Podcast: The Middle Bit

The late lamented King of Kings statue delighting a visitor. Image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr/creative commons.

You know, on this podcast, I’ve talked a lot about the American Midwest considering it’s a place I’ve been twice, for a few days each time.

So, I figured it was about time we got one of the locals on to tell us about the region, to argue with my diagnosis of its ills – and, most importantly, to explain what its obsession with weird public art is.

Dayton native Sarah Manavis wrote an excellent piece for us with the memorable headline “Here are the six freak statues of Ohio”. She tells me the parable of Touchdown Jesus; explains how Arnold Schwarzenegger came to be in Columbus; and discusses how her home state came to vote for Trump. Oh, and also – why is somewhere very clearly in the eastern half of the United States known as the MidWest?

After that, Patrick Maguire, the not-quite-Scouse wunderkind of the New Statesman politics desk joins me for this week’s audience participation bit, in which we ask: what’s everyone’s favourite weird tourist attraction?

Alas, it’s Patrick’s last week at the New Statesman. So as a very special treat I let him talk about his home town, Southport, and its lawnmower museum.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Liverpool looks to move hospitality industry outdoors

One of the industries that’s taken the most immediate hit from the Covid crisis is hospitality. Bars and restaurants have been closed for the duration of the lockdown; even once it eases, the need for social distancing will reduce the number of punters they can serve at any one time.

There’s not much that can be done about the former problem, but one city, at least, is taking steps to tackle the latter. On Monday Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, announced a £450,000 project to redesign streets and enable businesses to create covered seating areas outside. 

The goal is a streetscape that looks more like many continental European cities, where cafes spill out of their premises into the surrounding streets. So a restaurant that finds, post-lockdown, that it now needs to keep tables 2 metres or more apart will be able to make up for some of the lost capacity by expanding its footprint.

Liverpool council is working with designers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Liverpool BID Company, another business group, on the project. Details of the criteria for the fund are being finalised, reports the Liverpool Echo, “and the process for being part of the pilot project will be announced in mid-June, once the phased reopening of retail in the city has begun and the impact been assessed”. If all goes well, lockdown restrictions on bars and restaurants are expected to begin easing in early July.

There are unanswered questions about how all this will work – whether it will require pedestrianisation or other changes to street design, for example, or to local planning restrictions – and it’s not clear how far that £450,000 will actually stretch. But this is nonetheless a lovely example of solving a problem while actually making a city better. 

Something similar is happening across the North Sea, incidentally, where the Dutch city of Rotterdam is allowing all businesses to convert parking spaces to retail space without a permit, and even offering them a loan of some free decking with which to do it. More here, albeit in Dutch.