Democratic interventions that emerge from communities themselves can be models and engines of equitable urban development.
Residents of a blighted neighborhood in Liverpool, UK came together to regain control of their neighborhood. With the help of the architecture and design collective, Assemble, they were able to create a participatory development engine to rethink and rebuild their community.
Granby Street in Toxteth, Liverpool, UK was once a thriving main street surrounded by a residential area of beautiful Victorian terraces. But it fell victim to deindustrialization and eventually fell into total blight, unemployment, and riots in the 1980’s. Much of the area was demolished, save four streets– The Granby Four Streets.
In 1993 residents formed the Granby Residents Association to fight to prevent demolition of the area’s remaining housing stock. Over two decades, they campaigned their local government to invest in the area while meanwhile restoring the area themselves. They cleared debris from demolished homes. They realized huge guerilla gardening efforts. They also started an outdoor public market, selling vintage clothes and caribbean food.
 Finally in 2011, the Liverpool City Council ceded ten homes and four storefronts to a new Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust to take over the dwellings for refurbishment as affordable housing. The Land Trust is a rare beast in urban areas but an effective tool for preserving affordability and giving all residents a stake in their own community. With funding from Steinbeck Studios, a social investment firm, they hired Assemble to draft the master plan.
Assemble has a track record of creating public spaces with minimal resources, and of valuing community over profit as a project goal. Working closely with locals to restore the ten homes and build public spaces, Assemble based plans on the work the community had already begun to realize. They provided construction jobs and apprenticeships for young people.
While Assemble won the prestigious Turner Prize for the Granby project, it may well have gone to the residents who organized, fought, and revived their own neighborhood for decades before Assemble or any major funding came on the scene. Bottom-up processes can empower self-fueled economic development without major displacement.