learning Flemish.

Third, given that city budgets are increasingly stretched, we can expect to see a new approach to governance and networking. Cultural organisations will have to look for alternative and innovative forms of income generation, and work on more cross-sectoral projects. Sofia has already launched its Fund for Innovations in Culture, which earmarks funding for more risky and innovative cultural and creative projects. The city has doubled the amount of private funding raised for these projects, with a view to making them more sustainable in the long term.

Fourth, new technologies will heavily impact the way people access cultural services. From the city point of view it will be important to make sure all citizens have adequate digital skills, across social and generational divides, to deal with the trend. New technologies will affect the way cities communicate with citizens and work with local stakeholders.

By 2030 we expect this to be mainstreamed into arts and cultural programming. However, we all still have a lot to learn about how to make the most of these new cultural opportunities. What will be the impact of new technologies on cultural organisations?

Fifth, city administrations will take on new roles as brokers or advisors as cultural organisations start changing their business models. Rather than offering financial support, cities will be well-placed to use their connections to help broker new partnerships, or offer public spaces to be used by artists and cultural organisations.

They could also help out by assisting local cultural organisations with EU-funding applications or promoting local activities through their communications channels. In northern Portugal, ADDICT (the country’s creative industries agency) is bringing together a diverse range of local stakeholders – such as companies, artists and universities - with no history of cooperation in order to boost the performance of the regions’ creative industries.

Cooperating for better policy

By sharing their experiences, cities can learn from one another and develop the policies needed to face these challenges with confidence. Networks like EUROCITIES and the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative provide such spaces to foster cooperation among cities.

These challenges need to be approached strategically, with a clear political will and vision. The more evidenced-based learning that we share, the bolder new initiatives will become.

Julie Hervé is senior policy advisor at EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities. 


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.