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Red Row day will be like a public hanging

Hearing the news that five of Glasgow's infamous Red Road flats are to be demolished live for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, one observer thought it was a late April Fool's gag.

Who can blame her? It would be hard to think of a more tasteless, ill-judged and inappropriate way to kick off the Games. If this stunt goes ahead - and one very much hopes Glasgow Council will reconsider - the Games, which are rightly cause for celebration, will be tarnished from their opening hour.

Treating one of the city's most troubled locations as a spectacle for a worldwide audience, the detonation will be beamed onto giant screens at Celtic Park and on Glasgow Green. It would seem the Games organisers believe watching these high-rise blocks explode, like a scene in a blockbuster movie, will erase the memory of the heart-breaking problems these flats have witnessed over the years, taking with them the city's shameful mistreatment and neglect of their inhabitants.

The artistic director for Glasgow 2014, David Zolkwer, explained the organising committee's vision: "In just a few seconds the city's skyline will be transformed forever. It's a bold and confident statement that says 'bring on the future'."

Well, it may say that, but it also says the past is dead, and what went on in these flats, for good or ill, is now consigned to history. Sadly, that's just not true. Wiping the slate clean with 1250kg of explosives is not the way to resolve the issues the Red Road flats raised, which continue to resonate throughout the city - and the rest of Scotland today.

To compound the lack of sensitivity around this subject, tenants in Tower 2, the single remaining block of the original eight, are to be offered free tickets to watch the show. This tower houses asylum-seekers. One wonders how will they feel, to see their neighbouring blocks crumble, yet go home to the one that remains standing, like a solitary tooth in a gummy mouth?

The Red Road flats have created problems almost from the start. Built in the mid-1960s to rehouse those from the slums, they were designed by architect Sam Bunton, who had dreamed of creating Manhattan-style skyscrapers and vigorously defended his use of steel frames and asbestos fireproofing in the letters pages of this newspaper.

Blighted from their early years by vandalism, crime, drugs and violence, and by the health hazards posed by asbestos, they became notorious in the 1990s as a parking lot for asylum-seekers, a period marked by the Home Office's cruel dawn raids. That windows were swaddled in netting to prevent suicides tells its own story. Even so, in 2010 the Serykh family from Russia - father, mother, and son - ripped off the netting, and jumped to their deaths. As Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said: "Those flats were not meant for human beings. They were just great big filing cabinets of humans living in misery or despair."

If the blocks are uninhabitable and cannot be renovated, of course they should be demolished. So too the remaining tower, and its inhabitants rehoused. Interestingly, concerns are already being raised about the dangers posed by bringing down five blocks at once. For that reason alone, such a process should be a quiet affair.

Safety aside, razing buildings that carry so much history, and unhappy stories, is like a family funeral. It is a time for private mourning and reflection, not hoopla and pyrotechnics. The person being buried may have caused a great deal of trouble in their lifetime, but that doesn't mean everything about them was bad or that one should dance on their grave. Instead, it's a time for contemplation, for reassessing one's own behaviour as well as that of the deceased.

Staging the demolition as an entertainment, like a public hanging in a bygone age, is apparently the idea of the Commonwealth Games creative team led by US events company Jack Morton Worldwide. This firm arranges London's New Year's Eve fireworks and events such as the 2004 Olympics, and previous Commonwealth Games. The blame, though, is not theirs. That lies firmly with Glasgow City Council and whoever gave it the go-ahead.

Like the Red Road flats themselves, some ideas should never leave the drawing board.

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