Paul Stallan and Glasgow's East End
24 Jun 2008
The east end of the city has always been home to the poor and disenfranchised. It's time to invest in new developments and reconnect the area to the city centre
Fifteen years ago I had a studio on London Road smack bang in the middle of the Barras Market and five minutes from George Square. I say a studio but it was more a squat in what was a semi derelict former warehouse. I rented the space from a dodgy bloke whose business card said The Barra Doors. Not a tribute band but a door salesman, Equality UPVC or Scots Pine a speciality! Why am I telling you this, because the question I asked myself at the time was how can I be so close to Glasgow's City centre and yet surrounded by dereliction?
For example the space I rented was huge and served my purposes very well, which was throwing paint around in the name of art. Most weekends and some nights after work I would just hang out, being free to wander around the entire disused space within buildings above street level. Not quite Andy Warhol's factory, but a few friends and I did live a surreal Glasgow Gallowgate dream for a while. The space was mere £20 a month which was probably fair given that I might have fallen through the floor at any time.
Why then, given the Gallowgate's immediate proximity to the City Centre, is it still in the same bloody state 15 years forward? Even today, during week nights it is desolate, I mean completely empty, no one. At the weekends it is obviously busier because of the market and people buying junk, eating curry and chips and sherbet flying saucers, but for the rest of the time it is tumbleweed.
This pocket of Glasgow that is immediately east of the High Street is for me representative of the much deeper structural problems that relate to the City's greater urban connectivity. From the City centre going east there is evidence of major fragmentation that serves to isolate an already disadvantaged local population. It is startlingly clear west to east across the City there is a radical difference and imbalance in the distribution of wealth. So why then are these features so deeply embedded and supported by the existing fabric of the City? What can be done to stimulate greater prosperity and improved prospects for these communities, how can we be more inclusive?
First we must appreciate that Glasgow's future depends on our ability to create diverse and dynamic communities, where the promise of a good education, rewarding employment and genuine prosperity is possible. This vision cannot just be applied just to select areas but must be part of a Scottish Government and GCC strategy for a major development and regeneration plan that creates improved linkage and people movement City wide. Even within the East End itself, leaving aside links to the City centre, local communities are referred to as 'tribal,' for example Haghill might as well be a million miles away from Camlachie or Shettleston. At recent community meetings I have attended, people from Calton don't see how they will benefit in the slightest from the Commonwealth Games because as far as they are concerned it is all about Dalmarnock.
So how do we better connect people and address the deeply embedded perceptions of the East End as the 'land that time forgot'? For me it has been helpful to rewind and examine the factors that shaped our existing situation. In reflecting on Glasgow's growth over the last 200 years there are poignant lessons about Scottish politics, industry, religion and class divide, on the dangers of zone led planning policy rather than place-making and our Victorian predecessors' views on climate and architecture.
Starting with Glasgow's genesis - it's Medieval High Street Ð we can begin to see as early as the 1800s the first in a whole series of planning decisions that would fundamentally blight the City and leave a legacy of separation.
The first major impact was to be industry, as large and small polluting factories and workshops, outputting everything from trains to teapots, spread throughout the East of the City. The merchant traders who were prospering from their exploits in the New Worlds established an unprecedented industrial workforce in communities like Dalmarnock, Parkhead and Bridgeton to support their businesses. People however were poorly paid, and were housed in desperate slum accommodation, in many instances whole families living in one room. At the time poor Irish immigrants and Highlanders thrown off their land because of the clearances were pouring into the City looking for work.
Another feature which is for some hard to contemplate, but was a major factor in sealing the East Ends' fate, was our prevailing winds, winds which blew from the west across Scotland powered by the awesome 'North Atlantic Drift'' or as the sailors of the time would refer to them 'The Trade Winds'. These winds that were the very key to the British Empire's success in conquering the world were also the winds that basically drove all of Glasgow's factory smoke, dirt and smell from local industry eastwards.
As a direct consequence of this natural wind phenomenon all of Glasgow's very posh people gravitated to the West End for its cleaner air. The Victorian surveyors of the day also went as far as to put as many of our hospitals and public parks on hilltops for the same reason. For example with hospitals just think of; Stobhill, Ruchhill, Yorkhill, Garnethill (The Beatson), Prospecthill (The Victoria Infirmary). For posh housing think; Hillhead, Partickhill, Balgrayhill, Gilmourhill, even Maryhill, and, of course Park Circus.
Around the 1900s it was then the railways' turn to blight the East End; the railways driving a massive new goods yard into the heart of Glasgow, sweeping away slum housing in its wake, finally terminating right on top of Glasgow's principal street and medieval staring point. It is worth noting though that the railway was taking advantage of a new gap site on Glasgow's High Street created by the departure at the time of the prestigious University of Glasgow.
The University had once sat proudly on the same street as our beautiful cathedral but as it expanded and became more prosperous it too moved westward for fresher air and a much-improved view that overlooked the leafy Kelvin, the railway and the University effectively providing a double whammy to this very local area immediately to the east of Glasgow, which would set in motion an urban legacy still evident today, where wealth and investment went westwards.
It was then the turn of Strathclyde Regions' Roads department to get in on the act again blighting an even larger section of the City east of High Street for another 40 years. Some crazy highway engineers thought it would be a good idea to complete the inner city ring road and drive a full six lane motorway under Glasgow Cathedral, over the now derelict High Street goods yard site, through the Gallowgate and across Glasgow Green, bridging the river then turning right to join the south end of the Kingston Bridge. This plan started in the 1960s was still being considered as a possibility as late on as 1980. Obviously any thought of buying property, investing or locating a business in this area was, in our the recent past, a complete no go for fear of being compulsorily purchased. Till this day this linear strip of land running from the Townhead area to Hutchinson Town in Gorbals has still not fully recovered.
Even now High Street is still blighted and representative of the city's and the Scottish Government's snail pace progress on essential infrastructural improvements related to the East End; a major impediment being the inept bureaucracy that is Network Rail, who have stifled progress for 25 years in consideration of their 'Cross Rail Project', which in my view is a public disgrace. The Cross Rail project has proposed a rail linkage between Central Station and Queen Street station for nearly three decades and has imposed a parliamentary order and blight condition over a major swathe of land from the Saltmarket through the Gallowgate up to George Street.
In recent past Glasgow has also been fundamentally unable to realise a more visionary structure plan for the City to importantly address the big issues of how it relates to Lanarkshire, Clydebank, Inverclyde and Dumbarton along the conurbation for the simple reason that the City was politically neutered by Margret Thatcher.
The City was, by design, economically bankrupted through the Thatcher years through the breakup of Strathclyde Region. Strategic Structure Plan thinking that considered the entire Clyde conurbation was at best academic, but then nullified and lost in parochial politics.
The Commonwealth Games will help. I am expected to say this, but I am, genuinely optimistic and encouraged by recent political momentum. I want to be. The Games aside, the big win I believe is the committed infrastructure. Planning at the level of the Clyde Valley which has been on the drawing board forever is now looking like a reality. The completion of the M74 and the new East End Regeneration route running north south from Shawfeild Stadium up to almost Royston will create a whole new level of accessibility. The improvement of Dalmarnock rail station and the line running east west into the City will also also provide a massive benefit in providing improved linkage. The improved River Clyde walkway will also better extend from the City Centre eastwards for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Numerous urban gateway improvements are either taking place or are planned like the impressive Parkhead Cross, a project that will help consolidate local character and reinforce destination. New affordable private family housing is also being attracted into the area breaking up the monolith of social rented accommodation with residential development sites like the former Belvidere hospital which are presently selling like hotcakes as their pricing is attractive, in what is a depressed market.
New Schools and education facilities like John Wheatley College's new campus (designed by ABK Architects from London) at Haghill provides invaluable community resource and opportunity. Even the island that is Celtic Park will benefit from a new urban context and a better relationship with the surrounding community through the creation of a sequence of new public spaces linking with the adjacent new sports arena complex and London Road.
Finally, on the employment front, we are working with local stakeholders on commercial mixed use projects, working with existing buildings like the former 'Turkey Red Dye' works an iconic large scale warehouse building in Dalmarnock that has serious potential as new funky 'Urban Splashesque' office space.
Why is any of this important? It is important because it is about people and improving the quality of their lives. From the Gallowgate immediately east of Glasgow's High Street to Baillieston on the eastern periphery of the city, I have worked on many projects in Glasgow's east end, and would like to think that I understand what is needed. My first working day as a graduate architect (summer 1988) was doing social surveys in Easterhouse asking questions like, "what type of mushroom is growing in your bedroom?" The housing co-operative we were working with was trying to opt out of City Council control in an attempt to manage their affairs directly. The conditions that we found some families living in was just heartbreaking, a genuine leveller for me as a recently qualified ('immature hero form giver') architect. These frontline experiences stay with you.
I purposefully decided to stay and work in Glasgow directly after qualifying although I did question my situation when glamorous friends in London, Hong Kong, and New York would call to tell me of their input on expansive new build projects in exotic locations.
That said, I do believe that my formative years working directly with my mentor at the time Peter McGurn was personally rewarding and provided me with a greater empathy and understanding of people's genuine needs and the political processes that can either support change or be an impediment.
Peter was a champion of community housing initiatives in Glasgow working more as a social entrepreneur, writing business plans and funding scenarios that would realise potential projects and design opportunities. Peter referred to an invisible architecture, architecture that emphasised process not product, working intimately with working class people in deprived locations to radically change and humanise their environment. ItÕs that simple.