For the pedestrian, simply crossing from Broad Green shops onto Edge Lane Drive requires bravery, ingenuity, determination. A vast flyover carries Queens Drive - the Liverpool Ring Road - over a junction where local roads, slip roads and the M62 all converge. It is at all times of the week a forbidding mass of metal growling and groaning in walls of grubby concrete, and perhaps the planners had it right when they decided that those who wanted to use their legs to keep the connection with ‘the other side’ of this chasm, would have to do so by going underground. There are just two subways, quite some distance apart, one by The Rocket and the other near a side entrance to Broad Green Hospital, Cardiothoracic Centre. My head was telling me to transgress and try to cross the carriageways under the flyover but thankfully my heart was too weak to take the challenge.
A walk along Edge Lane, former city boundary line and the road once considered to be the route to continue the motorway right into the heart of Liverpool city centre. The planners are still looking to stretch Edge Lane sidewards, as far as the residents of Liverpool 7 allow, and that is why the M62 ends at Junction 4: there’s room for three more yet, they think, those behind The Edge Lane Project who have decorated Edge Lane Drive (inbound) with posters announcing, ACCESS TO LIVERPOOL WILL SOON BE A BREEZE! This is on a stretch of road where traffic roars into the Oak Vale suburbs off the M62 mocking the 30mph signs, and where many trees have flowers tied to them to mark the occasion of collisions which have taken lives.
I’m simultaneously delighted and scared to see an elderly lady taking her own route across four lanes of Edge Lane Drive rather than detour to a pedestrian crossing further down the road. By her attitute and aptitude for this she must be a long-term resident. There is an edge here - in the sense of deep conflict between road-users and pedestrians, between passers-through and residents.
This edge becomes even more evident a couple of miles further on in Kensington where much of Edge Lane is boarded up, compulsorily purchased, awaiting demolition, and what isn’t boarded up is being left to decay, except where just a small number of residents are digging in, holding out. They are keeping their front steps clean and gardens lively in the face of the metalled grey tin covers on all their ex-neighbours’ windows, and in protest against the garishly confident enormous billboards designed to be read by rows of queuing drivers and announcing the bright new dawn for the Edge, in these familiar words: COMMERCIAL! RETAIL! RESIDENTIAL!
I’m feeling edgy as I walk this route. Frustrated by roadworks all along Edge Lane (the city council is laying new edgings to the pavements along all the major inward routes in preparation for Capital of Culture year) which prioritise the movement of vehicles and leave pedestrians to fend for themselves, unprotected at messed-up juctions. After about four minutes waiting among dust and traffic cones at the Retail Park ‘crossing’ (4x4s squealing past en-route to Hollywood Bowl or B&Q) I say to the young mum alongside me with her child in a pushchair: “Let’s take a chance.” She agrees as we dash across: “We’ll be stood here all day otherwise.”
I’m feeling edgy as I walk this route. Tormented by an inner conflict about regeneration. It’s great to see that the old Littlewoods building is being given an Urban Splash makeover, (COMMERCIAL! RETAIL! RESIDENTIAL! of course). It is an art-deco masterpiece and a deep part of the city’s modern history, which sits on ground which once hosted the Liverpool Exhibition, a fantastically bold statement of the city’s confidence in its heyday. And further in, it’s great to see a bold new expansion being built on to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, one of the city’s lesser-sung but most significant achievers.
But my walk along Edge Lane, Kensington makes me wonder what has happened to all those displaced people edged-out by the road-widening obsession. I’m saddened to see another great Edge Lane landmark, St Cyprians, closed, at the worst, most choking junction of all, alongside Durning Road. And I pass the offices of Nugent Care, a Roman Catholic agency whose work I know well - trying to relieve the extreme poverty of the most vulnerable individuals and families of our city who are most mocked by the developers’ COMMERCIAL! RETAIL! RESIDENTIAL! drive.
A boundary marks two sides - and in debates about regeneration it’s easy to take one or the other. But a boundary also consists of a line, which might be gingerly trod, a tightrope which may be beneficially balanced. I see other signs on my walk that it may be possible to take a third way through this edgy territory. I thrill (as always) at St Andrew’s Gardens, a wonderful piece of civic planning when built between the two wars of the Twentieth Century, one of those gigantic, curving five-storey tenement structures with a beautifully concealed inner court. This has been converted to student accommodation, as has the majestic gothic hotel on Lime Street, and that’s good, that’s imaginative.
And it strikes me for the first time (as I get to the bottom of London Road and try to see the city centre through fresh eyes) that St John’s Beacon, a bit of a 60’s folly built as a revolving restaurant and never quite fulfilling itself, is a perfect structure to house a radio station ... which is what it now does: Radio City broadcasts from there and it seems so appropriate that it should.
From the edge to the centre. A bite to eat in The Walker Art Gallery, a smile at the pigeon sitting on Lord Wellington's head atop the pompous column on William Brown Street, a thrill at every singsong Scouse voice carrying that accent which to me denotes vigorous life and energy. My feet are out. But I’m almost home.