The post-war period has seen a dramatic skyline change across Glasgow. The high rise apartment blocks enthusiastically built by Glasgow City Council to house people being removed from slum tenements were eventually perceived as a problem, rather than a solution to sustainable community lives and are now steadily reducing in numbers.
Embracing the high rises
In the 1950s the city’s overcrowded, dense slum areas were identified as Comprehensive Development Areas (CDAs) by Glasgow City Council. They were cleared and the people removed to the city’s new peripheral high rise estates. Glasgow led the way in urban regeneration, with the high rises envisaged as solving the problem of how to retain a sizeable proportion of the local people from the city centre, (http://bit.ly/2DHWi6R).
Life in the high rises was initially better with residents being provided with self-contained homes, where previously the tenements lacked bathrooms and toilets were shared. However, the severing of the generations old city-centre communities left a scar. It took time for communities to establish themselves again and many never recovered. This was to be compounded by promised investment in the peripheral areas never materialising, the poor build standards of the high rises and poverty affecting so many living within them. The ongoing decline of the ship building industry, vastly accelerated during the 1980s, also left many bereft of the means to make a living, (http://bit.ly/2nkQHfM).
Life in the high rises could be brutal with high levels of depression, suicide and drug related anti-social behaviour, (http://bit.ly/2dam7nR). Yet at the same time, people had now formed links and communities within the new areas and so often a sense of home, albeit with problems, had taken root, (http://bit.ly/2rL8TEY), (http://bbc.in/Xg3oZX). This has meant that the path to bricks and mortar regeneration has not been straightforward.
When in 2003 Glasgow City Council’s stock was transferred to GHA, including over 20,000 homes in high rises, the opportunity to reinvent the city with a new form of urban design was seized upon. GHA, now part of the Wheatley Group, sought to demolish high rises so making a statement about the changing face of Glasgow, (http://bit.ly/2DLHckJ). They felt that the legacy of the high rises and the message it sent to the people of Glasgow about themselves and to the world was not good enough.
GHA sought to increase community expectations partly by an expression of aspiration in bricks and mortar: removing the high rises and replacing them with houses and low-rise buildings, so changing the physical and psychological fabric of the city, (http://bit.ly/2rNECFf). This about turn in urban design was in step with many European cities, which having embraced high-rises now pointed to the ghettoisation and endemic problems they brought, (http://bit.ly/2rPWgZ3).
GHA ran this is parallel with a cultural and resource shift to enable frontline staff to engage with residents and provide direct solutions, (http://bit.ly/2noVMUr). Across the Wheatley Group, communications with residents is seen as key and the corporate governance is melded with community governance, (http://bit.ly/2njEPLQ). GHA is now part way through a transformative plan with the council and the Scottish Government to regenerate eight areas of Glasgow, so building on a history of local partnership working to deliver a new landscape to the city’s residents, (http://bit.ly/2BCuS0j).
This fluid and enabling support provided to communities, together with a desire to enable them to redefine themselves as aspirational has been a key part of the emerging story of Glasgow’s regeneration. The council’s re-branding of the city under the headline, “People Make Glasgow”, is in step with the sense of civic pride which has proved so popular that the central George Square banner proclaiming this message has remained in place after its expected removal date, (http://bbc.in/2nnhtnI).
The neighbouring council of North Lanarkshire is now seeking to follow in Glasgow’s footsteps but with the complete removal of all high rises within 20 years, (http://bit.ly/2nhHOV9). Whilst unconnected, the tragedy of the loss of so many lives at Grenfell Tower has had a powerful effect on the collective psyche in the UK, effectively compounding the popular view that the majority of social build high rises are socially undesirable and physically risky, (http://bit.ly/2Fs3i8s). Yet given the sheer numbers of high rises often housing established positive communities, many housing providers have chosen to invest further in them, so extending their lifespan, (http://bit.ly/1KohKZf).
“Let Glasgow Flourish” is the abbreviated motto of the city, (http://bit.ly/2BBoA12). It is hoped that the new form of housing built to replace the high rises will support Glaswegians to thrive in stable communities. The appetite and ongoing parallel investment in the relationships between residents and housing providers, not just in the bricks and mortar, make this outcome more tangible.