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Red Road flats and the new Glasgow

The decision to blow up five of the six remaining Red Road flats in Glasgow as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games this summer was an unexpected one.

In announcing it, Eileen Gallagher, chairwoman of the ceremonies, said the event would celebrate the fact the city is constantly regenerating; Gordon Matheson, the leader of the city council, said it would wow the world; and David Zolkwer, artistic director of the Games, said it would be a bold and confident statement.

It is certainly bold, and for a gallus place like Glasgow, it is also an appropriate and adventurous addition to the Games. For many years, the city has been in a process of regeneration and the demolition of the Red Road flats will bring together two important elements of that process: the Commonwealth Games, which will transform the east end of the city, and the demolition of a housing experiment of the 1960s that ultimately failed.

However, it would be naive of anyone to assume that the demolition live on air would be universally welcomed. The story of the Red Road flats is subtle and complex - and so is how Glaswegians feel about them

There is no denying most of the flats' history is grim. From the 1970s onwards, they attracted a reputation for crime, vandalism and drug-taking - they became the place where no one wanted to live. The council then tried to market the flats to students and professionals - as has been tried successfully in other cities such as Sheffield. But it did not work.

The flats' most recent history as a home for refugees and asylum seekers is also troubling. In 2010, Serguei Serykh, his wife Tatiana, and their stepson Stepan, committed suicide by jumping from their 15th floor flat, and it has been hard to shake the impression of a ghetto.

Another complicating factor is that some asylum seekers still live in the flats and will be able to watch the demolition. The organisers will have to be sensitive to these residents.

Campaigner Robina Qureshi, who has spoken out against the housing of asylum seekers in Red Road, describes the flats as filing cabinets of humans and says they should never have been built in the first place, and there will be many Glaswegians who agree with her. Some would happily press the button to bring the flats down.

But not every Glaswegian will feel that way. In the long term, we know the Red Road flats were an architectural and social experiment that failed, but at the time they were built, in the 1960s, they were seen as a solution to a pressing problem of overcrowding and poor living conditions in other parts of the city.

For many of those who moved to Red Road, they represented an improvement, and some of those people will feel a little nostalgic when they see the flats reduced to rubble in less than 15 seconds.

Even so, there has long been a consensus in Glasgow that demolition is the right way forward in the ongoing process of regeneration.

The Games are also part of that process and the opening ceremony, with the Red Road demolition as an explosive centrepiece, will tell its story to millions of people around the world.

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