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The regeneration Games: why the Olympic Park can revive east London

We may not be living in boom times but cultural regeneration can still work. Just look at how Liverpool's city centre has been transformed into a true civic space

Can art and architecture regenerate cities? It is a totemic belief of recent decades that they can. So much money was put into cultural projects in the boom times, and it was all justified as a means of spreading wealth to cities and regions left behind by the decline of industry and the rise of global markets.

Now that every economic assumption of our time has been shattered, now that serious experts seem to be losing hope of growth in the foreseeable future, where does that leave the idea of cultural regeneration?

You can see a new cynicism at work around the legacy of the London Olympics. Organisers claim that the Olympic Park in east London with its spiralling Orbit sculpture will bring renewed life to a deprived urban area. Some residents seem sceptical, while fashionable writers see the Games as destroying the precious impoverishment of London's eastern lands.

But this week, I visited Liverpool and saw how regeneration has finally started to work for one of Britain's least affluent cities. Liverpool got its first effort at regeneration in the 1980s with the opening of Tate Liverpool. It has since had biennials and hosted a Turner prize – just to cite the artistic cream on a huge cake of investment. Has it worked? At last, the answer is yes. This city has a transformed centre that now feels, after years of squalor, like a true civic space.

Does that abolish poverty or bring jobs? Well it must bring some jobs. And if it does not solve every problem, it solves some. It gives Liverpool the look and atmosphere of the world city it always was. That must attract business.

If business survives the years of austerity.

Given the situation in Europe now, it might seem that Liverpool is dressed up for a party that has been cancelled. But it feels better than that. In these times, a visit to Merseyside seemed full of underlying hope. It would certainly be hard to argue that anything has been lost. What did Liverpool lose when its historic Albert Dock was sensitively converted into a cultural centre? What has it lost by the more recent creation of the Museum of Liverpool nearby? This city celebrates its past even as it builds a future. Residents of east London will not lose by having a spacious, attractive Olympic site with its green spaces and centres of sporting and cultural fun. It's absurd to think so, like wishing for Liverpool to have left its docks bereft and desolate. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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