Herald Fri. June 25 1999. From an article including an interview with Council leader Charles Gordon. Discussing a £500m leisure complex on the Clyde about to begin with the ripping down of the old granary on the river to build a leisure complex “along the lines of one in San Francisco.” This of course, it is stated, will be “adapted to take account of Glasgow’s climate.” Speculating about the likely occupiers of the 900 houses, Mr Gordon said: “I don’t care if they are yuppies or middle class professionals.they will be most welcome in this city”. He said their council tax payments would be used to tackle social exclusion and added : “this is going to be a win-win situation for the whole city.we are talking about mega stuff.””The development would also include a “futuristic” motor retail park.” The article says nothing about how the money will be spent tackling social exclusion. But you can bet a project such as this will cause some. The article goes on to describe space and employment. “There would be 400,000sq ft of office space including a 130,000sq ft headquarters building for an as-yet-unidentified national or international occupant”.
The estimate of 3000 jobs is based on the total number who would be employed on the 80 acre site. Clydeport said this figure was based on “detailed research”. One wonders how the detailed research got around the unidentified occupant. However these are mere details, the share prices are rising nicely with the following reassuring quotes from our council leader taken from the same article by the Heralds Ian McConnell: “He also indicated that Clyde port and Bank of Scotland should have no difficulty obtaining planning permission.””It would be improper for me to comment on the planning detail” he said. However he immediately added, “in terms of the outline (proposals), there are no planning policy impediments to this development concept.”
This is how Glaswegian’s are informed about £500m development with lots of figures, nice pictures, and promises of jobs, plenty of contradictions and half-baked plans. What is always mentioned in these articles is what is good for business profits and shares. What is very rarely mentioned is how it will affect ordinary people and their environment socially, physically and financially when large tracts of public land in the city are privatized. For instance when the Town Hall becomes the Shopping Mall freedom of movement and freedom of speech are impeded. And ‘failed’ projects leaves the tax payer with the bill for business incentives, in the form of business tax relief and very little in the form of local amenities for their investment, apart from another shop in which to spend money.
Tip: Language. Think of business incentives as Social Security – the money comes from the same place only un stigmatized. See “Fraud” Politics Section
The other end of town, at James Morrison Street, the gentrifiers are at work hoping to knock down a Georgian tenement in order to build a 71 flat structure described by heritage groups as a “monolithic 70s throwback”. A spokesman for the architects, the award-winning practice behind the “monolith”, said the design had taken the setting into account and was praised by the Royal Fine Art Commission. He said “We have to build something that represents our time. This is going to be a good example of contemporary European housing,” adding “You always get people for and against new buildings. If you produce stuff no one comments on you might as well not bother”.(The Herald March 22 2002)
The above is a random example of what is going on all over the city. The rhetoric is always the same, the emphasis on “looks”, the architect as artist. The only problem is buildings, unlike paintings, do not fit under the bed when you get fed up looking at them. People have to live with, and in them. What is “a good example of European housing”? Who decides? The “Fine Art Commission”? What represents our time will represent our time no matter what it is, how it functions or what it looks like. So, to use the logic of the spokesman, if the public constantly comment that they dislike your buildings it is a good enough reason to keep building them? That is if anyone ever gets around to asking the public’s opinion.
CITY STROLLS wants to hear from you!
Jobs Jobs Jobs
The process of colonizing the city by business interests is sold to the public in a language steeped in market jargon such as. “These projects are too exciting to miss. A challenge for Glasgow”. Jobs jobs jobs, And so on. Sure there are plenty of jobs, mostly at the lower end of the service industry. Will the “as-yet-unidentified national or international occupants” who are supposed to move in to these fantastic sites import their own workers? Who knows? Tackling social exclusion. How? By offering jobs serving and cleaning up after “yuppies and middle class professionals” for the minimum wage? What happens after the market goes bust and the technology moves the business elswhere (with our money. Boom dosen’t last forever and the sponge suckes up before it leaves) A yes, I suppose we can blame it all on dole fraud
Significant and radical?
These “significant and radical development proposals” (see Unidentified Occupants) must be disguised in public relations jargon in order to de politicize the process and to help keep those at the bottom of the financial and food chain ignorant. That is the public whose tax pays for every thing from advertising, business incentives, (tax avoidance) the sell off of prime public land and the ripping down of everything from schools to historic buildings and housing, to make way for the grand plan of sanitizing the city. Anything unrelated to private interests. It is useful for people to understand, question, and make themselves aware of the techniques and processes of market developers. Learning how to question the jargon to unravel the figures helps to deduce if there is any real benefit to the ordinary taxpayer in the package that is being sold to them in the regeneration of their city. The study of what is happening in the city centre can be a useful learning tool.
Why? Because the same techniques of business and public relations used to persuade and cajole in the retail, leisure and gentrification sector, are exactly the same techniques used in the manipulation of education, land reform, roads, employment, housing, health, as the population are further pushed down the road towards the privatizations of its public assets.
However I feel the more serious problem is the indifference of the public to these developments or the helplessness of the individual who is interested to do anything about it or let their opinions be heard. Which is why I have been moved to organize CITY STROLLS in order to engage dialogue, action, experiment, events, photography and, importantly the enjoyment of the city, at any level the participants wish to apply.
I need to hear what you think, ideas events, things that annoy, upset, give pleasure and enjoyment in this city, that city, any city, the countryside. Links to other groups, sites, arts, issues, politics. Is this web site interesting or boring. what would you do to improve it, find mistakes, suggested topics. do you know anyone who would be interested. Your aunty, your sister, him you talk to in the pub, big thingumy whose always going on about and does nothing, photographers in need of a project. professionals with skills and teaching to offer. A Saturday morning stroll and a cup of coffee (great for hangovers). A day workshop on sketching, photography, creativity, history, craft, architecture and so forth.
“1990 has been a year of fun, entertainment and enjoyment for the people of Glasgow and that’s what we wanted it to be.” (Pat Lally, former leader, Glasgow District Council)
“1990 was a year when an intellectually bankrupt and brutally undemocratic administration projected its mediocre image on to the city and ordered us to adore it.” (Michel Donelly, one- time assistant museum curator. Peoples Palace, Glasgow)
The first of the above statements was made by a businessman who could, as the writer suggests, be ‘Using the arts as a means of achieving wider economic cultural and social change’.
The second statement by an assistant curator of a museum who saw the project as financial and cultural farce and who also has ideas relating to wider economic cultural and social change.
As it is written here the statements have the same space and the reader can ponder the merits of both. But the difference is the council leaders opinion was backed by a public relations team and probably a few £M spent on world wide advertising, to ‘project’ his view of culture in the city, where as the assistant curator probably had a few paragraphs in a local newspaper.
Both of these statements illustrate a wide difference of opinion. They also verify the need for people concerned by them to discover what lies between such extreme points of view.
This is the essence of CITY STROLLS.
The Camel and the Worm – a Fable
When is a building appropriate? Buildings, are very deceiving in this respect. Like the rows of consumer goods in the retail stores each is screaming for attention in an over commercialized market. Unfortunately it is more difficult and expensive to throw away a building occupied or used by people if it doesn’t work than it is to dump the CD player that looked cool in the shop a few month ago but now looks dated and skips tracks because the lid is broken.
We can apply analogies In trying to understand architecture we can become so bludgeoned by style gurus, experts and professionals that our senses become dulled to basic principals or practicalities. Anything outside of style can be degraded by developers who’s only criteria is production.
The camel is described as ugly, “an animal designed by a committee” This degrades an animal of beautiful design and function. From its broad feet designed to traverse moving sands to it’s capacity to store fuel and function in the most harsh conditions. Design decisions are better left in the hands of the professional rather than the committees representing users concerns. Lest we end up with a camel
The name worm, a creature that breaks down, aerates and enlivens the soil that produces our daily needs, is used as a term of verbal abuse, and is used for berating a person who doesn’t fit a specific opinion or conviction. When learning about architecture and communities, especially the new works, the definitions of CAMEL and WORM can be useful. CITY STROLLS will help Glasgow’s citizens to see these activities at work.
Robbing History private symbols
There is more to the continuity of the physical environment than just habit and nostalgia.Old buildings embody history. They are worlds; In old buildings we glimpse the world of previous generations. The cultural historian Ivan Illich remarked once, “History gives us distance from the present, as if it were the future of the past. In the spirit of contemplation it releases us from the prison of the present to examine the axioms of our time”.
In the city centre today part of our physical cultural and historical inheritance through buildings is disappearing in front of our eyes. What is replacing it has no rhyme or reason apart from lack of choice. Generic shopping accommodates the acceleration of public space into private hands. People direct themselves through town centers not so much by local landmarks but by retail outlets. GAP clothing at the bottom of town GAP at the middle of town or GAP at the top of town.
The diverse culture and commerce that populated the town center has all but disappeared. Private development housing and conversions are geared to single professional individuals that along with commercial districts create a ghost town atmosphere of barren streets and car culture. In fact making large areas of the city unsafe at night, and socially exclusive by day.
If you take a walk through the city center, what do you find? New hotels, pubs, sports gyms, shopping malls. Every street has major construction work going on. A small triangle of grass one day, a fence goes up the next. Within a month 70 luxury flats with hoarding’s exclaiming a new development, a four storey block of luxury apartments.
Glasgow city council’s The Magazine for the people of Glasgow boasts of “Glasgow’s new renaissance” its “global reputation for regeneration and job creation”. How “Glasgow is poised to be the new Berlin of the next decade.” and so on. On the other side of town we are informed “More than three-quarters of Scotland’s most deprived areas are in Glasgow”
The type of facts that don’t get much space in The magazine for the people of Glasgow. Anyway before I waste page “real-estate” here, if you go to the library, search the internet for Glasgow regeneration then Glasgow poverty and compare notes you’ll get the picture. The questions we must ask when considering redevelopment schemes are: Whom do they serve and who is paying? and Could the money be spent better on other things? Is the city designed to suit its citizens or are the citizens designed to suit the city?
The city doesn’t stand still, as recent developments would emphasize. But we must remember it’s people who shape cities, give them character, and make them unique. If people do not interact with the city and protect their investment, cities become generic vehicles for tourism, service industries, corporate hospitality and factory like consumerism. When your city loses its uniqueness it becomes like every other city. You are in competition with every other city. Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham london and such like for corporate hospitality, conference centers and such like.
When you are in competition for the same business the first thing to suffer is wages as the only interest of business becomes who is coming to town not who lives here. Glasgow has stopped delving into the rich sources of the city for inspiration and vision of what the city could be, and is relying on a market strategy and such accolades as City of this and City of that.
Meanwhile this city has some of the most poverty stricken areas in Europe.
The promise is from the city council, that the profits of such overwhelming development and sale of the cities land will be spent on social inclusion. No! If people are excluded from the process in the beginning there is and will be no inclusion. To be part of the process you need to be involved from the beginning.
Child Poverty Action Group
How does the public go about getting interested, being heard and having an effect on what is happening? Part of the answer is being connected and this doesn’t mean staring at a computer, reading books or watching the idiot box. In order to form an opinion on these matters one must observe access and examine the facts and most importantly, interact with other people.
Most people who visit, say, the city centre, do so in order to purchase goods. Some love it, some loathe it. Most never raise their eyes above shop level. It is like going for a walk in the countryside purely for exercise. But if you happen to be in the company of a bird watcher or tree-lover your walk also becomes educational. You will be encouraged to look where you never looked before; you will begin to understand nesting habits, birdcalls, tree shapes, and recognizable features of different animal and bird habitats, etc. I know. I’ve experienced it.
Ignore the Gap
It’s exactly the same as the city. You can shop and look at the shop fronts or you can raise your head a few degrees and study the architectural detail or where the buildings meet the sky. The study and understanding of places and their use increases attachment, concern and activism towards improvement of both the self and the environment. What do you see when you lift up your eyes and study the buildings?
What does the city mean to you
Lets start by asking a few questions. Why should we be interested in buildings? Why is the physical structure of the city important? How do, or should we interact with the city Take the first question To ask why we should be interested in buildings is like asking why we should be interested in history
Why is the physical structure of the city important? Buildings represent symbolic reference to our history as a community. They also offer a visual reference of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. So it is important to our visual sense of history what buildings are pulled down and what buildings are left up. Buildings form cultural and institutional ties in the form of public halls, community centers, churches, post offices, banks, art galleries, museums, housing and work place. We also spend half of our lives in them, and of course we have to look at them all the time
We are social animals
Human beings are social animals. That is why we tend to live in close proximity to each other. That is why we create the institutions mentioned above. When cities become too big we create smaller communities within them. The same as when children go to school they don’t play with the whole playground but form smaller groups of a more intimate nature (the village). The structure of the city is important to ordinary people in that we can maintain these community structures within the city as a whole. So to tack a question on to this explanation, how well do you think Glasgow city planners deal with this situation?
The third question is the one you should ask yourself then start looking for the answers. It is the question that made me put this site together. And the answer is by asking questions of each other. And then asking questions of others who seek to determine the fate of our communities