There’s a great moment in the television series Mad Men when the pretentious, bearded copywriter Paul Kinsey rails at two clients attempting to demolish Manhattan’s Penn Station. “Do you know where the greatest Roman ruins are?” he says. “They’re in Greece! Spain! Because the Romans tore theirs all down!” In the programme, as in real life, the developers got their way: the old station, a beaux arts masterpiece, made way for the postmodern glitz and glass of Madison Square Garden.
But its destruction was not in vain, as the opposition it galvanised laid the foundations of the modern preservation movement – the apotheosis of which is the Unesco World Heritage List. It began in 1975 and now includes 1,121 sites in 167 countries: from the universally recognisable (Taj Mahal) to the more recherché (Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, anyone?). Into this latter group falls Liverpool’s waterfront (pictured), the 2004-awarded status of which is currently under threat.
The Paul Kinseys at Unesco object to the proposed construction of skyscrapers (and a new football stadium for Everton FC) in the vicinity of historic dockside buildings. Liverpool’s leaders counter that these buildings would in fact enhance the older ones’ beauty. Neither is correct. Architecture, like all art, is subjective. One thing Unesco can guarantee is tourism. In this regard, the city has been a victim of its own success: heritage status begets more visitors, who then threaten that status by attracting developers. So as to avoid these issues in the future, perhaps Liverpool’s architects should imagine a neophobic, finger-wagging Nimby on their shoulder when drawing up blueprints? Heritage is important but cities can’t – and shouldn’t – remain museums of their former selves.
For more on much-needed urban updates, see our story on New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal below.