Glasgow: A Victorian City in the 21st Century...

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Glasgow: A Victorian City in the 21st Century...

Post by Mr007 on Fri Nov 05, 2010 2:05 pm

Glasgow. A name to conjure up images of the worst excesses of post war redevelopment, a name that is a byword for industrial decline, poverty and decay. For the lucky few however, who happen to be "in the know", a very different picture emerges�

Glasgow began the 1980's as a soot blackened dungeon, its people having lost all hope in the future, numbed by decades of what seemed near terminal decline, the once great ship building industries along the River Clyde, nothing but pale shadows of their former glory. Glasgow had lost its raison d'etre. And yet, against all the odds, a mere two decades later, Glasgow has transformed itself into a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, proudly holding its head high in the family of European cities. Just how did such a change occur?

The 1970's had been the worst decade of the twentieth century for the destruction of irreplaceable architectural and historic buildings and the greatest economic decline in Glasgow. It began promisingly with the appointment of Lord Esher by the city authorities, with a brief to set out exactly how Glasgow might protect its Victorian heritage. As Lord Esher said, "A great many Victorian houses in their old settings and Victorian monuments in the city centre are built with more craftsmanship than we can hope to emulate or than the world is ever likely to see again". Unfortunately however this was merely a smoke screen designed to placate the conservationists. As in direct contradiction of Lord Esher's recommendations to set up conservation areas, in order that the city might retain some of the architectural wonders which had delighted both locals and tourists alike since Victorian times. The City Corporation proceeded, to bulldoze much of irreplaceable value in the name of "progress".

Such unfettered vandalism, did have the effect of rallying Glaswegians to their city's cause. Shoppers and office workers in the city centre became increasingly aware of the architectural loss they saw all around them and were less than enamoured with the concrete "international style" boxes which were replacing them. In addition tenants who had been moved out of their traditional tenement homes were, not always impressed with their new "cities in the sky". Not so much a futuristic dream, as a present day nightmare, these shoddily constructed concrete towers now gained a reputation for dampness, vandalism and isolation having all but destroyed the communities they had been designed to replace. Those who didn't live in these towers despised them as ugly blots on the landscape. Momentum was building for change.

By the early 1980's the City Couincil launched The 'Glasgow Smiles Better' campaign, this was the city's turning point as efforts to rejuvenate the inner city took place. The slogan was aimed at dispelling Glasgow's "no mean city" image and was responsible for invoking a new sense of citizenship and pride in the locals. It also signified a new attitude to conservation. Out went discredited notions of wholesale clearance and redevelopment, in came ambitious new renovation and stone cleaning programs. Demolition was not so extensive and where demolition was unavoidable, the facades were often retained, to be incorporated into the new development. The effect was dramatic. All of a sudden the rich colours and detail of the Victorian stonemasons was uncovered, in most cases for the first time since they had originally been constructed some 100yrs earlier. Glaswegians began to realise that they were living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

This attractive façade however, disguised many underlying problems still prevalent within the city. Industrial decline continued unabated and if anything, even accelerated. Glasgow's unemployment rate was twice the national average and with some of the largest slums in Western Europe. Glasgow needed help. Fortunately the European Union offered financial assistance and with this money the decontamination of ex industrial land began. The first fruit of this was the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival, built on disused dockland on the south bank of the River Clyde. This horticultural extravaganza breathed new life into a previously neglected area of the city and brought Glasgow to national and worldwide attention continuing Glasgow's tradition of spectacular exhibitions. Elsewhere some of the worst excesses of post war planning began to meet their inevitable fate. The undoubted turning point for Glasgow (much as Ronan Point was for London), was the demolition of Basil Spence's Queen Elizabeth flats - first opened in 1961 they had lasted a mere thirty years.

Fundamental shifts were now noted in the economy of the city there was no improvement in the city's manufacturing base, but new service based industries began to pick up the slack. In particular, Glasgow had become the largest retail centre in the UK, outside of London and people were coming into the city from as far afield as Edinburgh and Newcastle for their weekly shopping. New industries such as call centres opened up, attracted by the large pool of skilled labour and, bizarrely, the Glasgow accent! Glasgow became the call centre capital of Europe. Government backed development agencies were also established in an attempt to draw inward investment to disadvantaged areas by offering grant incentives and paying start up costs. These schemes met with mixed success.

Glasgow came to further international attention when it was awarded the title of UK City of Architecture and Design, 1999. Stung by criticism of the transient benefits of the Garden Festival (now lying derelict once more), the City Council was determined to bring lasting benefits to the city with this showcase. A number of projects were developed including the renovation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Lighthouse for public architectural exhibitions, and the development of the Homes for the Future project, an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for city living by regenerating the long neglected east end. The event proved to be a spectacular success and brought millions of pounds of investment to the city. More importantly, it brought widespread acclaim and a new found sense of pride in what was becoming a cultural powerhouse. Unfortunately the Hi Tec bubble then burst and along with the Asian currency crisis forced many electronics firms to pull out of the UK. This forced a national policy rethink and now the emphasis is very much on the development of local talent and creativity. A policy that is beginning to bear fruit.

Looking to the future, Glasgow appears set to go from strength to strength. Spectacular new plans are afoot to redevelop run down areas of the city centre, in particular the new trinity proposals by Cooper Cromar architects look set to create a stunning new landmark for Glasgow. Further afield housing developments at Glasgow harbour and Lancefield Quay have learned from the mistakes of the past, by providing homes that people actually want to live in. So successful are these developments that most property is sold before construction is even finished! Glasgow City Council(The largest landlord in Europe with some 94,000 flats in 250 blocks), is in the process of handing over control of its council houses to the new Glasgow Housing Association, which has plans (backed by some £6 billion in government cash) to renovate some of the properties and demolish others, such as the unlettable tower blocks of the notorious 32 storey Red Road flats.

To sum up Glasgow's future is looking very rosy indeed. Not since Victorian times has the city looked forwards with such confidence, and if this progress is maintained there is no reason why Glasgow can't regain its crown as second city of the United Kingdom.

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