London's Trafalgar Square, St Mark's in Venice, St Peter's in Rome, the Old Town Square in Prague, the Piazza del Campo in Sienna and Red Square in Moscow.
In each case the square somehow embodies the city. It acts as a magnet for locals and visitors alike. It showcases the buildings around it and provides a civic space where large numbers can come together to celebrate or demonstrate. It inspires a sense of pride.
Not so in Glasgow. George Square lies in the heart of the city. It is the first place many tourists see when they arrive. It is a large open space where office workers can relax at lunchtime, families enjoy the lights at Christmas and Hogmanay crowds bring in the New Year. But it lacks the grandeur and dignity of the world's iconic city squares. It is down-at-heel and cluttered after numerous piecemeal changes. The red tarmac is universally regarded as a mistake. It does not do justice to the buildings around it, especially the magnificent City Chambers. In short, it is time for a change.
The city council yesterday approved a £15 million facelift and is consulting about how to progress. This is a debate that is overdue. Though the Union Terrace Gardens plan in Aberdeen will not go ahead at present, it provoked a lively and useful argument among the local population about the sort of civic spaces required to meet the requirements of the 21st century. Glasgow needs a similar process if the city is to put its best foot forward for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Several decisions need to be made. One of the most controversial will concern the statuary, much of which has little direct connection with the city's history and culture. Does Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott merit pride of place on an 80-ft high column? One option, that of renovating and dispersing some or all of the statues in peripheral parks around the city, merits consideration.
In a city that has become a by-word for contemporary art, that could and should be reflected in its public art too. And in a city famous for its red Clydesiders and trade union leaders, how relevant are William Gladstone and Robert Peel, two of the present incumbents of George Square's plinths?
Though it is agreed that the red asphalt will go, there is less agreement on how to replace it. Though many would like to see a return to lawns and flower beds at the heart of the Dear Green Place, that would limit its use for public events, especially during wet winters.
The importance of the quality of urban streetscapes has been well demonstrated by Glasgow's Merchant City, where marble pavements and classy street furniture have been as important in its regeneration as sprucing up the buildings. The other big change has been traffic management, creating a better balance between motorists and pedestrians.
Upgrading George Square will have limited impact without at least a measure of pedestrianisation. Otherwise, it will remain essentially a large roundabout. This could be facilitated by re-opening to general traffic the bridge on Bath Street, north of Queen Street Station.
One thing is certain: when it comes to squares, Glasgow could do miles better.
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