On the 14 & 15 May I am contributing to “The Global City: Past and Present“, as part of an AHRC international research network that interrogates the city and its varied international projections & representations from a historical as well as contemporary perspective.
I will present a paper focused on the varied cultural representations of Liverpool as a city that feels marginal or marginalised by some of its inmmediate communities, at the same time as being capable of firing a global imagination. See my proposed paper summary below and keep an eye on updates and developments.
Urban Storytelling: Remembering, Narrating & Re-connecting Space in Liverpool
By: Dr Beatriz Garcia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In 2003, Liverpool packaged its (eventually, successful) candidature to become 2008 European Capital of Culture under the slogan: ‘The World in One City’. The bid promoters for this sought-after European Union accolade were building on the city’s history as a major port projected on to the Atlantic and China Seas, a history which led on to the establishment of some of Europe’s oldest Chinese and Africo-Caribbean communities within its urban centre. The slogan was, however, questionned by representatives of these communities as they have felt invisible or secondary to the city’s contemporary cultural life. Despite its old reputation as a historical world city, after decades of economic decline, shrinking population and political marginalisation, 21st Century Liverpool has often been criticised for becoming a parrochial and inward-looking city which in no way shows the character of a contemporary global hub.
This paper reflects on the varied representations and interpretations of Liverpool as a historical world city, a marginalised city in the late part of the 20th century, and a city undergoing an international image renaissance since 2008. The paper builds on a ten year research programme that assessed perceptions and representations of place and space in Liverpool from 1996 until 2008 and its aftermath. The paper places an emphasis on the findings emerging out of a three year AHRC Fellowship which interrogated the ways in which a broad cross-section of Liverpool residents think of space in their city. Residents were asked to name and represent the spaces that define their daily experience of Liverpool by drawing them on paper. This resulted in 89 cognitive maps of Liverpool, including both current and remembered (no longer existent) spaces; and both local, national and international locations (from a deli in the city centre, to bars in Manchester or a music store in New York). Spatial analysis of these subjective maps allowed identification of specific sites which were then rendered into GIS maps and labelled according to the various meanings suggested by residents. These maps, combined, offer an indication of the multi-layered associations triggered by different areas (spaces) within and outwith the city across generations.
This work has been cross-referenced with the findings emerging out of research into 10 years of media representations of Liverpool as a city of global significance in the context of its candidature and eventual award of the European Capital of Culture title (Garcia 2006, 2010). Findings related to this media-content analysis exercise, which include local, national and a selection of international newspapers, offer a significant insight into the way representations of Liverpool have changed in the lead-up to, during and since 2008. These range from the initial disbelief at the city securing such international accolade amongst a segment of the UK popular press in 2003, to the widespread celebration of its success and repositioning as a credible international – for some, ‘world city’ – destination in 2008, and subsequent debate around the renewed strenghtening of its historical links with China, which became a local trademark at the time of Shanghai 2010 World Expo.
Overall, the paper argues that notions of place and space in the city are deeply influenced by a combination of historical and contemporary, personal and mediated narratives. These narratives emerge out of decades of lived experiences and local community memories, but also out of new (or renewed) stories popularised in the context of major cultural interventions such as the European Capital of Culture title. The acceptance that a city has a global standing (be it in terms of its worldwide networks or its worldwide reputation) is partially subjective and can vary enormously from one community of interest to the next. Regardless of possible contradictions, the media play a defining role in establishing a city’s global image, as evidenced in this study. For cities such as Liverpool, which can build on a historical reputation as ‘second city of the British Empire’, a worlwide diaspora and centuries-old communities from across the globe, special events and their media projection can trigger a wide renaissance of transnational stories and open up avenues to re-think city spaces, in particular, their connections with and significance to the rest of the world.
 See: http://www.culturalmappingspace.com/