Liverpool’s experience has many similarities with the experience of Glasgow. It is also a city with a very strong, powerful tradition of cultural activity, a strong community of artists and amazing architecture; it too lost its economic base in the middle of the 20th century, which in its case was the port and the trade and comerce connected to the ships. As the city relied on commerce and didn’t have a strong industrial base, after the decline of the port the city emptied out of job opportunities. It’s population halved dramatically from 800,000 to 400,000 inhabitants in a relatively short period of time. The city centre became a ghost town, with no people living there. Places like the Albert Dock were closed down and covered over with concrete during the 1960s and the 1970s.
In the 1980s, about the same time as in Glasgow, people started asking similar questions:
how do we rethink this city?
how do we atract investment?
how do we rediscover our economic base?
In Liverpool one of the first moves was to re-open the docks and utilise them to attract tourism, on the one hand by bringing restaurants, bars and shops to them but very importantly also by attracting a prestigious art and cultural centre, the Tate gallery, to open its branch there. Tate Liverpool opened in the mid 1980s in the Albert Dock and Liverpool became one of the very few cities beyond London that had a Tate gallery. After this decision however not much was happening for almost a decade. The city saw the value of attracting and retaining artists and developed interesting initiatives that acquired national and international importance such as the Liverpool Biennale. But art and culture were not at the heart of the city’s development strategy again until 2000 or 2001, when the local authorities, tourism bodies, development agencies and the creative communities started to discuss the city’s potential bid for the 2008 European Capital of Culture title – using Glasgow as a point of reference and a source of inspiration. The city decided there should be a very strong connection between the ECOC programme and the local population to avoid the danger of using the year only to attract tourists and develop high-profile but short-lived extravaganzas.