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Disappearing Glasgow

The skyline of Glasgow is set to be radically transformed…

Since 2006 over 30% of Glasgow’s tower blocks have been demolished. Entire communities have disappeared as Glasgow embarks on its latest orgy of demolition, a ‘solution’ that has been so prevalent in the city’s history.  Glaswegians have grown so familiar with mass demolition and subsequent regeneration to change, reinvent and market the city. They can perhaps be forgiven for not noticing, or even caring about the fundamental changes that have taken place in just a short period of eight years. If you blinked you really could have missed it.

In the previous round of mass demolition in the 1960s and 70s, tens of thousands of Glaswegians were decanted from slums into new schemes and high-rise flat developments. These new homes, many of them high-rise flats, represented a utopian vision for social housing – complete with kitchen and indoor bathroom, central heating and mixer taps, they were presented as the solution to some of the worst slum conditions in Europe at that time.

By the turn of the 21st century the solution had become the problem. The humble wrecking ball was replaced with multi-million pound demolition contracts, explosives developed by NASA, secured exclusion zones and demolition spectacles that all the community are invited to watch. But the simple ethos of “knock-em-down and build-emback- up-again” remains the same.

This latest frenzy of demolition can be attributed to the labelling of these areas as ‘Sink Estates’, with commentators and local authorities citing high levels of drug use and crime, and buildings unfit for habitation. It is presented as being easier and more cost-effective to sweep away the problems along with the buildings. Thus councillors, officials and the media celebrate the death of high-rise as progress – to the extent that Glasgow’s City Fathers endorsed a scheme to blow up the Red Road flats as part of the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, a live TV spectacle for the enjoyment of millions.

It’s not just high-rise flats that are disappearing in the name of progress. In areas far outside the leafy West End, demolition of the city’s grand Victorian and Edwardian tenements has continued, often with little comment or protest. Derelict and forgotten for 30 years, Dalmarnock was to be saved by the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The last remnants of old Dalmarnock’s tenements were razed to the ground, and with them homes and businesses. Local residents are still trying to fathom the ‘legacy’ of this two-week mega sporting event for them, and for their area.

And what of the new-build schemes that replace the tower blocks and tenements? What happens to the communities that are scattered across the city? For many people life in a high-rise or a ‘Sink Estate’ is not the way they want to live or bring up a family. They welcome their new homes with front and back gardens. But with the whole country suffering a housing shortage, and with the volume and quality of new builds decreasing, does it really make sense to destroy more homes than you build? Can we be sure we won’t live to see, once again, the wholesale demolition of the houses we are building today – today’s ‘solution’ becoming tomorrow’s problem?