ONE of the triumphs of the Victorian age was the creation of the great public parks, no more so than in Liverpool. They have become, and remain great gathering points for the population.
If the parks were one of the most enduring achievements of the 19th century, the 21st century is likely to be remembered for the privatisation of great public spaces.
Minton says: 'From Liverpool to Manchester, London to Newcastle, more and more streets are owned by private companies with the sole aim of making money ... imposing skyscrapers and fortress-like developments which not only provide physical barriers but engineer fear and mistrust.'
Liverpool One, the showpiece extension to Liverpool city centre, is one of the “privatised” areas prominently mentioned in a new book out this week, Ground Control.
Author Anna Minton writes about Liverpool, Manchester and other major cities where increasing amounts of once-public space is handed over to the control of private organisations.
The argument in favour of “private” streets is that ownership ensures high levels of security, safety and cleanliness.
But when people in Liverpool say they are “going to town” they do so in the knowledge the streets belong universally to all of us.
Have you seen a Big Issue seller on the other side of the invisible wall separating the public city centre from the “private” city centre?
There is perhaps a feeling when visiting Liverpool One that you are really a visitor, entering somebody’s private space, welcomed only at their invitation and with their permission. So you had better be on your Sunday-best behaviour.
It is easier, perhaps, to understand why places like the Trafford Centre, Cheshire Oaks and similar out of town shopping malls are in private hands. You can choose whether or not to go them. Liverpool’s main Post Office is now housed within the wall-less Liverpool One complex (a name first coined in the marketing blurb. The 42 acres was not originally meant to have a distinct name at all).
Private space is a practice spreading to the suburbs where increasing numbersof gated communities are being built. It’s an idea imported from the US where the rich and famous insist on living behind closed walls. Have you visited Yew Tree Road in Calderstones, or Millionaire’s Row, as I call it, judging from the fortifications?
I can’t decide whether it is to keep us out, or prevent WAG-ish families from getting out of their safe havens to invade “our” public space. Most of the occupants are happy to grow rich courtesy of the ordinary folk living in Cloud Public Land, but they are unwilling to rub shoulders when it really comes down to it.
Yet our politicians seemingly hand over the rights to developers to expand no-go areas.
In her book, Anna Minton suggests privatising the streets is actually having a negative impact on our lives.
It has allowed private developers to wrestle control away from local government, creating spaces designed for profit and watched over by CCTV, with their own uniformed security guards.
Minton says: “ From Liverpool to Manchester, London to Newcastle, more and more streets are owned by private companies with the sole aim of making money ... imposing skyscrapers and fortress-like developments which not only provide physical barriers but engineer fear and mistrust. “
She wants to see an alternative continental approach that will celebrate shared public space to reinvigorate civic engagement.
Meanwhile if you do want this week’s Big Issue head to Church Street or Williamson Square, "traditional" public spaces with litter, warts and all.
*Anna Minton is also the author of The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Viewpoint on Fear and Distrust, and is a member of the writers' panel for The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Ground Control, released June 25. Penguin Books, £9.99.
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