Walk down Bath Street and you will see that the office block that used to house the NHS headquarters in Glasgow is being knocked down. Barely 30 years old, this building is now deemed unsuitable for further use, and is to be replaced by student accommodation. Subsequent NHS headquarters, Dalian House, has lain empty for more than 10 years, apparently undesirable and yet another short-lived property development. Meanwhile, there are new office and deluxe housing developments springing up all along the Clyde; approach Glasgow from the South to a forest of cranes. Even more recently is the news that the Buchanan Galleries are going to be replaced by a multi-million pound, 10 year project for shopping, eating, socialising, living and working. All the while, large high street shops are lying empty and in unsightly disrepair.
Further afield, there is a battle going on by residents to preserve a substantial housing development in Wyndford, Maryhill, much of it high rise and low rent. Writing for Architects Journal and reprinted in Bella Caledonia, architect Malcolm Fraser describes the plan to demolish 600 social homes in the name of regeneration. This involves a cycle of waste and rebuild which displaces current occupants in favour of attracting a more affluent population into the area.
What these few examples have in common is a set of contradictions in Glasgow, sponsored by both the City Council and national Government as well as commerce, which highlight the mismatch between rhetoric and reality. These relate to both the environmental and the social justice claims that have been made. We have raised our concerns previously about the extent of greenwashing that is currently going on in the city. The extent of demolition and the new buildings that are proliferating, mostly in the name of profit, add considerably to the carbon load that we are apparently committed to reducing. Each of the stages of manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials all embody carbon. This constitutes a considerable part of the greenhouse gases that the city contributes, and yet which do not seem to be taken into account as part of environmental policy making. We also know that there is inadequate, affordable housing for people who need it, and that homelessness is rising.
Whilst some people may view the emergence of new offices, riverside apartments, and shopping precincts, as a sign of a vibrant city that is improving itself, there are serious questions that have to be asked. When will the new tranche of shiny buildings be considered obsolete, only for the cycle to be perpetuated again? Who has this constant churn of building, demolishing, adding to landfill, building actually benefited? Who is allowing the planning decisions for these initiatives, and why? Why are the many large and small buildings in the city centre and beyond not being retrofitted? What do the people of Glasgow think about the way the city is being shaped?
Please let us have your thoughts and ideas about any of the points made in this blog and more specifically about:
– the form that the city should take,
– how we should best use the buildings that we already have and
– how do we ensure that decisions about demolition and building are
undertaken as democratically and in as environmentally friendly way as possible