Ask anyone who has never visited Liverpool what they think of our fair city and you will probably be shocked by the stereotypical ideas they have. Liverpool as a strange cocktail of social unrest, brilliant musical talent, economic decline, shell suits and moustache's, football, violence and drug problems.
The over zealous national media have done little to help this image, especially with recent TV programmes like The Grafton Rooms and Mersey Blues adding to the negative but vaguely amusing 'calm down!' image of scousers.
For those of us who live here, the regeneration process is plain to see. Just look at the changes around the gyratory - car park to social centre in no time at all. The next part of the city centre to get this treatment will be the Ropewalks area (Duke St., China Town and surrounding streets). Some exciting changes are being planned, the most ambitious of which is the transformation of the old Tea factory on Wood Street into a multi screened independent cinema and media centre. The brain child of FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative technology) and City Screen (Britain's leading independent film exhibitor) the building will contain three screens presenting the best in independent, art house and world films. This is a huge plus for Liverpudlian film lovers, who since the closure of the 051 last year have been deprived of anything but American multi million budget cinematic efforts.
Liverpool is one of the only major cities in Britain without an independent cinema. The planned development will make up for lost time and more by creating a media centre to rival any in Europe. Organisers have got their eyes firmly on the European tourist market as well as the needs of local people. Easy Jets services from Speke mean that no European is more than two hours from Liverpool, providing rich economic picking's for the traditionally struggling Arts and cultural industry. Tourists spend nearly 1/2 billion pounds in the region each year, a figure that is expected to grow. Liverpool is also home for much of the year to over 40,000 students, many of whom will be studying arts, technology and media. All these visitors can only be good for the international image of Liverpool as a city of culture and beautiful architecture.
Besides the cinema there will be two galleries featuring work by artists working with new media technologies, design labs, community training programmes, presentation spaces and of course a bar and lounge area for artists and customers to share ideas over an espresso or two.
The FACT centre won't be finished until autumn 2001 so there is a while to wait yet, but other changes within the Cultural Quarter will be well underway before then.
Responsible for the regeneration plans is the Ropewalks Partnership. Although sometimes surrounded by controversy regarding board members and the allocation of the European monies for the developments, the partnership have made great steps forward with the planned works. Major cities such as Dublin (Temple Bar) and Manchester (Canal Street) have recently gone through similar changes, and have been looked to for an example of how run down areas can be given a new lease of life. Access, lighting and security have been pinpointed as issues important to the majority of people working, living and visiting the area and everything possible is being done to ensure that the area becomes a more congenial place to be. A stark contrast to the litter strewn dark streets that we have been used to. China Town will also be receiving a facelift with the construction of a new arch which has been designed according to the ancient Chinese principals of Feng Shui, ensuring that no bad luck happens in the area - good vibes all round! All these developments should go towards regenerating liverpool's reputation as well as its streets.
By Aimee Best