Mutual housing alternatives and the neighbourhood question: A critical history of social innovation for urban transformation in Liverpool 1960-2015

  • Matthew Thompson

Student thesis: Phd


From the Garden City and cooperative movements to self-help housing and community land trusts (CLTs), radical experiments in collective dweller control aim to protect use values and fix in place increasingly mobile capital for long-term community benefit. This research critically explores how such mutual alternatives might provide the basis for more effective, democratic and self-sustaining urban regeneration, to resolve wicked problems of housing deprivation and inner-city decline, where conventional state and market-led approaches have failed. It examines how specific experiments emerged and developed in Liverpool, a city with a particularly rich history of mutual housing experimentation; in part a reaction to decades of urban decline, deprivation, deteriorating housing conditions, and displacement. The focus is on Liverpool's 1970s co-op movement and contemporary CLT campaigns. Co-ops and CLTs are conceptualised as common ownership institutions distinct from public and private property; as 'social innovations' in land reform aiming to find socially empowering new solutions to old problems. Drawing on Lefebvre's theory of the production of space, the thesis advances a more spatialised and historicised reading of social innovation as 'spatial projects' dialectically produced through place-based practices and competing logics.Liverpool provides an illustrative case study of the social, political and institutional dynamics of how mutual housing experiments emerge, institutionalise, fail, or replicate. Methodologically, this thesis employs a qualitative case study comparison of various campaigns emerging in the Liverpool city-region since 1960. A genealogical approach traces connections between radical moments, drawing on documentary analysis, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation. Urban political economy informs the contextualisation of these moments within Liverpool's changing governance structure of state, market and third sector institutions. The research aims to identify the motivations, catalysts, drivers, barriers, opportunities and constraints shaping the development of mutual housing alternatives in this historical-geographical context, as a means for understanding broader political prospects. Empirical findings suggest that mutual housing development is a complex, conflictual and highly political socio-spatial process, with often unexpected and contradictory outcomes. Nonetheless, there were clear benefits produced by the co-op movement: socioeconomic and political empowerment of residents; democratically-designed community-owned housing that remains durable, easy to manage, and responsive to local needs; and lasting improvements to urban environments. But this often entailed exclusions at higher scales, and relied on generous state funding, proving politically unsustainable. Liverpool's CLTs are potentially more democratic and self-sustaining vehicles for neighbourhood regeneration; reimagining and transforming place in extraordinary ways. The findings reveal that the CLT model was originally introduced to Liverpool through state-led projects, scoping out the possibility of incorporating CLTs as succession vehicles for regeneration programmes. These experiments failed partly due to local state fears over loss of control of public assets; partly through lack of resident involvement, suggesting CLTs require democratic mandate and grassroots participation. The most successful campaigns were funded through public arts and private philanthropy, grown from the grassroots by a local 'creative class' of artist-activists, potentially enacting arts-led or eco-gentrification, posing questions over public accountability. For mutual housing to resolve urban problems, more systematic development is required, supported by state-funded decentralised professional support networks.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStephen Hincks (Supervisor) & Graham Haughton (Supervisor)

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